There’s a lot to unpack with this year’s Keene High boys lacrosse team.
A team that hasn’t won a game since the 2018 season — going 0-14 in the 2019 season and missing the entire 2020 season because of COVID protocols — is hungry as ever to get back in the win column.
But first things first.
“We’re just trying to knock the rust off,” said third-year head coach Jamison Hines at practice Wednesday. “There’s two years of rust instead of just one year of rust, so a lot more catching and individual drills than we’d like to be doing, but it’s the second or third day of practice so we’re moving along.”
The Blackbirds are led by their four captains (three seniors and a junior) who were all underclassmen when they last took the field in a competitive game.
“Two years ago … we were the new kids and we looked up to the seniors,” said senior captain Cooper Kennedy. “Now we’re the seniors and we’re running the team. Most of our team is freshmen and they don’t know what it was like that season (2019) and we hope that they won’t have to deal with that like we did.”
It goes without saying, but nobody wants to go winless like the Blackbirds did in 2019. But combine the bitter taste of losing every game in 2019 with the bitter taste of missing out on an entire season in 2020, it just might turn into the motivation this team needs to find success this year.
“That definitely hurt,” said senior captain Will Levesque on the 2019 winless season. “Us seniors, we don’t want to go out like that. We’re motivated to make something happen this year, I think the whole team is.”
“No one wants to be known as a team that doesn’t win a game for two years straight,” agreed senior captain Ethan Russell. “I think this year we’ll have a chance to … actually compete in the playoffs. I think we’re back and we’re ready to win some games this year.”
The Blackbirds will be competing in Division II this year, rather than DI.
A lot of the team’s success will fall on the shoulders of the captains: Kennedy, Levesque, Russell and junior Brennan Lilly, who are being thrust right into the fire this season after missing out on an entire year of experience. But Hines feels that the team is in good hands.
“I picked [the captains] based on their leadership potential, and they’re all doing an excellent job,” Hines said. “I told them that this was their team because they’re the captains. I’m the coach, but I wanted them to be responsible and exercise leadership on the field and off the field.”
This freshman class will be a big storyline to follow this season. The freshmen are going to be a large part of the offense, although Hines said it was still too early to say who will have a main role. One thing is clear: It’s a talented freshman class with a lot of motivation to rack up some wins this season.
“We have a lot of freshmen that came up and they all seem to be excited to play lacrosse,” Hines said. “We’re hoping to have a competitive season and get better after every practice and after every game.”
“I think we have something to prove because we’ve lost a lot of games,” Lilly said. “Most of us just want to go on a winning season and make something happen.”
It’s a freshman class that has the upperclassmen excited for the program’s future.
“There are some good freshmen out there, and they’ve got three more years after this year,” Russell said. “As seniors, it’s important that we implement what it’s like to be leaders and play lacrosse at a varsity level so they can use that in the next three years after we’re gone.”
The Blackbirds start their 2021 campaign on April 20 at Manchester Central High School, but there is still a lot of work to do before then.
“We definitely have a lot of rust to knock off,” Levesque said. “But this first week of tryouts, we’re looking good so far. I think we’re pretty motivated to make something happen this year.”
And the preseason excitement is in full swing for the Blackbirds, magnified by the missed 2020 season.
“You can definitely see the energy because of missing last season,” Russell said. “I think everyone’s excited to be back.”