Building a foundation

Freshmen key to improving lacrosse program

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— Freshmen know the rules. Seniors get the back seats on road trips. At assemblies, the upperclassmen sit in the middle and upper sections. In sports like football, respect the elders or else expect to tote around the equipment.

"Oh, we had to carry that either way," Henry Howard said.

Things, however, ran a little different in lacrosse. Being a first-year sport, everyone was a rookie and everyone made an impact, including the freshmen.

"They are the future of our program," head coach Bob Hiester said.

Howard, Danny Carlson and Andrew Zopf played midfield for the Sailors this season. Howard contributed seven goals, while Zopf and Carlson worked more within the transition game between the defensive and attacking zones. Each was unsure of what to expect from this new sport but all agreed it was time well spent.

"It was quite a bit more fun than I thought it was going to be," Carlson said. "It was more of a contact sport than I expected."

As a golfer and soccer player, Carlson had limited exposure to physical endeavors. In lacrosse, he found it, and he wasn't the only one that selected the physicality of lacrosse as his favorite aspect of the game.

Zopf plays offensive and defensive line and wanted to utilize the checking allowed in lacrosse to ready him for football season. He got more than he bargained for.

"I found out how physical it was in the first two games," he said.

So did Howard. His older brother, Cooper, convinced him to go out and there were a couple of run-ins on the field.

"We have ongoing brotherly love," Henry Howard said. "He walks around and pops me so I have to get him back. I laid him out twice in practice."

Here would be a good spot to buck the common misconception that beefy, burly kids are the only ones that pad up for lacrosse. Hiester said clearly, as in any sport, the advantage goes to stronger, bigger, more athletic kids, but that doesn't mean the smaller versions can't play.

According to Howard, the stick is the equalizer.

Take Carlson for example. He is, in his words, 5 feet 6 1/2 inches tall.

"That's when you know you're short," he said. "When you say the half."

What he lacks in height he makes up for in ability. Carlson spent the summer learning stick skills from Amanda Leftwich, a junior on the girls lacrosse team. Carlson said he noticed a difference on the first day of practice. Despite his age and height, he had an advantage, and he became a "middie" on the second line this spring, along with Howard.

"Danny was one of the best players on our team," Howard said. "He went out and practiced. He wasn't afraid to get in the packs. It's reassuring when he got the ball and took off downfield because we knew the other team wasn't getting it back."

It also takes a load off a first-year coach when underclassmen make major contributions. The experience the three young men gained this spring will carry over into offseason work, which will translate into additional improvements in ability and leadership next year. All three indicated a strong desire to play for four seasons and to work hard over the summer to improve. Howard's aspirations for what the Sailors can do extended beyond the Steamboat city limits.

"I hope that we increase the knowledge of the sport on the Western Slope and get more teams to play against," he said. "It's a great game."

All three expected additional boys to give lacrosse a shot next year after seeing and hearing how much fun the kids that did play had during the season. Hiester would welcome the newcomers and plans to get sticks into younger hands to begin developing ball-handling skills easily the most difficult aspect of the sport earlier.

"The longer a kid plays the better they are going to be," Hiester said.

And with continued work and dedication, Howard, Carlson and Zopf have the potential to be pretty good even for underclassmen.

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