Keene State Begins Practice with a New Look

KEENE, N.H. 2/7/12 Senior Sammi Benson had good reason to feel a little strange as she walked on the field to begin spring lacrosse practice last week. Familiar faces have been replaced with fresh ones. "It feels strange. I was with those girls for three years," said Benson, referring to last year's graduated seniors. "It's great to have new girls, but it's almost like a brand-new team."

This season brings a changing of the guard for Keene State. Gone are eight players from last year's 13-6 team who rewrote the Owls' record book on the way to capturing a pair of Little East Conference titles and NCAA berths. And in their places are seven eager first-year players looking to make their mark with the team.

While Coach Katie Arsenault gushes about the speed that the newcomers bring, she also understands there's a learning curve for her first-year athletes. "You have to slow a lot of stuff down," said Arsenault, starting her fourth season with the Owls. "At this stage, there's a lot of watching and listening. But this team can handle it."

Junior Lauren Brown, Keene State's top returning scorer with 44 goals, says the change has been good for the team. "There's a lot of work to be done, but everyone is supporting each other. The returning players are helping the freshmen with the new drills."

"It's nothing like high school, when we started our season in March," said Christa Demovellan, a freshman midfielder who played on the Westwood (Mass.) High state championship team last year. "It's interesting playing with girls I hadn't met. It's almost like building a team from scratch."

Change has also created opportunity. With just two starting spot sewed up, the players have a chance to impress and earn playing time. "We got a lot of talent that sat on the bench last year and a great group of freshmen, so everyone is excited about the possibility of getting on the field," said Arsenault "They're fast, they have stick skills, they have talent, and they're already coming together as a team. And we just started."

Little East prognosticators, who might be expecting a young Owl team to have a down year, could be in for a surprise. "No one expects us to do anything," said Arsenault. "You can't really scout us because we're going to be a totally different team."

"You might have to temper expectations initially, but we're going to be so quick this year," said Benson. "Once we get going, we're going to shock a lot of teams."

While the Owls are looking to the future, they don't want to forget about their successful past. Several of the returning players wore last year's NCAA T-shirts to practice. "Hopefully it's a good omen," said Benson. "We have to come out with the right gear and show everyone where we want to be."


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