BENNINGTON >> Two years ago Southern Vermont College decided to start up a girls lacrosse team in their athletic program, after the sport did very well as a club in the school.
At that same time, Tom Otero was looking to take the next step in his coaching career.
Having 28 years of coaching experience, including 14 years as head coach of girls lacrosse team at Mount Anthony where he help lead the Patriots to state championship in 2010, Otero had always wanted to coach at the college level and felt it was the best time to give it a shot with SVC starting up the program.
Now two years to the day that Otero was named head coach of the SVC women's lacrosse team, the Mountaineers are playing in the finals of the New England Collegiate Conference playoff tournament and with a win will punch their ticket to the NCAA Division III tournament.
"We have come a long way in a short period of time and I am very proud of all the hard work the girls have put in to get us to the finals," Otero said. "We have girls on our team that have never played lacrosse in their life until they joined the team in the two years we have had the program and with the help of our great captains and the coaching staff, we have been able to coach them up and the girls have worked really hard to grow as lacrosse players. It's really great to see how much every girl on the team has improved in the two years."
When the program began, the Mountaineers only had really three girls that had ever played the sport of lacrosse before.
The three players were Mel Orrell and Emily Lesure, two players that played on SVC's club team and fought to make it a school sport, and Lauren Nesshoever a former high lacrosse player who also plays on the Mountaineers soccer team.
As the only three girls on the team with lacrosse playing experience, they along with the SVC coaching staff helped teach the game to their fellow teammates, teaching them the basic fundamentals of lacrosse, from learning how to catch with a lacrosse stick to the rules of the game.
"Going into it I know it was going to be challenge with a lot of the girls on the team never having played, but together as a team we worked hard to get better and better every single day and now that hard work has paid off because we were in the championship game," Lesure said. "I mean you can't even tell now that we have girls on our team that didn't start playing lacrosse till college. All of them worked hard to become better lacrosse players and with their drive they helped the girls that had experience playing lacrosse get better too."
Because of there great leadership and helping their teammates become better player, all three players have been captains for the team the past two seasons and they all are a huge part of why the Mountaineers are in the NECC finals.
Orrell is having a career season for SVC, breaking her single-season goal record of 43 last season with 65 so far this year and earned ECAC player of the week honors, the first player to so in the program's history.
Lesure in the team's third leading scorer with 38 goals, scoring three more then previous career best of 35 that she recorded last season.
Lastly, Nesshoever is the team's second leading scorer with 40 goals and has been recently on a scoring tear for the Mountaineers in the playoffs.
In SVC's tw0 NECC playoff tournament games, Nesshoever as total of 13 goals, which included scoring a career-high eight goals in the Mountaineers' win over Elms in the first round of the tournament on Tuesday.
"I have been getting a lot of open shots and have taken advantage of them," Nesshoever said of her success in the playoffs so far. "I'm just really enjoying the feeling of being on a hot streak and I give that reason to all to my teammates because they are helping get those scoring opportunities."
This year the Mountaineers decided to add a fourth captain, naming senior Emily Freling to be a captain for them on the defensive side of the field.
Freling is a terrific story for the Mountaineers as she is one of their players that never played lacrosse until college and has blossomed into their best defender.
"I payed close attention to how things were being taught to me. Like how to catch, how to throw, gaining knowledge of how to play defense in lacrosse. Just kept listening to what the coaches taught me and it's been working," Freling said. "Also Emily, Mel and Lauren have been such a big help in my development. They have really helped all of us become better players."
As this excited Mountaineers bunch now prepares for shot at winning a conference title to advance to the NCAA tournament, they know they will have tough challenge in front them with playing three-time defending champ Regis in the finals, which has not lost a conference game in over three years, going 24-0 against NECC opponents in that time span.
"We know beating Regis is going to be a tough task for us as it is for any team who faces them," Nesshoever said. "Like our coach said, 'respect all opponents, fear none.' So we're just going out there and play our game and enjoy the moment of playing in a championship game."
SVC travels to play Regis in the championship game today at noon.