CHATHAM, NJ - There is a definite buzz about the new blood Helen McCutcheon is bringing to the Chatham girls lacrosse program and it seems as though the 28-year-old head coach already has accomplished one of her goals - and the first game hasn't even been played yet.
The Chatham High graduate said she wanted to make the game fun for the players when she introduced herself to the team in October. And after a recent practice at Haas Field, McCutcheon had to smile when she heard what the team captains were saying at this early stage.
"We feel connected to her," senior defender Julia Doria said. "We can talk to her about anything. There is not too big of a boundary between coach and player (But the right amount added Emilie de Keyzer). You look forward to practice after school. You know practice is going to be hard, but it's good. Everyone is excited to be here."
In the short time the team has been able to run the field outdoors, there is already a vibe developing, according to senior defender Tessa Luzi: "The intensity is there."
Senior attack de Keyzer is one of the returning veterans for Chatham, having collected 75 points on 41 goals and 34 assists in 2017. During the final eight games, de Keyzer produced 25 goals and 10 assists to close out the season, averaging 4.4 points over that stretch.
"We have a lot of young talent," de Keyzer said. "We're excited for the new team in general. We're taking everything from last year and adding new stuff to it. We're growing as a program and a team, and we hope to take that into our season and keep growing."
Chatham opens with a 4 p.m. home game at Haas on Wednesday vs. Morristown.
McCutcheon was an All-American middie when she played for Chatham and the players can't help but notice that she knows what she's doing when she grabs a stick and participates in a drill.
"She's really involved," senior attack Grace Coe said. "The other day when we were indoors at Centercourt the attack was working with her and she was in the 7 vs. 7 drills with us. She's still got it.
"Last year we had so many seniors on the field. It's a weird transition coming into this season because there are so many players who haven't touched the field even though they've been on varsity."
The veterans include senior defenders Colleen Graham, Caroline Mahoney and Doria, in front of senior goalie Kat Friday (157 saves last year) and sophomore goalie Tamer Luzi.
Experienced midfielders include junior Frances Workman (17 points, 38 ground balls) and sophomore Lizzie O'Neill (11 points, 27 ground balls).
Also returning are Caitlin Barnett, senior attack; Paige Guenther, senior attack; Ann Francesco, junior midfielder; Grace Steigerwald, junior defender; and Ally Franz, sophomore attack.
Some of the new blood making a splash are freshman twin sisters, Callie Riabov (middie) and Haley Riabov (attack), as well as freshman defender Lara Kology. Two sophomore varsity basketball players have also gained notice, middie Emma Frohnapfel and defender Maddie Hartnett.
"We're still figuring out who works well together and that's what the scrimmages are for," McCutcheon said. "Before the two storms, we were outside for two or three days before we had to go inside to practice. It feels good to be out here. I love it.'"
McCutcheon has been aided by assistant Paul Garavente, who describes himself as a "lifer," who has been coaching Chatham girls lacrosse at some level since 1995.
"Paul has been my right-hand man and he allows me to run two different drills at the same time," McCutcheon said. "The kids are super coachable. We've got a lot of positivity. Like any team at the beginning of the season, we have some kinks to work out. In general, I think we're turning it on and having intense practices. We have to show up every day because our whole schedule is made up of top 10 and top 20 teams."