Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Souhegan's 'Fantastic Four'

By: Jeremy Leveille
Four girls lacrosse players have recently committed to play in college at the Division I level. They are only juniors, and they're all from the same school. The Souhegan High girls LAX program is the best kept secret in New Hampshire high school sports. Well guess what folks, the secret is out!

Souhegan's 'Fantastic Four' are, pictured from left to right - Madison Learned (Boston University), Taylor Behn (Albany), Mickenzie Larivee (Boston University) and Jocelyn Donohue (George Washington).

"It is very rare to find a high school team where four girls are already committed to strong D-I lacrosse programs at the beginning of their junior year" Donohue told the NH Notebook. "Playing alongside Taylor Behn, Madison Learned, and Mickenzie Larivee has been amazing. We've been playing together for over 8 years now. We also all play together on the Granite State Elite '14 (GSE) team. We've spent the last few summers together traveling everywhere to play in recruiting tournaments. It's sad to think this summer will be our last. But we've accomplished our goal of committing, and I know I speak for all of us when I say it feels very rewarding to know our hard work has paid off. I also find it very cool that we are all best friends off the field. We pretty much do everything together. I think that plays a big role in how well we play together on the field."

Taylor Behn agrees that the four of them have a close bond, which has enabled them to all improve on the lacrosse field and achieve their goals of playing at the Division I level in college.

"I couldn’t have picked a better group of girls to play along with" said Behn. "I have played lacrosse with Jocelyn Donohue, Mickenzie Larivee, and Madison Learned for as long as I can remember. We all started out playing with the Amherst Lacrosse Club and it’s amazing to think that we all are going to continue our careers at the D-I level. All three of these girls are such hard workers and very athletic. Madison is one of the most athletic girls I know. She can play almost any sport and play at the highest levels. Mickenzie is a consistent force at both lacrosse and basketball. She works hard at everything she does and is always at the right place at the right time. Jocelyn is one of the hardest working players on our team. She always hustles and has some of the best offensive moves I’ve played against. We have all been playing together for years from town teams to our club team Granite State Elite to Souhegan Varsity. Our club team, GSE, competes during the summer across the country. This summer will be our last which is very sad. We have grown very close over the last few years and I have enjoyed every moment with them and will remember them forever. Our time on the field together has created a high level of trust. I know that whenever I pass any of them the ball I am confident that they will take care of the ball and score. The three girls and I have basically grown up together when it comes to lacrosse. Based on their work ethic and determination I am not surprised at their success and opportunity to play D-I. It has been a privilege to play with them and I can’t wait to play against Madison and Mickenzie at the college level!"

Putting this Accomplishment in Perspective
You had Trinity's star-studded boys basketball teams a few years ago. Before that you had the dominant Nashua High girls basketball teams who were nationally ranked in the 90's and had a ton of D-I players. Even more recently the Portsmouth High baseball team has churned out an impressive number of D-I college talent.

But this is different. This is four athletes from the same school and the same class, all commit to D-I schools in the same sport. It's a HUGE story. While lacrosse is one of the fastest growing sports in the country, it's still doesn't get as much coverage as sports like basketball or football. Still, that doesn't change the fact that Souhegan's 'Fantastic Four' deserves a ton of recognition.

Learned Was First to Commit
Madison Learned was the first one of the 'Fantastic Four' to commit when she decided to go with BU.

"I first started playing lacrosse when i was in 6th grade" said Learned. "My friends and I all started around then, including Kenzie. I also tried track, basketball and soccer but i loved lacrosse the most because it wasn't as popular as those other sports. It was different and I loved how good of a player you could become and the skills you could develop with your stick. I've always played mid field and i think that was because one of my strengths is my speed. I'm constantly using my speed in all aspects of the game. It allows me to be a stronger player."

Maren Petropulos has been the head coach of the Souhegan girls LAX team for the past 18 years, and she has been instrumental in the success of all four of her prized recruits.

"Maddy’s strengths are her speed and agility" commented Coach Petropulos. "I have yet to see someone catch her after she has taken off down field. She decided to resign from the varsity soccer team this fall and has been working diligently on her stick work and strength training. She is such a delight to coach –wanting to soak everything up at once and like Kenz, never wants to be on the sideline watching a practice or a game. Already a force in Division 1 LAX Madison has raw athleticism which only enhance her game and once Maddy’s stick catches up to her speed she will be untouchable."

Learned had a number of D-I schools recruiting her, but ultimately decided that BU was the best fit.

"There were other schools that I looked at, but Boston College, UMass and BU were the ones at the top of my list" said Learned. "I knew i wanted to stay close to home and love the Boston area. I chose BU over the other ones because I felt the most comfortable there. I had known Liz the head coach since I had done my first clinic in 7th grade, which I went to with Kenzie. I think Kenzie was being looked at by them first when we were younger and once they saw us play together at summer tournaments for GSE and clinics they realized how we compliment each other and know each other's next move on the field. I ended up committing first and then Kenzie soon after. We went on separate visits and both committed without talking about it first. It was an exciting surprise and only made me more thrilled to play Division I lacrosse, now with my best friend!"

Larivee's Commitment Came Soon After Learned's
The next player to commit was Larivee, who also decided on Boston University. It is clear that Larivee and Learned are a dynamic duo on the lacrosse field and will be a foce together at BU just like they are already at Souhegan.

"Maddy and I have been playing together since 6th grade, and we have been best friends since 5th grade!" Larivee explained. "It is so excited knowing that we will be playing lacrosse at Boston university together, because we just work really well together on the field. We always look for each other, and we are very comfortable playing and connecting in games! She has a lot of speed and is very strong with one on ones to goal which is very important! Maddy committed a week or two before me, and then I committed! It's great that we both ended up loving Boston University!"

Like Learned, Larivee was also impressed with BU's coaching staff.

"What impressed me most about Liz (coach Robertshaw) is that she pushes her players to their potential and is motivated to see each girl succeed on and off the field" said Larivee. "With a new assistant coach, Kim Hiller, I know that BU will be a strong team to compete against coming this spring, and for the years to come! I see my role being a player that contributes on and off the field! On the attacking end, I want to be as strong as I can be and to always motivate myself to get to that next level."

Coach Petropulos could see Larivee's potential at an early age.

"I can remember Kenz keeping score for our varsity games when she was in the middle school and her older sister, Chelsea (now a mid-fielder at Bentley) played for me" said Petroplulos. "Kenz was always on the sidelines and attended every game with her parents. On occasion, our score keeper would not show up and I would signal to Kenz and she would fly across the field to keep score. It might not have been the first sport that she played, but I am quite sure that upon picking up a lacrosse stick for the first time she was hooked! In no time, she was living, breathing and dreaming of lacrosse! She excelled at an early age – her skills and in particular, ability to play with both her dominant and non-dominant hands came very easily to her. It is hard to tell whether she is a lefty or a righty because she is so comfortable executing from either side. She has been a pure joy to coach but the real test for Kenz and other players who are committing this early to college is to see if they can sustain their passion at this level to want to go out and keep winning and challenging themselves to get better. She has definitely proven that she is an offensive threat as she was a co-offensive player of the year in 2011 and last spring was a co-mid-fielder of the year. I would like to see her really distinguish herself as a defensive authority as well. That would secure her spot in the state as one of the top 5 players. I think if I know Kenz – she will keep working hard at her skill and fitness levels and once again be a huge contributor to our team’s success as a junior and a senior! I have heard from Liz Robertshaw at BU since Mickenzie has committed and she is very excited about the future of BU lacrosse with the addition of Kenz and Maddy Learned."

Larivee also has fond memories of watching her older sister play LAX growing up.

"My favorite memory of lacrosse would be before I even was old enough to play lacrosse for GSE" said Larivee, who also helped the Souhegan girls basketball team win back-to-back D-II state titles as a freshman and sophomore. "I would watch my sister Chelsea, play for GSE at every tournament, just on the sidelines, watching game after game. I think that is when I feel in love with lacrosse. I would carry my stick every where and play whenever I got the chance. Just watching all of her games, sitting alone thinking how I wanted to be out there with her. I have worked on my game ever since, and it's finally paid off!"

Next Up, Behn Commits to Albany
Taylor Behn then committed to the University of Albany, which is an America East rival of BU.

"My decision process was a very long, stressful and exciting time period for me" Behn remarked. "Throughout the months of September and October I was lucky enough to visit with 18 schools across the country. During these visits I would get a tour of the school, meet the current players, learn about the LAX program and most importantly meet the coaches. My visit to Albany was an eye opener. The structure of the Junior Day was low key, relaxed and very personal. The head coach handled the entire event from start to finish. The day illustrated the commitment that the program and school has for the student athlete to thrive and be successful. I also got an opportunity to meet with all of the players from the current team. It was clear that the players enjoyed each other, were friends, loved the school and want to win. I also loved that it was close to home, easy for my family to visit and attend games. Coming from a family of eight and being the oldest of six kids, location was a clear factor. It is important for me to be a part of my younger sibling’s lives and for them to participate in my college experience. I just knew it was a perfect match."

Albany women's lacrosse has won back-to-back America East Conference championships under head coach John Battaglino.

"Taylor is just a rugged, tough player" said Coach Petropulos. "She has had much success defending other teams best players – in fact she has entirely shut down top scorers in critical games. I am very impressed with her mental and physical abilities. She still needs to work on some technical things – but that is nothing that a dedication to wall ball will not fix."

Donohue Completes the 'Fantastic Four', Commits to GW
Last but certainly not least, Jocelyn Donohue became the fourth junior from Souhegan to commit to play D-I college LAX. She recently committed to George Washington University. GW is located in Washington, DC.

"I committed to George Washington University in the beginning of December" Donohue explained. "It was a tough decision as I had many offers and options. I was trying to find a balance between strong academics and a competitive lacrosse program, and I know that GWU will provide me with both of those better than any other school will. I am looking to major in either International law or business, and GWU has very strong programs for both as they are located in the heart of DC. But what really sealed the deal was my visit. I loved the girls and the the coaching staff. I am looking forward to playing for head coach Tara Hannaford. I owe a lot of thank you's to a lot of people. There's so many people behind the scenes, such as my coaches, family, and friends, who helped to make this possible for me."

Last season George Washington went 10-7 and advanced to the Atlantic-10 Conference championship game.

"Jocelyn is probably the smartest player that I have" said Coach Petropulos. "She is quiet but intense and has worked very hard in the off season where she will be a force to reckon with. Her height alone is such an asset to any team – we are very lucky that have her. She was a critical contributor in our wins against Londonderry last spring."

What Makes Souhegan's LAX Program so Good?
The Souhegan girls LAX program competes in the NHIAA's Division I. They're one of the smallest schools in the division and have had to petition up to play there. Still, they have routinely advanced deep into the playoffs and have had many of their players go on to play in college.

"We’ve always had a great feeder program and that along with summer elite programs and camps – the girls have really been able to step things up" said Coach Petropulos. "All along – and this will be my 18th year coaching – I have had great assistants who have each brought a ton of knowledge to the program. From the JV program to Varsity – we have always tried to get to know the girls and utilize their strengths and then work on their weaknesses."

Remarkably, this isn't even the first time Souhegan has had four LAX players from the same class go on to play D-I.

"I had a similar group of talent in 2008 – with 4 girls going Div 1 (Harvard, UMASS, UNH and UCONN)" Petropulos continued. "These girls never let up and they played like a team. We went undefeated and crushed Londonderry in the finals."

With their 'Fantastic Four', plus two seniors who have committed tp play Division III lacrosse in college Souhegan is definitely the team to beat this year in girls LAX.

"Our ultimate team goal each year is to win a state championship" said Behn. "Our focus, however, is to continually get better and progress as a team day by day. We need to use each conditioning session and practice to get better, build our team and trust each other. I am so lucky to be on a team of unselfish, motivated players. I know that all returning players are using our championship loss from last year as motivation. We have been playing wall ball, conditioning, and have already started to support one another. I still remember what it felt like to lose that championship game and I personally use that disappointment and anger to my advantage tofocus and play as hard as I can every single practice and game. You have to put the work in to get what you want out. I know that this team is perfectly capable of winning and I am excited at the opportunity this season offers. Every single one of the players on this team is a sweetheart, a hard worker and determined to get the job done. I know that this team will put the necessary work in to be successful. I know that we will play every minute of every game. We will not give up and we will play for each other win or lose. I know what it’s like to hold a championship trophy. I know the pain, the ups and the downs that a season can provide. I know that we are ready to put the work in, to train and hopefully get the opportunity to play for another title."

While Coach Petropulos and her staff deserve a lot of credit for developing these athletes, this group has been playing together and winning games long before arriving at Souhegan.

"The girls in my class have always been a group of strong athletes" said Learned. "We played in youth programs and went undefeated almost every year with coaches who cared. We started GSE at a young age which gives you a lot of experience playing against intense teams. GSE allows you to play in important tournaments where college coaches spend their summers recruiting girls. GSE opened up another level of lacrosse. You also learn alot from the GSE coaches who are mostly experienced D-I lacrosse players themselves. I think the combination of these programs and the fact we have been playing together since we started lacrosse are the reasons behind commiting to Division I schools."

Souhegan Girls LAX to Undefeated for Next 2 Years?
Now we know where all four of these girls are going to be playing in college, why they decided on thsoe schools and what the secrets are behind their success on the field. The only question left, is whether they will go undefeated for the next two years at Souhegan.

"I am so excited for this year's high school season" Donohue concluded. "I have played so many sports in my lifetime, and been on so many different team, but I can honestly say this is my favorite team to be on. Although I am committed and looking forward to college, I know that I need to put that aside during the high school season as my work for my team is not done. We have come so close to winning the championship the last two years, and I know everyone on my team wants it so bad. But I know we can't do that unless we work hard everyday. Even though we have an amazing team with four girls committed to D-I schools and no other team in the league does, hard work will beat talent if talent doesn't work hard. So it's important to stay focused, and keep everyone focused as well."

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