By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — The girls’ lacrosse team returned to the field this week and with a strong veteran core back in action, the Pioneers are optimistic they will qualify for the state tournament for the second straight year.
The Pioneers concluded the 2014 season with an overall record of 9-9-1. Lynnfield qualified for the Division 2 North state tournament for the first time in the program’s history, but the 12th seeded Pioneers fell to fifth seed Marblehead in the first round of the tournament.
Lynnfield head coach Ethan Blanchette is optimistic the Pioneers will return to the state tournament this spring.
“I’m hopeful that we will have the best team Lynnfield has put on the field in its five years since the program started,” said Blanchette. “I think we are in a strong position (to make the tournament), but we also have a slightly more challenging schedule than in previous years, so we have to make sure we’re playing well for the whole season.”
Three captains will be leading the Pioneers this season, all of whom served as captains for last season’s squad. Senior captain Katie Scanlon will be serving as the Pioneers’ defensive specialist this spring.
“Katie is a very smart player who is an instinctual playmaker on defense,” said Blanchette. “She is the leader of our defense.”
Senior captain Paige MacEachern will be playing a key role in the midfield this season.
“Paige is the most skilled player to ever play at Lynnfield,” said Blanchette. “She is smart and very talented.”
Senior captain Bailey Fanikos will be forming a dynamic duo with MacEachern at midfield.
“Bailey is the most athletic player to ever play for the lacrosse team,” said Blanchette. “She is a playmaker on both the offensive and defensive ends.”
Blanchette has high expectations for junior Meryl Braconnier.
“Meryl really stepped up last year to become an offensive threat and a key part of our midfield,” said Blanchette. “I expect her to continue to improve.”
Sophomore Caroline Buckley will be counted on to provide an offensive spark for the Pioneers.
“Caroline is a smart, exciting young player,” said Blanchette. “She was fourth on the team in goals scored as a freshman behind Paige, Bailey and Meryl, but I’ve already seen big improvements since last year. She will contribute heavily in the midfield as well.”
The Pioneers also have high expectations for Cassandra Miles.
“Cassandra is a senior attacker who has been steady and consistent for the team over the past three years,” said Blanchettte.
Blanchette said “there are a lot of girls” who will be playing a bigger role on the Pioneers this spring. He said he has been impressed with junior attackers Maya McPherson and Lilly Patterson’s play during the preseason.
“I expect both of them to be bigger contributors this season,” said Blanchette. “They have looked promising during the first three weeks.”
Blanchette said the Pioneers’ experience will serve as the locals’ greatest strength this season.
“While we have 10 players who are freshmen or sophomores, our entire starting lineup returned and most of our bench form last season,” said Blanchette. “I’d consider us the most experienced team I’ve had in the five years of the program.”
While the Pioneers’ experience is the locals’ greatest strength, Blanchette noted it will take some time to get the locals up to speed because the amount of snow on the high school’s fields wrecked havoc on the Pioneers’ practice schedule.
“We were stuck inside for the first two weeks, so we’ve been flying through a lot of tactical things the past few days,” said Blanchette. “It’s a lot to take in and it will take some time to get things the way that I want them.”
The Pioneers faced Melrose on Monday, April 6, taking place after deadline. Lynnfield will travel to Manchester-Essex on Thursday, April 9, beginning at 3:45 p.m. The Pioneers will travel to Freeport, Maine on Friday, April 10, beginning at 5 p.m. Lynnfield travels to Falmouth, Maine on Saturday, April 11, beginning at 12 noon.