North boys and girls lacrosse get a coaching makeover
NASHUA – There was a different tone in Nashua High School North assistant varsity boys lacrose/JVcoach Mike Chenard at practice the other night.
One of energy. One of optimism.
“We’re going to compete this year, guys,” Chenard bellowed as the players ran sprints in the gym.
Why is he excited? The Titans have a new head coach, former Daniel Webster College and Londonderry assistant Nick Sampson, who is seen as a long-term solution. Former Titans coach Rod Redman, highly respected in local youth lacrosse circles, made it clear for family reasons he was only a short term mentor/caretaker when longtime North coach Keith Bertrand left to take the Souhegan job two year ago.
Meanwhile, at Stellos Stadium earlier in the week, the Titan girls were listening to new voices. Shouting instructions practice was new co-coach Heather McKillop, while the other co-coach, Kristen Peterson, was sifting through player lists and making sure players were in the right place, right line for drills. The coach the last few years, Chloe Audesse, stepped down to focus more on her teaching career.
But both programs had struggled, neither making the tournament. Either way, it’s a new era for both North boys and girls lacrosse programs, as they’ve fallen behind their rivals at South.
“Coach Sampson is exactly what North lacrosse needs right now,” Chenard said, adding that Sampson has beefed up the staff a bit and the program’s numbers are way up. “The positivity is great. I was really pumped up after meeting with him.”
Sampson coached with his uncle, Roger Sampson, at Londonderry, but the lure of North and the opportunity to run his own program was too good to pass up. He had the same taste of that for one season under difficult circumstances, as he took over for the final season in DWC history, knowing the school was shutting down that spring (2017) and a lot of top players had already left.
“There’s a great tradition here,” he said. “There’s a great alumni base, great facilities, and I think there’s a lot of talented players here. A lot of guys that want to be taught the game, want to be coached up. That made it real easy, and interesting on my end.”
What does the North program need?
“It starts with commitment,” Sampson said. “And being the hardest working team in the state. If we can develop that mentality, everything else will come. It’s really about buying into that process.”
Coaching is always evolving for Sampson, who has brought in DWC’s all time leading scorer, Anthony Cotoni, and another former Eagle, Matt Muser, as his other assistants. Cotoni is the Eagles’ all-time leading scorer. Part of Sampson still wonders what he could have done with more years there.
But he’s learned a few things since.
“I watch a lot of basketball, and get a lot of stratgy from basketball because it’s similar,” he said. “I tried that at Londonderry and had some success with it. Everywhere you go, you’re always learning. I’m not ripping it up, I’m just tinkering with it a bit.”
What did the large turnout tell Sampson?
“That guys want to play,” he said. “They want to play the game. The game’s healthy. The game’s growing, and we’re doing the right things as coaches as leaders for the sport.”
Sampson wants to build a program. He feels the Titans, in their minds, should compete for a state title every year. He’s tried to instill discipline right away, and feels there’s one way to bring a struggling program back.
“Start at the basics,” he said. “I’m a big fan of the Patriots and Coach Belichick and he preaches fundamentals. That’s where our focus is right now – development, fundamentals, and building off the right stuff.”
At North, Gingras and school officials opted to go with a co-coaching situation, with two alums of the unified Nashua – McKillop and Peterson, the latter who actually was the Titans head coach back in 2014. The pair met a month ago for the first time, but found out they shared a common bond.
Both played for the first girls lacrosse Nashua had on the high school level, Linda Haytayan (formerly Nelson). Peterson was on the inaugural NHS girls lacrosse varsity back in 1996 while McKillop played a few years later.
“We both have the same mentor (in Hatayan),” Peterson said. “We both have that common core, that same upbringing, that same expectation, so we’re bringing that to the next generation.”
Peterson was actually on the coaching staff four years ago, while McKillop, who played lacrosse at Sacred Heart an was an assistant there, coached at Fairfield Ludlowe (Conn.) High School and moved a lot of players on to the college game in all three divisions. But she’s back in the area “and the sport has always been a part of who I am. A perfect fit.”
The pair sat down in Gingras’ office, and found out they meshed.
“We were talking about our philosophies, and they were the same philosophies,” Peterson said. “And we were talking about our backgrounds, and they happened to be similar. So all of that just kind of seemed to be a perfect fit.”
“I think it’s going to be a great benefit,” McKillop said. “We’re excited to have that common bond and get the girls excited and motivated.”
Right now, things are in the beginning stages as the Titans are just one week in with practice.
“I think right now we’re at the point where we want to assess the girls,and see where they’re at,” Peterson said, “and kind of work on their strengths individually, and bring them together as a team. And really work toward that teammwork.”
“It starts one day at a time, one practice at a time,” McKillop said. “Building culture is really important. Having a lot of momentum and energy. We’re here because we believe.”
The Titan girls will be a young team, and will go throw growing pains, but that may help them for years to come.
“This year there are quite a few freshman, which blows my mind, makes me happy. So we can groom them for the years to come to really grow the program. The strong freshman presence is a blessing.”
Peterson is glad to get back into coaching.
“It just brings back memories,” Peterson said. “You can smell it in the air, you can smell lacrosse. … It’s not a challenge (rebuilding the Titans). It’s fun.”
“This season’s going to be different,” Chenard said. “This season’s going to be huge.”
Clearly, the lacrosse Titans want to be remembered in a new way.