BFA-St. Albans coach Mary Pipes is a native of Maryland, a lacrosse hotbed. When she moved to Vermont, her assessment of BFA’s girls program was this:
“It used to be if you played lacrosse at BFA and if you knew how to hold a stick, you made varsity,” Pipes said. “Now, you have to know how to play the game. It’s a big change.”
The development of the St. Albans Phantoms — a youth feeder program Pipes has coached for the last six years — has turned the high school team from a Division II also-ran to a title contender.
After earning the No. 7 seed for last year’s D-II tournament, the Comets took down Oxbow and Chelsea in back-to-back, thrilling overtime playoff victories in reaching its first finals, where they fell to Rice. The Comets’ 12 wins also marked a program-best.
“We want to be very successful and I think we are just beginning on our ride here,” Pipes said. “Our JV team is strong, we are really working hard. It’s pretty exciting.”
Nearly all of Pipes’ varsity players are Phantom alums, including goalie Cora Hartman and midfielder Lauren DeLaricheliere
“It makes a big difference, because they already know the fundamentals,” said Hartman, who took up the sport when she was 5 and played with the boys until fourth grade.
Added DeLaricheliere: “You have the idea. You learn how to play, what the positions are. Coming up now, it’s just a matter of getting better.”
And the Comets, who return all but four players, are off to a flying start this spring. They are 4-0, wins that include a trio of triumphs against Division I opponents and a narrow victory in a rematch against Rice.
Leilani King, who missed last year with a knee injury, Kate Dillon and Aly Hardy are top offensive threats for a team with scoring balance. Hattie Pipes, Alyx Pelkey, and Maggie McCoy are defensive anchors for a Comets squad that possesses depth — another sign the feeder program is paying dividends.
“We are so deep as a team. All these kids can play lacrosse. It’s all about the feeder program, it’s really good,” Mary Pipes said.
Out-of-season conditioning and drills — Pipes posts workouts to an online blog — has also helped foster a culture change at BFA. In season, Pipes, a lacrosse fanatic who lives and breathes the sport, has detailed practices schedules that she hopes drives the team to a higher level.
“Last year the girls should have done a lot better than they did, frankly. I wasn’t surprised we made the finals,” said Pipes, who assumed the head-coaching position this spring after three years as an assistant. “Mentally, I don’t think they were ready to be really good. This year, they are ready.”
DeLaricheliere echoed her coach’s words.
“There’s not one person on this team that doesn’t have their head ready for this.”