Belmont Girls’ Lax ‘Ride The Wave’ To Playoffs, First Time Since 2012

Photo: Belmont High Girls’ Lacrosse seniors: (from left) Kelsey Hanley, Julia Casey, Marissa Cecca (co-capt.), Breah Healey, Lindsey Gaziano (co-capt.), Mia Kaldenbaugh (co-capt.).

Belmont High Girls’ Lacrosse Head Coach Katy Ananian said one of the top goals of her third season in charge of the Marauders was a return to the MIAA Division 2 East sectional tournament which has eluded the program for the past seven years.

“They deserve [the playoffs] this year,” said Ananian of her young team with seven sophomores and a freshman on varsity. “They really earned it.”

Anaian and the team can now check that box as the Marauders secured their place in the postseason for the first time since 2012 with a convincing 19-9 victory over hosts Stoneham on Thursday, May 23.

Senior co-captain Marissa Cecca

The victory gave Belmont its ninth victory (along with eight losses) of the season that has been as streaky – it opened the season with five victories followed by a four and then three-game losing streaks – as it is successful.

“I tell them that we can’t take our foot off the gas for the rest of the season. Every single thing matters whether it’s at practice when they’re picking up a ground ball, it’s going to affect us in the long run,” said Ananian after a victory against Quincy.

The victory allowed the Marauders to forego a “win or go home” scenario in the last game of the season at Newton North where Ananian will match wits with her sister, Abby Ananian, the Tigers’ head coach.

With the exception of a few games against the best teams in the league, Belmont has battled in each contest, led by a strong defensive crew made up of seniors Mia Kaldenbaugh (a co-captain) and Leah Gaziano along with sophomore Ashley Green. The team is backstopped by another sophomore goalkeeper Kendall Whalen, who is becoming a steady shot blocker in net.

Speedster senior co-captain Marissa Cecca is one of the quarterbacks of the Marauders’ attack paired with sophomore Ainsley Conroy. Up front, 10th grader Jordan Coppolo and junior Sarah Looney are joined by junior all-star and three-year starter Caroline Findlay who once again is Belmont’s leading scorer. Against Quincy, Findlay tallied her 200th goal of the season, only the fourth Marauder to achieve that mark.

Junior Caroline Findlay with the game ball.

Already committed to attend and play for NCAA Division III powerhouse Franklin and Marshall (which reached the semifinals this year), Findlay said her scoring prowess is a “crazy thing” as she will be a defender in the college game. “But I think I’ve grown so much playing attack.”

Reaching the milestone “is something I’ve been working towards since freshman year but I couldn’t have done it without my coach and teammates constantly pushing me to get better,” said Finlay.

Belmont Girls’ Lax Ride The Wave To Thrilling OT Win In Season Opener

Photo: Belmont’s Jordan Coppolo (#4) scoring the winning goal in OT vs Billerica.

As the team was heading out onto the Harris Field turf for sudden death overtime, Belmont High Girls’ Head Coach Kathryn Anaian called out to them: “Ride the wave!” 

Anaian was speaking about the momentum the team created in the second half of its game against Billerica Memorial High School in the season opener on March 28. After trailing 11-7 at the half, the Marauders’ held Billerica to just a pair of goals while scoring six second-half tallies that resulted in the extra frame.

“[Junior midfielder Carolyn] Findlay made a great comment at halftime. Let’s get the momentum, let’s fire everyone up and ride that wave. And we actually did it,” said Anaian. 

Riding high on that crest was a pair of sophomores who were critical in the unfolding contest. After tying the game with a little more than a minute to play in the game, goalie Kendall Whalen produced a stellar one-on-one save with 8 seconds to play, one of seven she registered in the game to keep the game squared at 13.

It would come down to Belmont’s most dangerous attack forward Jordan Coppolo (4 goals) to make the play of the game after receiving a pass from Marauder All-Star Findlay (6 goals, 2 assists). Rushing into the slot, Coppolo would gather the ball between four Billerica defenders and score on a shot high in the net to secure an exciting come-from-behind victory.

“We needed this first win as a [starting] point and we got it,” said Anaian. “If this is our starting point, I’m happy.”

Belmont came out strong to open the game, scoring three times in the first five minutes by dominating ground balls and faceoffs. While the defense was playing an aggressive style against Billerica’s attackers, the Marauders found themselves behind 11-5 before two late goals from Findlay and Coppolo allowed for some hope of a comeback at the half.

“We have a ton to work on but I can’t coach heart and I can’t coach work ethic. And I have a team where everyone is all in. And for that reason alone, we will be successful,” said Anaian.

Former Star Now Coach Has Girls’ Lax Playing Beautiful Music

Photo: Head Coach Katy Ananian with her Belmont team.

Katy Ananian. Remember her? 

Unlike former Belmont High sports stars whose playing careers were so long ago they played on grass and action photographs are in black and white, it was less than a decade Ananian – along with her talented sister Abby who played Division 1 lacrosse at St. Joseph’s  – nearly singlehandedly made Marauder girls’ lacrosse into an annual playoff contender, a League All-Star and Boston Globe All-Scholastic goaltender whose unorthodox style stonewalled opponents securing victories for a then young program.

Well, she’s back on the Harris Field sidelines this spring, now as a first-year head coach in the hope of rekindling a team that has spent four years out of the Division North sectional tournament. So far, so good as the Marauders entered the week-long Spring Recess break at 3-0, 2-0 in Middlesex League play.

For Katy, a 2011 Belmont High graduate, leading the Marauders is where she always wanted to be.

“When I was playing for Belmont, in my mind I was thinking “I want to coach Belmont one day,’ and that’s a true statement,” said Ananian, who regularly flashes a big smile she had during her playing days.

“There were moments when I took a step back and said ‘I love this program, I love this town. There’s a lot of pride here. So as soon as I saw that there might be an opening, I was like I have to jump on it,” she said after the team’s 18-7 win vs. Wilmington last week. 

It’s a good transition for Ananian having been an assistant coach at Wheelock College in 2016, a year after finishing an outstanding college playing career.

As a four-year varsity starter in goal at Wheaton College in Norton, Ananian led her team to an ECAC title as a freshman and an appearance in the NCAA Division 3 Championships her junior year after winning the NEWMAC tourney.

Having played the sport in college and with recent coaching experience, “so this was the perfect opportunity to take this program forward,” Ananian said.

Belmont’s Athletic Director Jim Davis said Ananian had all the qualities he was looking for in a new coach “who can jumpstart the sport.” 

“She’s enthusiastic with a real knowledge of the game. It’s a great fit,” he said.

What Ananian brings to the program is an approach to playing that incorporates the mindset and physical play of the college game to the high school stage. 

“Katy, who is fresh out of college, brings this modern way to play lacrosse to Belmont,” said senior captain AnnMarie Habelow. “She is bringing so many new ideas here that she’s flipping the program around right from the start.” 

“My big thing is teamwork,” said Ananian who said she last year she attended a few Belmont games where she saw a great deal of individual talent “but it didn’t come together.” 

“My philosophy also includes a ton of team bonding. If they like each other on and off the field, we will play better.” she said, noting that the team’s chemistry on the pitch is “fantastic.” 

And she gave the players a unique music analogy on playing as units on the field, that playing defense is like classical music while being on offense is hard rock. 

“They looked at me like I was a crazy person. But then I heard a couple of them say, ‘classical,’ ‘heavy metal’ and it really makes sense when you put it together,” she said.

Defense is “pretty, very mechanical and you have to communicate in a calm way. While offense is you want to attack, be loud and go hard at the goal.” 

While the season has just begun, the start has been encouraging as Belmont has outscored the opposition by double figures in each of the first three games. Against Wilmington, Belmont took an early ten goal lead only to see it reduced to seven before goals by Habelow and Sophie Pollock stemmed the tide.

Ananian is realistic about games to come against more accomplished, experienced teams in the Middlesex League, five which made the postseason last year.

“I told them that not every game is going to come easy for us. We need to take advantage of opportunities where we can play as a team and pass the ball around and come up with ‘pretty’ plays that will beat these strong defenses,” said Ananian. 

But Ananian remains confident that her first campaign will be a success. 

“My idea for this season was a clean slate. I didn’t want to pay attention to anything that happened last season. I see us going wherever our teamwork can take us,” said noted.

“As long as we want it as a collective team, I could see us competing with the Readings and the Winchesters,” she said.

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Sports: Trey Butler Breaks School LAX Career Scoring Mark

Photo: Trey Butler and his teammates after Butler broke the school’s scoring record

It took four years to accomplish but finally on a wet, cold Saturday afternoon, Belmont High School’s senior Richard “Trey” Butler became the top career points scorer in Boys’ Lacrosse when he racked up his 267th point – an assist – in a 12-5 loss to Brookline.

“I wish we could have competed better today, but it’s pretty awesome,” said Butler after the game which saw Belmont’s record slide to 5-7.

Known for his work rate and a deadly shot from mid-distance, Butler said he could not have accomplished his goal without the work of his teammates “who really stepped up this year.”

“Other teams know that I’m a dodger [an offensive player who drives to the opponent’s goal with the ball while evading and passing defenders] so this year I’ve been making more assists,” he said.

“I think he’s the hardest working player on the team, and that’s a testament to his tirelessness,” said Head Coach Josh Streit, who said Butler is the first player he coached who has started varsity in every game of his four years in the program.

“[Butler] is truly an outlier,” said Streit, referring to the book written by Malcolm Gladwell. “He puts in hundreds of hours of practice in the fall and winter so that he can be the elite player.”  

Sports: Girls’ Lacrosse Loss Goalie and Game to Lexington

Photo: Belmont’s Anastasia MacEwen Meg Higgins (19) defend the goal in the second half.

Belmont High School’s Girls’ Lacrosse three-year starting goalie Anastasia MacEwen was a rock in net against a slick, fast Lexington High offense. The senior kept the Minutemen at bay early in Wednesday’s home match, April 13, as Belmont’s offense was struggling losing ground balls and being checked off the ball.

On shot after shot, MacEwen stopped balls with the net of her crosse, the crosse’s shaft, her legs, body, glove and even two off her mask as the Marauders rebounded from a deficit to tie the game early in the second half behind the senior netminder’s stellar play.

But in the future, MacEwen might want to limit the number of times she uses her head making the save as the second one off her noggin saw the veteran goalie coming out of the game. (MacEwen was able to walk off the field and was on the sidelines for the rest of the match.) 

With its backstop on the bench, the team went into a bit of a defensive shell in front of substitute goalie junior Ciara Murphy, which allowed the Minutemen a bit more opportunities which the speedy Lexington forwards took advantage to sneak off Harris Field with a 13-10 win over Belmont.

“The girls played very well today,” said Head Coach Aimee Doherty.

“We played a hard game from start to finish and we really stepped up compared to our last two games in getting control of the draw. We are working on protecting the ball because we are forcing it at times and causing turnovers that have led to goals,” she said.

(Wednesday’s loss was sandwiched between an 18-1 drubbing of Stoneham and a road win Friday against Wilmington to bring Belmont’s record to 2-2.).

MacEwen was the standout in the first 25 minutes half, limiting Lexington to “only” three goals as Belmont’s offense was not yet in sync, losing plenty of ground balls and being kept from the front of Lexington’s net.

Attacking wing Julia Martin (1 goal) put Belmont on the scoreboard from a Serena Nally (4 assists) helper after nine minutes. Then in quick succession, strikes by attack Kate McCarthy (3 goals, 1 assist) and Sophie Pollack (3 goals, 2 assists) was culminated by a goal from a cutting McCarthy from a sweet pass from Pollack gave Belmont a 4-3 lead with nine minutes to play in the half.

But Lexington plotted a pair in before the half to lead 6-4. The second half saw Belmont starting on the front foot with junior attack wing AnneMarie Habelow (2 goals, 1 assist) spinning through her defender to score at the 21-minute mark, followed 13 seconds later by McCarthy to tie the game up at six. It was during the flurry of play that saw the Minutemen score the go-ahead goal with 18 minutes remaining during which McEwan was hit by the ball. 

Habelow’s second goal off a penalty start knotted the game at seven just 20 seconds later. And while defensive wing Leah Brams and defender Maija Kubasek disrupted the Minuteman offense, Lexington did keep the pressure on Belmont, which could only close the game to one goal three times – Erin Looney strike (8-9) and two from Pollack (9-10 and 10-11).

Doherty said staying above the .500 mark and be a playoff team “is absolutely doable” with 12 returning players and six seniors. 

“From the first day, they really clicked on and off the field,” she said.

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Belmont Girls’ Lacrosse Takes Two at Home After Spring Recess

Photo: Belmont High Senior Sophia Eisenbach-Smith (center in white) in action.

Behind a goal-scoring binge from speedy senior Left Wing Attack Sophia Eisenbach-Smith, the Belmont High School Girls’ Lacrosse team took two well-earned victories at its home at Harris Field to move its record to 3-5. 

The multi-sport (soccer and basketball) standout Eisenbach-Smith tallied 14 goals in the two games, leading Belmont by Wilmington High, 15-8, on Wednesday, April 29, and over Burlington High Red Devils, 19-12, on Friday, May 1.

Friday’s victory over the visiting Red Devils was the team’s best game of the season, said Belmont’s Head Coach Aimee Doherty.

“We played very well beginning to end. The girls showed a lot of heart which I have been nagging them about. They stepped it up with the ground balls. And while we had some turnovers, we got a lot of them back by fighting for it so that made a huge difference,” she said. 

After falling behind 2-4 midway through the first half, the Marauders went on a 6 to 2 goal run to go into halftime up 8-6, as junior attack Lizzy Frick (3 goals) scored on a penalty with a minute remaining.

The second half has been a worrisome time for the Marauders this season when Belmont, but not this game as despite not having a great deal of possession in the first 10 minutes. Up 10-9, the Marauders started connecting on its passing, freeing up attackers for some open shots and goals starting with junior Sophia Pollack (3 goals) to make it 11-9 at the 12 minute mark. 

And when the passes weren’t there, sophomore Annemarie Habelow ran 40 meters up the middle of the defenders to score giving Belmont a 12-9 lead with 10 minutes remaining.

Preserving the lead were sophomore goalie Anastasia MacEwen – who made several in-close saves – and defenders juniors Bridget Treanor, Leah Bram and sophomore Margot Kubasek who crowded the slot in front of MacEwen.

Up 14-10 (through goals by Eisenbach-Smith and Kerri Lynch), with eight minutes remaining, Belmont swept up the victory with a great display of passes that put Belmont’s forwards, like Ellen Bragg (2 goals) one-on-one with the Burlington goalie. Fittingly, Belmont’s final goal was scored with 30 seconds remaining by Eisenbach-Smith, her eighth of the match. 

“Our passing was excellent today. Accuracy is something we’ve been working on for the last couple of weeks and I think we nailed it today. Those passes were dead on,” said Doherty.

Next up for the girls are Winchester on Saturday, May 2 (after the SAT tests) and Monday, May 4 at arch-rival Watertown. 

Snakebit: Belmont Girls’ Lacrosse Finds it Hard to Reach Win Column

Photo: Belmont High School Girls’ Lacrosse 

Belmont High School Girls’ Lacrosse Head Coach Aimee Doherty knows her team is just that one … something so it can begin being on the right side of the win/loss column.

But every time it appears that the team has come close to solving the issues at hand, the team ends up looking at another defeat. 

It’s not like the Marauders are being skunked in each game. In the three previous games before its game against Newton North Saturday, April 25, Belmont was in the game until the final horn blast, before falling to Lexington (19-16), Reading (15-11) and Arlington (13-12). 

“Overall, we’ve been playing really hard and really well,” said Doherty, whose team has seven seniors and eight juniors. “But in the last two games, we’ve been missing half of our team which five are starters so that’s had a huge impact on our play.” 

On Saturday, the Marauders could have used as much fire power against a talented Div. 1 squad, ending up on the short side of a 16-5 loss.

Key players this year have been seniors Sophia Eschenbach-Smith and Elena Bragg along with juniors AnnMarie Habelow (2 goals Saturday), Katherine McCarthy (also 2 goals) and Kerri Lynch.

“The three biggest things we need to focus on which will help turn our game around are getting possession of ground balls, winning the draws (which occurs after every score) which is really hurting us and placing our shots. We are shooting at the right time but not hitting the right spots on goal,” said Doherty.