Central at Memorial/West field hockey

Manchester Central's Alex Hawkom controls the ball during action last week.

MANCHESTER CENTRAL does not boast the most experienced boys’ lacrosse team in Division II but the Little Green do have an abundance of athleticism.

With a blend of talented athletes from other sports and a handful of dedicated lacrosse players, Central went 6-3 over its first nine games and is in the playoff hunt in its first Division II campaign.

Little Green first-year coach Jim McInnis said his team has about 10 players who have played lacrosse for at least three years. Senior attackman Alex Kacavas, senior midfielder Alex Hawkom and junior goalie Owen McNichols are among those 10 and serve as Central’s on-field leaders.

Juniors Harris Suljevic (soccer), Karl Auguste (soccer) and Wil Hebert (hockey) and senior Nick Olibrice (football) are among Central’s less-experienced players who have contributed using their athleticism gained in other sports. Suljevic, Hebert and Auguste are first-year players.

Auguste and fellow first-year player Ricardo Jaquez have both started on defense since Central lost three starting defensemen due to grades. Jaquez began the season as a midfielder.

McInnis, who served as an assistant coach at Central last year, has applied concepts from the sports his newer players have a longer history with to help them learn the game. The 2008 Bishop Guertin of Nashua graduate has also tried to keep his offensive or defensive schemes simple.

“They might not have the same skill set as guys that have been playing for years in terms of stick skills or IQ of the game but their experience in other sports allows them to compensate with what they’re lacking,” said McInnis, who was Bishop Guertin’s junior varsity coach in 2013 and has coached in the New Hampshire Tomahawks club lacrosse program for 10 years.

McInnis gives his players the ability to be creative on the field, emphasizes good sportsmanship and has created a fun atmosphere within the program.

“I try to keep it light because it is a mix of guys who are serious and want to win and guys who want to have fun and learn the game and are not as serious because they know they’re not as capable as other players,” McInnis said. “I hope with those guys, they catch on to the sport and have enough fun to come back in the future.”

The leadership from Kacavas, Hawkom and McNichols and the move to Division I from Division II have benefited Central’s less-experienced players, McInnis said.

“Between those three guys, we have the whole field covered,” McInnis said. “(Hawkom) can play offense and defense and has the midfield covered. (Kacavas) runs the attack offensively and Owen in net controls the defense. From that standpoint, those guys carry our team.”

McInnis said Kacavas and Hawkom draw double-teams and are good at finding open teammates like Olibrice, Suljevic and junior attackman TJ Pacheco. Olibrice and Suljevic would be top NHIAA Division I-level players if they started playing lacrosse sooner and Olibrice is an excellent off-ball attackman, McInnis said.

McNichols quarterbacks from the cage and has vastly improved his on-field communication with his less-experienced defensemen, McInnis said.

“Last year, he got in trouble losing his temper a little bit and getting on guys for not going to the right sports and it’s understandable,” McInnis said. “He has high expectations but they were a bit higher and not really achievable for some guys. He’s done much better facilitating the defense, staying calm and keeping confidence up and being constructive toward his defensemen.”

McInnis said moving to Division II is a huge step that will help Central’s program grow, something he will focus on this offseason with 11 seniors and five underclassmen currently on his roster.

The Little Green finished last in Division I last year with a 2-14 record.

“Primarily, it’s the confidence in the players,” McInnis said. “The game is a little bit slower (in Division II) so it allows guys who are new to the game to get exposure to the game at a slower pace. It’s a little easier to digest. Playing last year in Division I, it’s difficult to get guys up to speed when the teams you’re going up against are so organized and their concepts on offense and defense are so complex that it’s difficult to break down.”

Central opened this season by winning its first four games and its first-year players received significant minutes in three of those contests. As Central pushes to secure a playoff spot, McInnis is focused on continuing to get his newer players more reps to improve the team’s depth.

“We’re getting those guys up to speed, keeping everyone’s confidence up,” McInnis said. “We’re in a pretty good spot to move forward.”

Central girls flourishing

Like the boys, the Division I Manchester Central girls’ team is also enjoying some success this season. The Little Green, who won two games last year, improved to 5-4 after a 19-5 win over Salem on Tuesday.

Central saw its three-game winning streak snapped last Friday, when it suffered a 20-6 loss to once-beaten Pinkerton Academy of Derry.

Central scored at least 17 goals in each of its first four victories. Over their first four losses, which came to Bedford, defending D-I champion Bishop Guertin (12-1), Londonderry (6-6) and Pinkerton, the Little Green were outscored 82-32.

Seniors Katelyn Parker and Ryleigh Cavanaugh and junior Emma Dudley have been some of Central’s most consistent scorers. After the Little Green’s 18-8 season-opening loss at Bishop Guertin on April 9, Parker registered 44 points (28 goals, 16 assists), Cavanaugh recorded 38 points (26 goals, 12 assists) and Dudley logged 35 points (19 goals, 16 assists) over their next seven games.

Parker tallied her 100th career goal in Central’s 22-11 win over Timberlane in Plaistow on May 6. Dudley recorded her 100th career goal in the team’s 23-12 loss at Londonderry April 16.

Central coach Erin Duffy has seen her players’ talent grow consistently each season and called this campaign the team’s best over her four years with the program.

“Last year we only won two games, but we had a lot of one-goal-losses, and tight, competitive games, so I knew going into this year we were going to be more competitive,” Duffy said in an email. “These girls have so much enthusiasm and have exhibited so much grit. I am excited to see where the next two weeks take us. Hopefully, we will put ourselves in a position to make it to the postseason.”

Lancer boys have goals

The Londonderry boys’ team came into the spring looking to capture one of the top two seeds in the Division I postseason. While the Lancers (9-5) might not reach that goal, coach Roger Sampson said his team should secure the No. 3 or 4 seed if they take care of business over their final three regular-season games.

Even if Londonderry enters the tournament as one of the top four seeds, though, Sampson said it will be a difficult path to the final.

The Lancers’ rival, Pinkerton (8-4), and Bishop Guertin (10-2) have met in seven of the past eight Division I championship games. Regardless of their seeding, the defending state champion Astros and the Cardinals will be the two favorites to reach the state championship game.

“The goal was to be the one or two (seed) and we’re not going to make it now and that’s our own fault, of course,” Sampson said after Londonderry’s 10-9 overtime loss to Exeter last Monday. “Now it’s a hard road to a championship. Can they (the players) do it? Sure, if they can maintain possession, limit BG or Pinkerton’s touches, but we haven’t been able to do that...Until we can start doing that and controlling the ball well and limiting people’s touches, it’s going to be difficult to win against those big, top-echelon teams and somehow we’ve got to get there.”

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Boys’ Lacrosse Top 10

1. Bishop Guertin

2. Pinkerton

3. Exeter

4. Derryfield

5. Londonderry

6. Souhegan

7. Hanover

8. Winnacunnet

9. Portsmouth

10. Pelham

Girls’ Lacrosse Top 10

1. Bishop Guertin

2. Pinkerton

3. Bedford

4. Souhegan

5. Portsmouth

6. Hollis/Brookline

7. Exeter

8. Nashua South

9. Londonderry

10. Hopkinton

The High School Lacrosse column runs Wednesdays during the season. Alex Hall can be reached at ahall@unionleader.com.