It took a little while to believe.
“If you came to the first practice of ours, you’d be like, ‘Have they ever won one game?’ ” said Watertown High sophomore Allie Doggett .
Over the previous two seasons, the Raider girls’ lacrosse team had won 10 of 34 games. Their confidence was about as full as an upside-down shampoo bottle: Whatever was in there, it wasn’t much.
But with Eileen Donahue taking over as the team’s coach, perhaps everyone they should have known better. The legendary field hockey mentor has one way of doing things: all in.
The Raiders were 14-0 through Monday, with 11 of their wins by at least five goals.
“At the beginning of the season,” said senior Lauren Sutherland , their new coach “was at a youth meeting talking to all the parents, and she was like, ‘We’re going to be No. 1.’ And all the parents starting laughing and she’s like, ‘What’s funny? We’re going to be No. 1.’
“My mom was there and she said she didn’t know how to react.”
Doggett should not have raised her hand during a preseason meeting. Donahue was asking for team goals, and, under her direction, these aren’t to be taken lightly. They’re penned in permanent ink, and unacceptable not to reach.
Her field hockey team once made the mistake of suggesting they try to go the full season without allowing a single goal. The first time they gave up a score, Donahue was furious.
Doggett, one of the younger players on the Watertown lacrosse team (though her age isn’t indicative of her talent), was feeling a little rambunctious this time.
“Let’s win the Middlesex League,” she suggested.
“We were all like, ‘Don’t say that!’ ” said Sutherland. “Because once we make a goal, it’s not acceptable not to achieve it.”
Another sophomore, Rachel Campbell , couldn’t help but feel the wave of inspiration. She one-upped her classmate and suggested the Raiders should set a goal to win every game.
“She kept saying that,” said senior Alyssa Carlson . “I was like, ‘Shhh!’ ”
The problem stemmed from lack of experience. Doggett and Campbell ran track last spring, and only joined the lacrosse team after finding out Donahue, who coached them in field hockey, had taken over.
They purchased sticks, showed up to the first practice, and had to be taught how to pass and catch.
“I didn’t know what to do with a lacrosse stick,” Campbell said. “Those first practices were rough. It was a new team, we haven’t played together; there were soccer players that hadn’t played before too. I had no idea what I was doing and I’m sure Allie was in the same boat.
“I never thought we’d get this far and be this successful.”
The holy-smokes, we’re-actually-good moment came in their eighth game this spring, against Woburn, a team that had crushed Watertown 17-10, 18-11, and 17-5 since the Raiders began playing a varsity schedule in 2011.
The Tanners weren’t off to a great start this season, sitting at 2-5, and the Watertown game was supposed to give them a boost of confidence.
Woburn coach Maggie Meagher , who knew of Donahue’s legacy coaching field hockey, looked across the field and immediately knew something was wrong even before the game started.
“Their warm-up was a very focused warm-up,” Meagher said. “I know this sounds weird, but their attitude was different — just a focused attitude.”
Sutherland said the Tanners “saw us and they’re like ‘Oh, we’ll take ’em.’ And they were completely shocked when we started scoring right off the bat. Because you could tell, in their faces they were going to panic. They had no idea what they were getting themselves into.”
The Raiders rattled off 23 goals, a program record, while holding Woburn to 10.
“The first seven goals my kids were like, ‘What? Huh?’ ” said Meagher. “We aren’t having the type of season where we can think anyone is — well, you can’t have that mentality.
“It wasn’t like they had some crazy offense. They just worked hard. They just worked so hard to push the ball down the field, had some give-and-gos and backdoors and they could shoot. It wasn’t an elaborate set-up.”
With girls like ice hockey standout Emily Loprete who were already committed to the physical grind, Donahue has been able to get the most out of the Raiders. They’re in great shape, play a simple game of pass and catch, and never seem to lose focus.
“In this case, we have many players who never played lacrosse before,” Donahue said. “They’re out there learning as they go.
“I’m pleasantly surprised where we’re at, knowing where we were at day one. Basic skills still have to improve, but I have to give my team credit.”
Considering Watertown’s history, scheduling games against proven opponents was difficult.
The Raiders haven’t played a team with a winning record, nor do they have one left on their schedule.
Next year the Middlesex League is likely to incorporate a system in which each team, from the small or large divisions, plays every other team once, and that should help teams like the Raiders.
But for now, they don’t know what to expect in the postseason.
Naivety has carried them this far.
A first for Needham
For the first time ever, the Needham High boys’ lacrosse squad toppled Duxbury High, taking a 6-4 victory on Monday night.
“We’ve been chasing for them a long time,” said coach Dave Wainwright .
While brothers Nico and Mikey Panepinto accounted for all six goals, the more impressive feat might have came from the Rockets’ defensive unit.
Needham became the first Massachusetts team to hold the Dragons under five goals since at least 2005, when LaxPower.com began archiving results.
“It was the first time they looked at me and said, ‘OK, we’re ready for our compliments now, coach,’” Wainwright said. “I had to give it to them, they did a good job. They did exactly what was intended.”
Battle to the last day
Bragging rights in the Dual County League’s Small Division will be on the line Thursday for Concord-Carlisle and Wayland. After Wayland beat the Patriots, 10-2, in a lightning-filled game last week, the title can be won if one team wins and the other loses its final game. Otherwise the two will share the crown.
Wayland plays Waltham (4-9) while Concord-Carlisle plays Bedford (3-12).