May 23. 2018 9:08AM

H.S. Lacrosse: ConVal Cougars meeting the challenge — from each other

By ALEX HALL
New Hampshire Union Leader


ConVal's Lily Sheridan. 

When the ConVal of Peterborough girls’ lacrosse players scrimmage each other in practice, they constantly challenge each other, coach Derek Sorbello said.

Sorbello expects a high compete level from his players regardless of their grade level or years playing the sport.

“We challenge the younger players but we also want the younger players to challenge our older players,” Sorbello said. “It doesn’t work if the challenge isn’t both ways.

“Whether you have the skills or not, the effort has to be there.”

ConVal’s senior class of Grace Dell, Lily Sheridan, Sara Krslovic, Emma Crowley, Kalbie Grassett and Katie Moorehead and some of its junior class played youth lacrosse growing up. Many of the Cougars’ sophomores and freshmen, including some who see significant playing time, did not pick up a stick until they reached high school.

“We don’t have a consistent feeder program,” Sorbello said. “Every year, we’re looking for that athlete who is going to pick up the game quickly and be able to step in.”

The Cougars feature six freshmen and five sophomores on their 23-player roster. Some underclassmen have stepped into leading roles and others have seen increased playing time when injuries or illnesses have struck the team this season. That experience paired with guidance from the senior class has helped ConVal’s younger players gain confidence.

“Our seniors are being open and encouraging to our younger group,” Sorbello said. “I think our younger group, they have their confidence now. It’s all about the confidence and having confidence in each other and that’s always a process with any team you have — to try and get that blend and try to get the most confidence.”

The chemistry between the program’s younger and older players began when the team spent most of April practicing in the ConVal gym. Sorbello also does not separate his varsity and junior varsity teams, preferring to keep the two squads together.

“We have to challenge each other regardless of experience or grade level in order for us to succeed,” Sorbello said.

The Cougars have indeed enjoyed success this season. ConVal sat in fifth place in the Division III standings with a 9-3 record and entered its home game against Derryfield School of Manchester Tuesday night with a five-game winning streak. The Cougars went 7-7 and fell to Bow in the quarterfinals last year. Two seasons ago, they finished 11th in the division with a 6-8 mark, missing the playoffs.

Sorbello credited his team’s performance this season to the core of Moorehead, Krslovic, Sheridan and Dell leading the offense and a workmanlike defensive unit led by Crowley, a four-year starting goalie.

Dell and Sheridan have been among the team’s top scorers for the past three years but they are not its only offensive weapons. Others like junior Deanna Kashulines, freshman Madelynn Plourde and sophomore Brooke Ellis have contributed offensively as well, Sorbello said.

“We know where our goals are coming from but we still need others to step in,” Sorbello said. “Deanna Kasulines and Madelynn Plourde and Brooke Ellis, they may not be our top goal-scorers but they’ve provided assists and off-ball movement, scrapping for ground balls and defending — little things that help.”

This year, Sorbello implemented a man-to-man defensive scheme to add to the team’s traditional zone approach. He has been impressed by how quickly his defensive players learned the man-to-man scheme and their ability to switch from it into zone or vice versa.

ConVal had allowed an average of 7.3 goals per game entering Tuesday and surrendered nine or fewer goals in each of its first nine victories.

What Sorbello would still like to see before the end of the season is a Cougars victory over one of the division’s top four or five teams.

“We’re playing better, competing in those games better than we have in the past but we still come up short,” Sorbello said. “We still need to take that bigger step.”

That step Sorbello is waiting to see may come in the Division III tournament.

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AT THIS POINT in spring, it’s hard not to look forward to the playoffs but there are still some big games left on the regular-season slate. Here are some bouts I’m looking forward to before we get to the postseason.

Girls’ games

Windham at Portsmouth (Thursday)

This one could end up being a preview of a game to come in the Division II playoffs. After all, these two met in last year’s semifinals, a game Portsmouth won, 18-6. Both teams entered this week among the top five in the standings.

Portsmouth took a 13-2 record and 12-game winning streak into its home game with Pembroke Academy on Tuesday. Windham (12-5) has won its last six games and has spent all week preparing for the Clippers.

Bow at Pelham (Friday)

Both teams entered the week with similar records — Bow at 9-2 and Pelham at 9-3. This game, which marks the end of the regular season for both teams, will surely have playoff-seeding implications.

The Falcons entered this week on a four-game winning streak while Pelham had won seven of its last nine. This could turn out to be a defensive struggle. Only three teams finished with double-digit scoring outputs against Bow over its first 11 games. Only four teams accomplished the same feat against the Pythons over their first 12 contests.

Nashua North at Nashua South (Friday)

No better way to end the regular season than by facing your rival. North will look to upset a South team that has been surging of late. The Purple Panthers entered this week having won five of their last seven. One of their wins during that stretch was a 18-9 win over North on May 3. The Titans entered this week looking to end a five-game losing streak.

Boys’ games

Monadnock at Trinity (Thursday)

Trinity has worked its way into the playoff conversation by bouncing back from a 2-3 start.

Monadnock of Swanzey dropped its first two contests before going on an eight-game winning streak, which Pelham snapped on May 16. This is another postseason-caliber game that will have tournament implications.

Exeter at Pinkerton (Friday)

Exeter has been tested this month by some of the best teams both inside and outside the Granite State. The Blue Hawks will cap their regular season with a trip to Derry to face one of Division I’s biggest powerhouses in Pinkerton.

The Astros’ only in-state loss came against two-time defending D-I champion Bishop Guertin of Nashua, which beat Exeter earlier this month.

This one should help both teams get into a playoff mindset if they haven’t already done so.

Portsmouth at Goffstown (Friday)

Goffstown could not have picked two better opponents to end its regular season against. The Grizzlies will play at two-time defending Division II champion Derryfield (16-0) today before hosting Portsmouth, last year’s runner-up, on Friday. The Grizzlies entered this week having won their last eight games. Portsmouth (13-2) is on an eight-game winning streak.

The High School Lacrosse column runs Wednesdays during the season. Alex Hall can be reached at ahall@unionleader.com.