by Frank Aceto
Associate Sports Editor
The Hudson girls lacrosse team went through something a bit unfamiliar last year.
The Lady Explorers, a perennial state powerhouse for a number of years, fell to 7-10 in 2013 after losing a 10-9 decision to Shaker Heights in a Division I playoff game.
It was their first losing season since they finished 6-10 in 2007.
Hudson's major goal this season is to make sure something like that never happens again.
Fortunately, there is plenty of promise for the Lady Explorers.
"I think one of our biggest strengths is going to be the determination of this group of girls and the outstanding leadership we have from the seniors," said 13th-year head coach Joya Mitchell, who has a 149-46-2 record at Hudson.
Their leadership will be critical after the Lady Explorers lost six seniors from a year ago.
The players who graduated are midfielders Brynne Drohan, who is playing club lacrosse at The Ohio State University in Columbus, and Sarah Schroeder; defender Maggie Osthues; and attacks Hannah Alvey, who is playing club lacrosse at Miami University in Oxford, and Felicia Guadagni, a Kent State University student who is one of the junior varsity coaches.
Thankfully for the Lady Explorers, they have plenty of talented seniors on their roster.
They are goalkeeper Sarah Price, attack Maria Russell, defender/midfielder Kayla Miller, defenders Abby Nelson and Oliva Wamelink and Kiley Merrill, who is expected to contribute on the offensive end.
"This is a really strong group of seniors in terms of hard work, dedication and love of the game," Mitchell said. "These girls have been doing senior-led practices since the fall. They are motivated to be a great team and have a winning season."
Price started in the cage last year for Hudson.
"Sarah has really grown over the past year and is stepping up into a great leader on the defensive end of the field," Mitchell said. "She has quick hands and great hand-eye coordination."
Russell is the Lady Explorers' leader on offense, according to Mitchell.
"Maria is small but mighty," she said. "She has almost perfected the use of her non-dominant hand when cradling and shooting, which will be a weapon for us."
Mitchell said Miller can play just about anywhere.
"Kayla is one of our most solid defenders and she can also take a draw and score goals," she said. "She has grown so much over the past year."
Don't expect Nelson to ever back down from an opponent. She will challenge anyone, according to Mitchell.
"Abby is like a little firecracker on defense," she said. "She is so aggressive and strong. Abby does an excellent job at seeing the ball and picking off passes."
Wamelink's best characteristic may be her voice. When she talks, her teammates listen.
"Olivia is our communicator on defense," Mitchell said. "She works very hard on defense to keep everyone on the same page. She is also a fantastic leader."
Merrill returns after missing all of last season with a knee injury.
"I am really excited about Kiley's return this season," Mitchell said. "She will be an asset to us on the offensive end of the field. She sees the open player very well and makes great decisions with the ball."
Mitchell believes her three juniors are strong leaders too. They are midfielder/center/defender Jackie Kisthardt, attack Annie Lori and defender Samantha Mintz.
"Sometimes, I group them together because they are so mature," Mitchell said of the three juniors. "They are also just as hungry as the seniors."
Kisthardt is another player who can thrive just about anywhere.
"I have seen a total transformation in Jackie over the past couple of years," Mitchell said. "Jackie's confidence level has increased this season and she is starting to believe in what she can do as a player."
Lori made an impact on defense last year. This year, she will a key cog on offense.
"At the end of last season, we recognized Annie's ability to effectively play offense and her shot strength and placement," Mitchell said. "Annie has continued to develop her shot and is doing a great job at placement."
Mintz joined the varsity team toward the middle of last year and never looked back.
"Sammy does a nice job at communicating on the defensive end," Mitchell said.
The sophomores include goalie Cassie Woodward, midfielder/attack Maddie Murphy, midfielder/defender Kasey Thom, attack Julia Finkenthal, midfielder/attack Katelyn Hill and defender Ally Prosser.
Rounding out the squad are freshmen Maddie Valko (attack), Ari Bankovich (midfield/attack) and Macy Trattner (midfielder/defender).
Mitchell's varsity assistant is Aimee Caniglia. Former Hudson player Megan Gaffney is one of the junior varsity coaches.
Despite the poor weather, the Lady Explorers have put all their chips into the preseason practices.
"The commitment from these girls has been amazing," Mitchell said. "We have been outside with snow coming down and whipping winds with minimal complaints."
And don't expect the schedule to make things easy for Hudson either. The Lady Explorers will have to face powerful teams such as Rocky River Magnificat, Cincinnati Sycamore and Upper Arlington.
"Our strength of schedule is based on the potential this team has," Mitchell said. "If they work together, stay focused and committed, there is no telling what this group can do."
Hudson is scheduled to host Magnificat in its season debut April 1 at Hudson Memorial Stadium. Game time is set for 5 p.m.