HOPKINTON — Earlier in her coaching career, Jodi Dolan , admittedly, would not have known what to do when word of the Boston Marathon bombings reached the practice field behind Hopkinton High on that tragic Monday afternoon.
She probably would have just yelled a little bit louder, demanded her players focus a little bit harder.
But 13 years of experience goes a long way.
“Younger me would have been like, ‘We have a big game tomorrow!’ ’’ said Dolan, the varsity girls’ lacrosse coach at Hopkinton since the program’s inception in 2001. “Because we did. But I’ve learned over the years the hard way, when you go the extra mile for your players, they will for you too — on the field.”
Not too far down the road from the starting line of the Marathon, Dolan brought her squad together as players worked their communication lines to make sure every family member was unharmed. Many were close to the finish line at the time. There was a moment of panic. But the family on the field was full of support.
The Hopkinton High varsity girls’ program has had its share of success in its relatively short life. A Division 2 state championship in 2011 has been the high point, but each year since has seemed to shed more light onto the genuine character of those who play.
Laughter on the lacrosse field was not always a staple for Dolan’s teams. Yelling was. Not that the yelling didn’t work: Players, both current and former, have testified that Dolan’s coaching has made them stronger at heart.
Each one of her team captains this season can recall a “Jodi moment,” an instance on the field that might have been difficult to go through, but only made them better afterward.
Tess Chandler has hers.
At the end of her freshman year, the Hillers had yet to post a shutout. In the game’s final moments, Chandler committed a foul inside the 8-meter arc, and Bellingham scored on the penalty. Chandler was called off the field and Dolan told her their goalie deserved better.
It was a crushing moment for Chandler, now the team’s senior captain, a Globe All-Scholastic lined up to play for Boston College, and, by all accounts, the most important player on the field for Hopkinton, and one fantastic leader. Her “Jodi moment,’’ Chandler said, helped shape her growth as a player.
“She doesn’t foul much more in the eight-meter,” said senior goalie Jaclyn Chirco . “Dolan teaches us how to be a team player. A lot of what she preaches is trust in each other. If you’re going to pass to each other, you can trust that they’re going to catch the ball. You don’t have to worry about them.
“And if you don’t catch it, someone else on the field will be there to help fix the mistake you just made. We’re all playing together.”
Tryouts have become one of the most important segments of the season for Hopkinton. To Dolan, character has become just as important as talent.
“I always say, good chemistry is worth a goal or two,” she said.
Before final cuts are decided, Dolan has a talk with the girls who have already passed all the tests.
“I say, ‘This is your team. I don’t want any drama on the team. I want everyone to get along. So regardless how good a player is, if there is someone who doesn’t have a good attitude, or is uncomfortable or is mean, let me know,’ ” Dolan said.
“The girls have a big say in who they end up having on the team. Because it’s our team. All together.”
The Hillers’ three midfielders, Chandler, along with senior Dana Gogolin and junior Taylor Sokol , were teammates during the winter on the Hiller varsity girls’ basketball team, when Chandler tore some ligaments in her left ankle. She was forced to miss the first few lacrosse games this spring before Dolan slowly worked her star player back into the lineup. She is still not at 100 percent.
The day Chandler returned, Gogolin went down with an injured ankle.
“It’s funny, Tess was getting face-guarded the minute she was back,” Dolan said. “It’s funny because she wasn’t very mobile. I was like, ‘Oh good, they just put their best defender on her.’ ”
Although the team responded well in her absence, Chandler struggled with not operating at full speed.
“It’s every game and it’s hard,” said the 6-foot captain. “I hate it. I was really slow and I couldn’t even get open. I just had to focus on doing other things, like picking to get other people open.
“I think the biggest thing that’s helped me is Dolan. I came back thinking it was going to be this awesome year. I set these high expectations for myself. And I just realized they’re unattainable. And I would get frustrated with myself. I would go home after games feeling awful.
“Coach just kept saying, ‘It’s OK. It’s going to come. It’s going to come.’ I’ve called her and we talked about it. She’s definitely helped with my confidence.”
It was a different kind of “Jodi moment” that brought Chandler back to her game.
Even in limited action this season, she has scored 19 goals and dished out 13 assists. Sokol has 19 goals and three assists.
It was not until last week’s game against Medfield, which beat Hopkinton in the Division 2 South final last year en route to the state title, that the Hillers started to click. They won, 14-9, and have started the season with a 6-2 record.
“We’re finally back in action, running 100 percent,” said Chirco, who is stopping more than 60 percent of opponents’ shots. “We’re having so much fun together.
“I never want this season to end. I don’t want to leave Hiller lacrosse. This team rocks.”
Down the road, the Marathon tribute banner on Main Street reads, “With you at the start, with you at the finish, with you forever.”
Dolan’s team believes in those words. It might be her best “Jodi moment.”
Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at email@example.com.