Roland Park girls lacrosse struggles with blend of youth, experience

Roland Park girls lacrosse coach Kristin Nicolini must be patient. She is working with her youngest team in five years and getting the Reds to become a cohesive unit has taken longer than expected.

The number of underclassman (12) on the 21-player roster is unusual. They're having to learn to play with a group of talented veterans, led by junior midfielders Abbey Muhly (Furman University) and Cece Finney (University of Florida), senior defender Erika Brager (Jacksonville University) and senior attacker Haley Hauser (Bucknell University).

The challenge has been substantial.

"It's about meshing the older and younger players," Nicolini said. "We want to get them to fit within the same system. It's taking us longer in practice to go through things. So we don't get done as much as we had hoped to.

"We have two or three games a week. We don't have the time to put in the things we need to fix before we are facing the next opponent."

The Reds' slow start has been a test for Nicolini, who co-coaches the team with her sister, Reagan Raneri, and her players.

After opening the season with two-goal victories over Collegiate School and Garrison Forest, the Reds lost six straight by bowing to St. Paul's School for Girls, C Milton Wright, Severna Park, Notre Dame Prep, Maryvale and Brighton, of New York

Four of those defeats have come by four goals or less and all are quality opponents.

"We definitely can turn this around," Brager said. "We have to finish games they way we want to. We are improving every day. It (wins) will come sooner than we think. The only thing we can do is stay confident. Eventually, we will get the wins and finish the season stronger than we expected."

The Reds face some tough opponents the rest of the season. They play three teams ranked in the top 10 of The Baltimore Sun girls lacrosse poll, including No. 8 Severn (April 12), No. 1 McDonogh (April 16) and No. 2 Bryn Mawr (April 18).

Those games come before Roland Park finishes with St. Mary's (April 19), Archbishop Spalding (April 23) and Mount de Sales (April 25).

An 18-11 loss to Maryvale on April 4 dropped the Reds to 1-3 in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference.

The Lions built a 7-1 lead in the first nine minutes until the Reds trimmed the lead on goals by sophomore midfielder Francesca Whitehurst and senior attacker Emma Guarino, but never came closer than a five-goal deficit the rest of the way.

Roland Park started stronger two days later against Brighton.

Whitehurst scored on a free-position shot, beating junior goalie Sara Tullio low to give the Reds a 3-1 lead with 16:26 remaining in the first half.

Roland Park still led, 4-2, about six minutes later and was tied, 5-5 at halftime.

The Reds' top performances came from Finney (3 goals), Whitehurst (2 goals, 2 assists), sophomore Park School transfer Jenna Janes (1 goal, 1 assist) and freshman Anna Hauser (2 goals).

Nicolini still is waiting for her team to play two halves of lacrosse this season.

"We haven't put together 50 minutes yet," Nicolini said. "We are capable of doing it. Our defense wasn't stopping the shots today. We were making some careless mistakes on the offensive end. I think that really changed the game."

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