Sophomore Riley McKenna doesn’t have too many fond memories of his first practice with the Jonathan Alder boys lacrosse club.
Four years later, McKenna can’t imagine the spring season without the sport.
“It was frustrating when you’re just getting started,” McKenna said, a sophomore defender who captains the team with sophomore midfielders Shane Blacka and Connor Hamer. “Trying to catch a little ball in your stick is pretty hard.
“But it’s really fun. It’s kind of like football with the hitting involved. There’s a lot of skill and strategy. It’s my type of game.”
McKenna isn’t the only one who is finding their love for lacrosse. The sport has attracted enough interest for Jonathan Alder to field teams at the high school, middle school, fifth and sixth grade and third and fourth grade levels. The Pioneers have a lot of room to grow. The team is made up of seven freshmen, 15 sophomores, two juniors and one senior.
“There may not be that many people (in Madison County) who have been exposed to lacrosse,” coach Rob Davis said, whose team was off to a 0-7 start after losing to Buckeye Valley 9-3 on April 30. “Some people may be a little apprehensive about it.
“But, little by little, we keep adding guys to the rosters numbers and we keep improving. We’re growing the sport by word of mouth.”
Davis had never seen a lacrosse game when he was growing up in Brookville, a small town on the outskirts of Dayton.
He became involved with lacrosse when his son Jake, a sophomore attacker, expressed an interest in playing.
“I had never heard of lacrosse (before then),” Davis said.
The coach started to pick up things from coaching clinics, meeting with coaches in the area and watching the game on television. The program received equipment to field its four teams from the John Galipault Fund, which helps lacrosse programs get started.
“The really good thing about the (central Ohio) lacrosse community is their willingness to help new programs get off the ground,” Davis says. “Even players are willing to help out.
“A lot of times after games, players from the other team will go out with our players and just shoot on goal together. They’ll teach kids new techniques and other ways of shooting the ball. It’s kind of been a unique experience.”
Last year, the team picked up its first win, a 4-3 victory over the Bellbrook junior varsity. Davis said the win created a lasting impression that has carried the team through the lean times.
“Just to see the smile on the boys’ faces after that game makes me very emotional as a coach,” Davis said. “This year I can see how much it means to them and how much they’ve put into it.”
While the improvement may not show on the Pioneers’ record, a quick glance at the team’s scorebook shows Alder is getting better:
• During their 1-11 finish last year, the Pioneers lost to Little Miami 13-1 and 15-5, Columbus Academy 17-1, Marysville 18-2 and Buckeye Valley 18-0. This year they crept closer, losing to the Panthers 9-3, the Vikings 9-2, the Monarchs 9-5 and the Barons 9-3.
• Last season, Alder gave up on average 15 goals a game. So far this season, that average has dipped to 8.5 goals a game.
• Last season, the club was successful in clearing the ball from the defensive side to the offense about 40 percent of the time. This year that number has jumped to about 70 percent.
“I’ve noticed a big difference from last year in their passing skills and the ability to handle the ball,” said Davis, who wants to see the team climb to about 85 percent efficiency. “Our defense is keeping us in games, but it is hard to stop a lot of shots when the offense is struggling. Once we break through this barrier, we’re going to be all right.”
Going against more experienced teams can take its toll but McKenna remains convinced that better days are coming.
“It’s been pretty rough. Some players get discouraged but we have to keep encouraging each other,” McKenna added. “We’re going to keep getting better.”
“All of the kids come from different backgrounds and different levels of interest in lacrosse,” Davis added. “We tell them they’re all brothers on the field. (Each of them knows) ‘I’ve got your back and you’ve got mine.’”