Westwood’s legacy of excellence
I n those rare moments when she is in need of a dose of inspiration, coach Leslie Frank has a knack for finding what she is looking for.
As her Westwood High players were warming up for the Division 1 state semifinals against Framingham in 2009, sophomore Kate Rich found a charm on the team bench.
The Wolverines went on to beat Framingham (15-6) and then Longmeadow for the state championship.
Frank continues to wear the charm around her neck, along with a cross found during a friend’s illness. She also has a purple bead for Northwestern University - attended by both of her daughters, Meredith (currently the head coach at Notre Dame of Hingham) and Alex (currently a senior there) - and a green bead for Westwood.
The beads, both found in times of need, serve as friendly reminders of how lucky she’s been, both as a coach and as a mother.
But while teams that are perenially successful are often thought of as lucky, she and her players know otherwise.
Her players “recognize the opportunities they were given by the girls ahead of them,’’ said the 14-year coach, who guided the Wolverines to a 25-0-1 mark and the Division 1 state crown last June.
“Everybody wants to say we have some magic here. It has so little to do with coaching. It has to do with the girls ahead of them who raised the bar, and cared about every grade below them.’’
Over the past decade, the Wolverines have established themselves as one of the premier girls’ programs in the state, racking up five championships in the past nine seasons. Much has been made about the talented individuals who suited up on Nahatan Street.
But according to coach Frank, few have acknowledged what brought the program to this point: the legacy set forth by the hard work and sacrifice of former players.
“I think that the girls before us definitely set the bar high, and they definitely set a standard that they expect all future Westwood lacrosse players to live up to,’’ said Rich, now a senior captain who will play at Boston College next spring.
“That is absolutely where all our success comes from.’’
“I feel like, ever since I’ve been a freshman, there have been these strong players that you pick things up they leave behind, like their hard work and their skills,’’ said fellow captain Laura McHoul, a four-year member of the squad who will continue her playing career at the University of New Hampshire.
“Each year, picking something different up makes you a better player, and therefore you add to the team.’’
The team’s personal expectations have paid off over the past decade, even as growing interest in the sport has elevated the talent level across the state. Year in and year out, teams are becoming stronger, and staying on top has been a testament to Westwood’s strong foundation.
“I hate all the success stories [about Westwood] because every year, you’re fighting [to be successful], and it’s hard to be successful,’’ said Frank, who has led Westwood to a 5-1 start, the lone blemish a 13-12 setback to unbeaten Lincoln-Sudbury. “Sometimes I feel my girls want a break from having that. It’s hard to play that way: everyone coming out, everyone following you, everyone wanting to knock you off. That’s a hard way to play.’’
For all that the Wolverines do well on the field, the primary focus is academics. “None of these college opportunities happen if they’re not studying, none of them,’’ said Frank. “That opens all college doors, and I hear [the captains] expressing that to the younger kids.’’
The importance of academics has been a focal point for Frank since she began coaching. Both of her daughters have won national championships while attaining academic excellence at Northwestern University, along with many other former Westwood stars.
Last year’s captain, Sarah Biron, the Globe’s reigning Division 1 Player of the Year, is currently a freshman at Johns Hopkins.
With such strong role models, the tradition of academic excellence has never waivered for the Wolverines. Two current players, senior defenseman Shelly Walsh and junior midfielder Marina Burke, have Ivy League schools in their sights. Walsh will continue her career at Brown, while Burke has an early verbal commitment to play at Harvard.
“We’ve seen the girls that have gone to Northwestern and very prestigious schools, but that doesn’t come from just lacrosse,’’ said Walsh. “You have to work hard in every aspect. The biggest thing we have given to each other by being on this team is being well-rounded athletes, students, and role models for the younger girls.’’
Each year, Frank and her players conduct youth lacrosse camps to introduce a new generation of young girls to the sport.
“I feel like the lacrosse team, since we do so well, we’re kind of like role models to younger athletes,’’ said McHoul. “By pushing and promoting lacrosse at such an early age, we’ll get them to want to be better and to continue the legacy of what we have, so when they get to high school, they hope to have the same thing as us.’’
In all likelihood, Westwood will continue to earn recognition for its play on the field, especially the wins, but the players are aware of their true job: continuing to build on the legacy.
“Westwood has done very well in the past, but it’s not like Coach Frank goes into every single season demanding a state championship,’’ said Walsh. “The legacy is hard work, and that’s the standards that she holds us to.’’
Scituate’s Shane Healy is truly on the ball
Senior Shane Healy has become a bit of a ball hog this season at Scituate.
Through seven games, the defenseman/long stick middie has won 57 ground balls, the highest number in Eastern Massachusetts. Healy has reached double digits in ground balls won three times this season, in games against Sandwich, Whitman-Hanson, and Weymouth.
“He’s been tremendous,’’ said Scituate coach Mark Puzzangara. “We actually moved him up to faceoffs because he’s going to college to be a long-stick midfielder.
“That’s where he’s accumulating a lot of his ground balls. Every time he gets in there, it’s almost a guarantee he’s going to get it. Every time he gets one, it’s just another possession for our offense to get another chance to score.’’
Thanks to Healy’s effort on ground balls, the Sailors (5-2) are averaging 11 goals per game.
“The teams we play in the Patriot League, and even in nonleague games, they’re really tough,’’ said Puzzangara. “There are so many high-powered offensive teams that every possession that we have keeps their teams’ offense from getting a chance to score on us.’’
“Shane’s role is to not only line up against the other teams’ best offensive players, but his main role right now is to get up and win those ground balls to help us get our offense going.’’
A four-year varsity player who started as a freshman on the 2009 Division 3 state championship squad, Healy will play at Division 1 Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., next spring.
Andrew MacDougall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.