EAST PROVIDENCE — The East Providence High School girls' lacrosse team begins the 2023 season this week as the reigning champion of its league, though the composition of which being …
EAST PROVIDENCE — The East Providence High School girls' lacrosse team begins the 2023 season this week as the reigning champion of its league, though the composition of which being significantly different than a year ago.
Last spring, the Townies recorded the best season in the relatively brief, 15-year history of the program. Under the direction of now third-year mentor Haley McCusker, EPHS went from just a 2-9 record in 2021 to a sterling 15-1 overall mark in 2022 and winners of the Division III title following playoff victories over Johnston, Cranston East and North Smithfield.
For their efforts, McCusker was chosen as the D-III coach of the year by her peers while then EPHS junior attacking midfielder Ryleigh Grant was picked by the league coaches as the D-III player of the year.
In time for 2023, the Rhode Island Interscholastic League completely recomposed girls' lacrosse, going from three divisions to four. Because of that, the Townies, who may otherwise have been moved up due to the enrollment of EPHS and their recent success, remain in D-III, but with a whole new cast of competitors.
Existing D-III sides Cranston East, Johnston, Ponaganset and the Providence Country Day/Blackstone Valley co-op remain with the Townies. Cranston East, whom EP beat in the playoff semis, went 10-2 during the regular season last spring while Ponaganset went 9-3, PCD/BVP 6-6 and Johnston, losers to the Townies in playoff quarters, 4-8.
Those squads are joined this year by one former D-I team, Westerly, and four former D-II sides, including East Providence's other city neighbor Bay View as well as Narragansett, Rocky Hill and Rogers. Westerly dropped two leagues after going 0-11 last spring in the state’s top tier. Narragansett went 4-7, Bay View 3-7-1, Rocky Hill 3-8 and Rogers 0-11 a season ago in D-II.
The Townies, in fact, begin their 2023 league slate Friday afternoon, March 31, at home against intra-city foe Bay View. Opening face-off is 4:30 p.m.
"We’re excited," McCusker said prior to a practice earlier this week. "It’s a whole new ballgame this year. We have four divisions now so a lot of teams that were in the lower end of D-II have dropped down. So I think it’s anyone’s game at this point. We’re playing Bay View right away and they have some big studs on that team so it will be interesting to see where we stand against teams of a higher caliber."
She continued, "We just go out and play the same game, play the way we know how to play. We lost a lot of seniors. We lost a couple of other contributors. But we also have a lot of younger players, a lot of soccer players who have joined the team, a lot of athletes in general."
Grant is now a senior and is about to play her final season as a three-sport standout at EPHS. She also competed in girls' volleyball for the Townies and in ice hockey on the East Providence/Mt. Hope boys' co-op.
Grant leads a cast of capable returning starters who will form the nucleus of the 2023 club: classmate and attacking mid Emma Nordquist, fellow senior midfielder Makayla Rebelo, sophomore goalie Ava Williams, junior attacking mid Kenna Wigginton and junior midfielder Kaylee Vieira.
Also back to varsity are sophomores Katherine Almeida, Abagail Leddy, Ava Soares, Dylan Flynn along with juniors Kaylee Vieira and Rylee Jackson. McCusker will find the rest of her starting unit from that group and an eager, though inexperienced, cadre of newcomers.
"It was really just the understanding of the game," McCusker said of the difference between this year's team and last. "We had a lot of seniors and the juniors. We had the now juniors who were sophomores last year. And it was just the constant working on the skills, skills, skills. And we have a handful of players who are back, so now it’s a matter of finding that handful of new players to join that core."
Besides several quality graduates, one key cog also missing from last year's D-III title team is Isabel Tavares, who formed the Townies' main scoring duo with Grant. Tavares, now a sophomore, opted to transfer to Moses Brown, where after sitting out the first half of the season she'll attempt to help the Quakers regain the D-I state title they lost to Barrington last spring after holding the crown the previous five years.
"I don’t think you can replace any one individual," McCusker added. "And every year is a different team, a different group of kids. And you just come out and rebuild and restructure based on the kids you have now. Essentially we have a lot of athletes where last year we had a lot of returners. We were heavy on returners and returners who had been with me for two years and we worked a lot on skills. Now, we’re very heavy on new players so it’s building the whole idea of playing lacrosse, learning the game."
After starting out against Bay View, the Townies play just once next week, a road game Wednesday, April 5, against Cranston East at Cranston Stadium at 5 p.m. East Providence then hosts Rocky Hill in its next outing, April 12, at 4:30 p.m.