Bellefonte lacrosse enjoying success in inaugural season
By SHAREIK FLOWERS
BELLEFONTE- Bellefonte coach Doug McKee remembers walking around town and attracting puzzling looks from people on the street. He was wearing his Bellefonte girls lacrosse gear– which was an unfamiliar sight to many given Bellefonte’s lack of a girls varsity program. But unbeknownst to some– a nearly four-year journey involving McKee, and an abundance of dedicated student athletes– led to the girls lacrosse club team’s promotion to a full-fledged varsity program this year.
In 2016 McKee contacted the Bellefonte Lacrosse Association to inquire whether there would be a girls program at the varsity level, to which they replied they were unsure. He then suggested the development of a middle school club team, which would act as a feeder program for the high school. They fancied his idea enough that he was immediately hired to coach the middle school squad.
“They said ‘we’ve never had a volunteer or anybody try to get anything started, so you’re hired and go for it and do it,'” McKee said.
Lacrosse was uncharted territory for him. He had never coached the sport before or even played it. His earliest exposure to the game stretched back to just two years prior, when his youngest daughter, Molly, began playing in State College in fourth grade.
But still determined to instill a club team– he contacted middle school principle Sommer Garman who set up an after school information meeting to gauge whether there was enough interest in a junior high squad. And when the meeting occurred, McKee was floored when he walked in to see 40 girls in the cafeteria.
“I thought to myself ‘oh my god what am I getting myself into,'” McKee said. “So we had a signup day, went through the process and 30 of them actually came out to play. We started having practices a couple days a week, then we got in a couple of tournaments, because in junior high it’s all a club sport and they have tournaments on Saturdays and Sundays.
“We went out and played in a bunch of these weekend games, and the girls [loss badly], obviously, because we were just learning how to catch the ball and be in the right place at the right time. But they always had so much fun and couldn’t wait to do it again.”
Once 2017 rolled around the team’s 10 eighth graders, including McKee’s oldest daughter Jillian, graduated to high school. McKee contacted school officials and with a roster of 16 athletes was able to create a club team at the high school level. They nearly played a full-varsity schedule, and traveled as far as Harrisburg for competition.
“We lost every single game, and I had no expectations other than eventually the younger girls would start to catch up,” McKee said.
And he was right.
While the high school team struggled, the middle school club team began to find success on the field. Once those athletes reached high school in 2018, McKee and the bunch began pushing for the club team’s transformation into a varsity sport.
The team needed to establish it legitimacy by convincing the school board it was viable program. The squad detailed its significant roster numbers, noted there was a feeder program at the middle school level, showed team statistics and shared revenue funding to prove there was support from the parents.
And the athletes played their part, too. They averaged 10 members at each meeting who wore their lacrosse attire to prove there was a presence. They also secured a float in the homecoming parade and led the event in student-athlete participation.
Once May 2018 rolled around they received approval to upgrade to a varsity sport. Parents attending the meeting notified McKee of the promotion, and the news spread like wild fire.
“I got text messages from a bunch of people, and it blew up on social media,” McKee said. “The girls were excited and they went crazy.”
Bellefonte’s commenced its inaugural season this spring with a March 26 away-loss to Lewisburg. But the game’s outcome was insignificant as the emotional team was thrilled to represent their community.
“The whole ride down on the bus everybody was so excited to make their parents, their school and our team proud,” McKee said. “We came out and played our heart out. And we actually may have scored more goals [that day] against Lewisburg than we had in the past two years combined against them.
“We still got beat pretty good, but we used that contest as something to compare every game with after that. And we’ve slowly improved since then.”
After a stretch of three straight opening losses, Bellefonte conquered Midd-West in a 14-12 victory and its first win in the program’s history.
“You would’ve thought we had won the Super Bowl,” McKee said of the win. “Then after that we won a couple more games, and beat Midd-West again the second time we played them. We certainly picked up our game a little bit between the two times we played them.
“Already this season we have seen improvements. Now that they know how to play the game it’s starting to click on where they can be in better positions to make the passes, take shots on goal and how to work on team defense better.”
The team’s progression speaks volume of the upcoming success in the future– given 10 of the 12 starters are underclassmen. Sarah Torbin and Elizabeth Hargrove are the lone junior starters, while the rest of the lineup is comprised of freshmen and sophomores.
Highlighting the group of freshmen is Molly McKee, who leads Bellefonte with a Raider-high 39 goals. Teammate Elisabeth Macafee is second on the team with 17 scores. And freshman Kayle Frantz anchors the defense as the team’s goalie.
In recent weeks Bellefonte’s progression has correlated into more wins. They’ve won three of their last four games and are fresh off a 14-2 win Thursday versus Mifflinburg.They’re 5-6 on the year, and with six teams in their district, they recently made the cutoff and locked in a No.4 seed in the district playoffs. They’ll play No.1 ranked Danville, who they lost to on Monday in the opening round of the postseason.
“They’re a way better team and we all know that,” McKee said. “So we’ve already set a goal for ourselves when we play the second time, which is score more goals, stop a few more shots and see if we can improve on the score [from the first meeting] and look on to next year.”