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Globe West High School Lacrosse

Even with sails trimmed, McGill still a force

A painful leg condition has forced Westborough High’s Cassandra McGill to limit her game, but not to stop it, and her team was 11-2 through Monday. A painful leg condition has forced Westborough High’s Cassandra McGill to limit her game, but not to stop it, and her team was 11-2 through Monday. (Mark Wilson for The Boston Globe)
By Jason Mastrodonato
Globe Correspondent / May 12, 2011

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With every painful step, Cassandra McGill says, she asks herself, “Is this worth it?’’

The Westborough High senior lacrosse captain does not take a lot of steps at a time. And if she runs for more than a couple minutes, the muscles in both calves cramp up, and she’s forced to limp, or sometimes crawl, to the sidelines.

“If she could play every game 100 percent, and not be injured, God, I don’t know,’’ said Megan Sullivan, a fellow captain for the Rangers, the three-time defending Division 1 Central champions. “It would be scary.’’

McGill has popliteal artery entrapment syndrome, a rare condition in young adults in which an expanding muscle traps an artery and blocks blood flow. It is more common in males.

The condition snuck up on McGill, first surfacing with pain during a game three years ago. But it was a very hot day, and she thought the discomfort was a one-time thing.

But later, competing as a gymnast, the pain flared up again. She tried to ignore it the best she could, and after a full winter season, McGill started to feel better. And last spring, she played an integral role in the Rangers’ run to the state lacrosse semifinals against Longmeadow.

A 5-foot-7 midfielder, she never stops running. Ask a few teammates what makes McGill such a good player, and their lofty praise flows: “She plays great defense . . . She plays great offense . . . She has a ‘shot like a boy.’ ’’ “When she fires that ball, there’s steam that rolls off that net,’’ said Colleen Debish, in her fifth year as Westborough’s coach.

But McGill’s medical condition has taken a turn for the worse this spring, after gymnastics over the winter took its toll. She couldn’t jump rope for 10 seconds before the pain flared up.

After McGill consulted multiple doctors, it was clear that something would need to be done. But even an angiogram test would set her back two weeks, and surgery could sideline her much longer.

“It’s kind of a big decision to make,’’ said McGill, who hopes to play next year at Stonehill College, a perennial national contender in Division 2.

“I’ve talked a lot about it with my parents and my brothers, and if I continue at the rate I’m going at now, I would not be able to play college lacrosse anyway,’’ because her legs would not be up to the task, she said.

McGill decided that she would play through this season and then reevaluate her situation. But midfield was no longer an option, since the position requires running the length of the field. Debish had the answer: Set McGill as a high attacker and let her pick and choose moments to make a move.

“She was a 100-yard player before, now she’s turned into a 50-yard player,’’ Debish said. “And she’s really more selective of what she does. But this kid is so efficient.’’

It hasn’t been easy for McGill to accept her new role. She can’t help but run back to play defense at times, or chase down an opposing ball carrier.

“Cassandra is just so competitive,’’ said Dani Petrunich, a senior captain sidelined since tearing her anterior cruciate ligament in the fourth game of the season, yet who has not missed a game or a practice.

“We’re on the sidelines and try to keep her up [on attack] to reduce her running, and she’s all the way at the other end. I’ve had to yell at her so many times to stop sprinting.’’

With a large portion of the season behind her, McGill is embracing the new role.

“It’s kind of a blessing in disguise,’’ she said. “Because once I get the ball I know I can’t run, so my head immediately comes up for the pass. I remember in the Framingham game, I got the ball back and I couldn’t stand anymore, so I just looked to make a pass so I could get on the ground.’’ She eventually crawled off the field in the 8-6 Rangers win.

It hasn’t been easy, but it’s working. The Rangers, 11-2 through Monday, already have their sights set on finally beating Longmeadow in the state semifinals. Westborough has lost each of the last three years to the Western Massachusetts power.

But with junior goalie Hanna Bjork taking over in net, Sullivan and Emily Faherty anchoring a defense that has been playing together since elementary school, and Petrunich’s younger sister, Anna, trying to fill her shoes, Westborough is brimming with confidence.

“These girls are on a journey,’’ Debish said. “They’ve had so much fun the last couple years and they’re getting better. That’s our goal, getting better. And hopefully we can break through that last wall, the last barrier.’’

Medfield on the attack

The Medfield High girls entered Tuesday’s showdown against unbeaten Westwood riding a seven-game winning streak, six of them by at least nine goals.

Warriors coach Jason Heim is excited with the way his team’s attack is clicking.

“The pressure was on last year for some of the girls trying to figure out where they were going to play in college,’’ he said. They wanted “to prove to anyone what caliber player they are. Now they’re able to get everyone else involved. I’ve seen a lot of unselfish play with the girls, and the scoring is coming from all over the place.’’

Lincoln-Sudbury on rise

After crushing previously undefeated Concord-Carlisle Regional, 19-6, the Lincoln-Sudbury Regional girls have won two in a row, and are focused on Monday’s rematch with Wellesley.

Warriors coach Deb DeJesus places a high priority on draw control, and believes that controlling possession will be the deciding factor in the rematch against the Raiders. Lincoln-Sudbury won the first game this season, 11-9.

“It’s the middle of the season, and like probably all teams, the kids are getting a little tired,’’ she said. “The goal is just to play and to improve. Every game like this helps us for our second season, which is the tournament. So we’re going to be the best team we can be by then.’’

Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at jasonmastrodonato@globe.com.