By Jim Sullivan
---- — Despite the fact that the Newburyport girls lacrosse team has scored 149 goals this season, coach Catherine Batchelder understands a good offense can only take a team so far.
“We’re 8-4 this season, and we wouldn’t be where we are without the defense playing as strong as they have been playing,” Batchelder said. “They’ve really come together as a group this year and they have played really strong team defense.”
Those defensive players, Mary Pettigrew, Shannon Tinkham, Becca Blaustein, Jill Oulette, Meri Adsit, Kelly Conway, Ali Peffer and Carly Kouvaris in net, have the unenviable job of holding down the fort while the offense gets all the glory. Such is life on defense, but these girls know that and have come at it with many different perspectives.
“They’ve really locked down,” Batchelder said. “They allow for Carly to make a ton of saves. They force off-angle shots, and in the last two games, they only allowed four goals and five goals respectively, which is a really low goals-against average.”
As with any good defense, the Clippers have been built from the net out.
“I play mostly for the adrenaline rush,” said Kouvaris, a senior. “I just talk to the girls and try to erase everything but the ball on the field. To be last line of defense, it’s really difficult sometimes, but it’s super-rewarding at the same time.”
“Carly is really the one who sets the tone,” Batchelder said. “She works really hard, and she takes it really seriously, and everyone else kind of follows suit. She gives us huge saves when we need them. She gives us the boost we need to get the ball back on attack, and we are lucky this year. We have a really balanced attack. We are capable of scoring a lot of goals. But with our defense as strong as it is, it definitely makes for two balanced parts of the team.”
A born defender, Blaustein, a senior, is in her third year playing varsity lacrosse while Pettigrew, a junior, comes to the game from the world of basketball, where she has been a standout center for the Clippers the past two years. Both play low defense and say that their previous experience on the basketball court has helped them prepare for the lacrosse field as well as provided an interesting contrast.
“Lacrosse is a really big team sport,” said Blaustein, who also played hoops in her early years at NHS. “And in order to be successful, we really do need to work together. The defense is able to pick things up if the offense turns over the ball, and that’s a really important part.”
“With all the stuff that we work on, the defensive stances and stuff, it just kind of came natural,” Pettigrew said. “In basketball, we all do work together as a team, but I feel that a lot of people are more focused on how they do individually. I know that if I don’t perform well, I feel like I let the team down. But with lacrosse, it’s a whole team (effort).”
After watching her team score 32 goals in the last two games, Pettigrew is quick to point out the offense is getting the job done as well.
“Our offense is also strong,” said Pettigrew, a first-year lacrosse player. “We don’t normally see that much action, our offense takes care of the ball really well. When we’re put into situations, we’re able to get out of them pretty quickly.”
With five games left in the regular season and only two wins away from punching their ticket, the girls on the defense harbor dreams of taking it all the way to the state championship.
“This really is our last chance together,” Blaustein said. “So we really want to make the most of it. It’s our last shot to do this.”
“A lot of the underclassmen want to win it for the seniors,” said Pettigrew. “We want to go all the way just to make the seniors happy.”