Last season the Winchester girls’ lacrosse team only fielded four returning starters, and still the Sachems found themselves playing in the Division 2 title game.
With eight starters returning this season, Winchester is an early favorite to contend for the title that eluded it in last year’s 18-15 loss to Hopkinton.
But coach Susan Ontso is not about to let her girls start looking at the big picture this early in the season.
“I think for us, it’s doing the little things, because they all add up,’’ Ontso said. “Knowing what to do - I think we have the experience to know what to do - and also not make little mistakes, because a game can change so quickly.’’
Fundamentals and good decision-making should come easily to whatever experienced combination Ontso sends out, allowing standout midfielders Megan Hennessey and Maggie Connolly to improve on the Sachems’ 2011 average of 15 goals per game.
Hennessey, a Harvard commit and All-Scholastic last year as a sophomore, was second on the team with 69 goals. Connolly, a captain, will play for defending NCAA Division 3 national champion Gettysburg next spring.
“[Connolly’s] been on varsity for all four years and she’s a really good player for us,’’ Ontso said. “The key for us is going to be to play to our strengths and have our seniors step up.’’
The biggest question for Winchester (17-3-2 in 2011) is goaltending. Sophomore Hallie Stone saw significant playing time last season, but the Sachems also have a capable netminder in junior Megan Miranda.
Ontso tries to use one starter instead of splitting time.
One of the Sachems’ biggest tests of the 20-game regular season (up from 18 games) will be against defending Division 1 champion Westwood in early May.
The second-ranked Lady Wolverines have five starters returning from last season’s 25-0-1 campaign. Westwood welcomes back three committed seniors - Kate Rich (Boston College), Laura McHoul (New Hampshire), and three-year starting goaltender Mollie Brown (Plymouth State) - and the raw talent the younger players boast should be enough to eclipse any lack of experience.
“[Inexperience is] absolutely an area of concern, but I believe in the talent of the younger kids,’’ coach Leslie Frank said. “I think they are just going to need game experience. We tried to pack our preseason with the toughest teams . . . so I think they’ve had a lot of good scrimmages, but there’s nothing like being under the pressure of a regular-season game.”
At Notre Dame (Hingham), last year’s senior captains have departed, including leading scorer Jess Roach. With 10 returning starters and a 4-0 start, the Cougars look like they have the chemistry to make some noise in the South.
“We have to play smart lacrosse,’’ said coach Meredith Frank, Leslie’s daughter and an All-American at Northwestern. “I think we work very hard, we’re feisty and we’re aggressive, but for us it’s about being smart, making smart decisions when we have the ball. If we do that, hopefully we’ll be able to compete with some of the top programs.’’
Lincoln-Sudbury fell to Westwood in the Division 1 semifinals last spring, and the Warriors wasted no time getting revenge as they beat the Wolverines, 13-12, in the season opener. Led by All-Scholastic seniors Madison Acton (Duke) and Rachel Sexton, the top-ranked Warriors are favorites in the Dual County League and could make a long run in the playoffs.
After a 19-1 regular season, Andover fell to Lincoln-Sudbury in the Division 1 North title game, 17-9. With twin sisters and UMass-commits Anne and Kate Farnham holding down the back end and senior Ally Fazio leading the attack, Andover could be in it for the long haul.
There is no reason to believe that defending Division 2 champion Hopkinton will miss a beat. Coach Jodi Dolan has nine returning starters, including four-year starters Eliza Carroll, Meg Fujiyoshi, Victoria Munger, and Franklin and Marshall-commit Tam Mills. Junior Jackie Chirco is a rock in net, and opponents have to find a way to stop Tess Chandler - the team’s second-leading scorer last season has nine goals through the first two games.