'Ahead of the curve'

Veteran players lead Steamboat girls lacrosse team

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Kelsey Pal prepares to roll a ground ball to a teammate during the Sailors' lacrosse practice on Gardner Field at Steamboat Springs High School on Tuesday.

— Megan Lucas can remember never having seen a full-size girls lacrosse field prior to her first game.

"In that very first game, we had no idea," Lucas said.

"It was like the blind leading the blind," Kelsey Pal added.

Now Lucas and Pal are seniors with three seasons of playing experience under their belts. The pair joins Courtney Adamo and Maria Heilner, Steamboat Springs' other three-year starters, to captain a sprawling girls team with more than 30 players out for the season - about half of whom are freshmen.

The senior captains were confident in the team's potential on Tuesday, looking ahead to their first full-field practice of the season.

"We're definitely already ahead of the curve from where we were last year," Pal said.

Steamboat coach Jenn Kirkpatrick agreed.

"The first two weeks have been by far more advanced than last year," said Kirkpatrick, entering her second season as the Sailors coach.

Kirkpatrick said she will not be making cuts or dividing the girls into multiple teams, hoping to bolster the interest in many players entering the sport for the first year.

Adamo said she thinks the large freshman class, half of whom already have learned the basics on Steamboat Youth Lacrosse teams, will drive positive competition for playing time.

"Some of the freshmen are just as good as the juniors, so it makes them work harder," said Adamo, a three-year starting goalkeeper who will have a backup for the first time in her high school career. "And the freshmen know if they work hard, they could play."

Kirkpatrick was pleased to see the captains "stepping up" to pass on their know-how to the newcomers on every end of the field - from Adamo in goal and Lucas at defense to Pal at center and leading scorer and 2006 All-League honorable mention recipient Heilner at attack.

With "much-needed" access to a full field, Kirkpatrick was ready to line the girls in positions she had only been able to explain on the chalkboard, hoping to ready her team for a stout schedule. Oddly enough, Steamboat plays in the Metro League, a talent-heavy collection of the Denver-area teams that Kirkpatrick calls "the hardest in the state." Steamboat's league schedule includes home games against three of the Colorado's traditional lacrosse powerhouses - Kent Denver, Colorado Academy and Denver East. All advanced to at least the state quarterfinals last year.

The league "is an awesome opportunity to play and see what real lacrosse is like," Lucas said. "We can see how we play against them and learn how to deal, how to attack and how high of a level we can play at."

The veteran leadership, early access to a field and contagious optimism of a growing team has Kirkpatrick ready for the season.

"I'm really excited," Kirkpatrick said. "They're a fun, great group with tons of enthusiasm that work hard and always show up."

- To reach Dave Shively, call 871-4253

or e-mail dshively@steamboatpilot.com

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