By Pete Chiodo
The Conneaut Area Senior High School athletics program has seen its share of firsts over the last couple years. And even as the second school year of CASH’s existence winds down, here comes yet another first.
The Eagles girls lacrosse program was set to start its first fully-scheduled, school-sponsored, PIAA-sanctioned season against Seneca Valley on Monday. That game, however, was postponed, making Saturday’s Villa Maria Tournament the team’s first scheduled varsity action.
The team’s coaches, Scott and Mariah Shannon, have traveled this path before.
Both coaches developed a love for the sport while playing it at Eastern University in Philadelphia. Then, prior to moving into the area, the couple helped shepherd lacrosse at the Lebanon-area high school Cedar Crest from a start-up club sport to fully-supported high school program.
They are now three years into a similar process at Conneaut.
“The first year, our numbers were very limited,” said Scott Shannon. “We may have had 8 to 10 girls. We just did some practicing, worked on stick skills.”
That first year, the girls played in the Meadville/Crawford County club program.
“The concentration of girls were coming from Conneaut, so we really focused the program there,” Shannon said. “And with the merger of Conneaut Lake and Conneaut Valley and Linesville, it really presented itself as a place where we could provide another sport for the girls. They only had softball in the spring. It really fit nicely what we were looking for to promote the sport’s growth in the area.”
After making the move to Conneaut last season, the girls team had enough players to play some games. They scheduled three — mainly against out-of-state opponents due to a lack of PIAA eligibility — and even won one.
“We beat Olmstead Falls in the Cleveland area,” said Shannon. “I do not remember the score.”
During the ensuing offseason, the girls lacrosse program gained sponsorship as an official sport by Conneaut High School, and also became a member of the PIAA, meaning it can now play other PIAA opponents and qualify for the postseason.
Now, heading into the 2014 campaign, the Conneaut girls lacrosse team has 20 players on the roster and a schedule of about 10 games.
“We play the Erie County schools, McDowell, Fairview and Villa Maria,” said Shannon. “We have one against Seneca Valley. We’re playing some teams in Ohio as well. It was hard to get added on to some schedules, coming in as late as we did.”
The program also has a little bit of playing experience, which should help them compete this year.
For example, at midfield Conneaut returns seniors Aliya Hutman-Zahler and Laura Smith; senior Madison French is back on the attack side; Michaela Morrell returns to the defensive end; and Gabby Herndon, another senior, is back in goal.
There will still be some growing pains, however.
“We have a lot of first-year players,” said Shannon. “It’s a game that requires a lot of up-front work to master the basic skills. The stick needs to be an extension of the arm. And it’s a different feeling for the girls. A lot of girls have played other sports, and that helps, but working with the stick is a new feeling for them.
“But they’re working hard and taking it seriously. I’m happy with the way they’re progressing.”
So, while there may be some ups and downs on the field, the program exists, it has the backing of its school and it has a league to play in. And those are some pretty big strides forward.
“They’re very excited about it,” Shannon said about his players. “One of the big things is, this is the first CASH sport. It has no predecessors. It’s the first combined sport at the school that has no history in any of the other schools.
“It’s a nice legacy for this group of girls to leave behind them.”