(Ed. Note: Most of this story is based on interviews that took place before the schools closed down March 13, and all spring practices were suspended by PIAA.)
As Darrin Chesner stepped up from the Tunkhannock Area girls lacrosse assistant coach position to the head spot this season, he explained, “Each drill is a piece of the lacrosse puzzle. Once those drills are mastered, the pieces are put together forming a successful team. We are working on getting back to the fundamentals- passing, catching, and fielding ground balls.”
“We are breaking the girls up into smaller groups, having different stations, different drills, so they can focus on one particular skill at a tie,” he explained. “Once those skills are mastered, we can bring the (skills) together to play the game.”
Chesner didn’t play the game, but had a front row seat to learn the ins and outs of the oldest organized sport played in North America.
“I have learned the game by watching it being played by my daughter for her high school career,” he explained. “By having a child that played the sport previously, it made my coaching ability better because I was able to watch the game from the sidelines as a parent and learn the game. And, also, by watching YouTube videos.”
In 2018, he coached the fifth and sixth grade coed Endless Mountains Lacrosse Association team and for the last two years, has been the high school team’s goalie coach.
Former head coach Jana Hopfer decided to step down and take a lesser role with the team, so Chesner stepped up to continue to grow the program the way Hopfer had in the past. Still a member of the coaching staff, she has been very helpful to Chesner as he transitions.
“Being that Tunkhannock is my alma mater, I wanted to give back to the school I graduated from,” said Chesner, who works in campus safety at Keystone College.
The team boasts 37 girls on the roster this season, something Chesner and his assistants Ira Staff and Hopfer see as both a strength and challenge.
“We have eight returning starters, nine total players with varsity experience, and senior Rachel Martin’s leadership on the field. Those are strengths for the team,” Chesner said. “But we also have girls at different skill levels.”
Martin, who is looking to play club lacrosse at Penn State’s main campus next year, said she had played lacrosse since sixth grade. “All my hard work is coming into action this year, and I can’t wait to put it onto the field.”
She said, “I hope to lead the team this year in a positive manner- to hopefully show that I’m someone that the younger girls are able to look up to.”
“We have girls who have never picked up a stick before the first practice,” Martin explained. “Lacrosse isn’t an easy sport at first, it takes a lot of practice so I’m hoping that with my showing and leading with hard work and dedication it will rub off on the rest of the team.”
“As a junior captain, I hope that I can help the younger girls learn how to play lacrosse,” said Becca Fick. “And as a returning player, I want to show the new players that being committed to the game is a huge part in being successful.”
“Once the season starts up again, I plan to coordinate team bonding so that the connection still remains strong,” Martin said. “I don’t think there will be any issues within the team this year, we seem to be such a close knit group starting out.”
The coaches will look to guidance from the three captains- senior Martin and juniors Fick and Abby Stretch- and lean on the eight returning starters to get the lady laxers moving in the right direction.
Chesner also has high hopes for sophomore goalie Cassidy Hardy, freshman attacker Morgan Hettesheimer, and freshman defender Alyssa Mikula.
Hardy looks to take over for two-year starter Jordana Bach who graduated last season.
Martin explained, “Our biggest hole to fill is our goalie. Jordana was an outstanding goalie, and was honestly the backbone of our team. She saved us from a lot, literally. She worked so hard to get to where she was, and I know that is where we will be lacking. We have girls who have stepped up, but goalie isn’t an easy position.”
“I have high expectations for this season,” said Chesner. “Those players from the previous year now have a year of experience in playing. My expectations are for those girls to take what they learned from the previous year and apply those skills on the field.”
But, he added, “I have many new girls that I need to teach the fundamentals to. With the new girls not knowing much about the sport I can teach them the correct way and not worry about bad habits forming. With the veterans on the team, I can focus on developing plays for the offense and Coach Staff putting a defense in place.”
The team has a tough schedule, opening with two powerhouse teams in Lake-Lehman and then Wyoming Seminary. But overall, Chesner sees winnable games on the schedule.
“Right now, we are taking it one game at a time,” he said, “but I’m not going to lie, I will be disappointed if we do not make playoffs.”
“Lacrosse is a fun sport to play, and every day, the girls I coach inspire me to be better. I hope the team can take away with them that they had a successful season (because) each player improved her skill level from when she started in the beginning of the season,” said Chesner.
Martin concluded, “Being a senior, and unsure if you’ll have a season, is heartbreaking. It’s the final moments to lay it out on the field one last time with the people I am closest with the most. It’s hard with all the uncertainty, but I’m hoping every day that we will resume our season and continue where we left off. Our whole team has unfinished business when it comes to what we’re planning to accomplish. We’re not ready to be finished before we even start.”
Roster: Seniors Hailey Buckley, Rachel Martin, and Victoria Vanartsdalen. Juniors Brittnie Cahoon, Cami Colyer, Rebecca Fick, Loghan Hirkey, Kassie LaChase, Shauna Ramage, Amanda Rushworth, Brooke Staff, and Abby Stretch. Sophomores Mara Adams, Serena Aumick, Katie Banta, Kira Sornell, Ashley Darrow, Cassidy Hardy, Loren Kovolenus, Kaitlyn McIntyre, Emma Mock, Kendra Paradis, Ariana Ratay-Insherski, Malorie Taylor, and Emily Weaver. Freshmen Trinity Browning, Jessica Docolavich, Morgan Hettesheimer, Emma Holdredge, Jocelyn Maas, Olivia Mahle, Alyssa Mikula, Malana Nestor, Victoria Slusark, Jewel Stover, and Samantha Ward.
Schedule: Mar. 27 at Lake-Lehman, 4:15 p.m.; Mar. 31 vs. Wyoming Seminary, 4:30 p.m.; Apr. 2 at Abington Heights, 4:15 p.m.; Apr. 7 at Pittston Area, 4:15 p.m.; Apr. 9 vs. Crestwood, 4:30 p.m.; Apr. 14 at Hazleton Area, 4:15 p.m.; Apr. 16 vs. Scranton Prep, 4:30 p.m.; Apr. 18 vs. Dallas, 11 a.m.; Apr. 23 at Wilkes-Barre Area, 4:15 P.M.; Apr. 25 vs. Wyoming Area, 11 a.m.; Apr. 29 at North Pocono, 5:30 p.m.; May 5 vs. Holy Redeemer, 4;30 p.m.; May 11 vs. Delaware Valley, 4:30 p.m.