GIRL POWER: Female teams paving the way at MAU
BENNINGTON >> Former Secretary of State and presidential nominee Hillary Clinton struck a chord with people around the world over the past few days as she's clinched the Democratic nomination, talking about the strength of women and their abilities to smash through the so-called glass ceiling.
Here in Bennington, the Mount Anthony girls lacrosse and softball teams are making their presence felt at a historic level themselves.
Both will be playing in the next few days for a chance at a state championship — the third in a row for the softball team and the first time for lacrosse since 2010. It's the first time that two Mount Anthony female teams will play for a championship in the same sport season since 2008-09.
"It's unusual to have both teams because usually it's one or the other," said softball coach Katie Contrada. "We have both programs that are good, and the tennis team too."
Mount Anthony girls tennis went 14-1 this season and reached the semifinal.
"We have amazing female athletes at Mount Anthony," Contrada said.
The Patriots' softball team has been the measure of excellence in Division I for the past four years, winning at least 15 games each season and taking home the championship in 2014 and 2015.
Coached by Katie Contrada and Brooke Remington, the Patriots have the perfect balance of youth and experience in their leaders.
"Every year, Brooke and I want to be better coaches. We try to lead by example before we walk out on that field," Contrada said.
Contrada and Remington both played softball in high school, Contrada in Ohio and Remington at Mount Anthony, graduating in 2000. Contrada graduated in 2001.
"I think having female coaches that played all sports, we've made our own mistakes," said Contrada, a teacher at the high school. "Every player is different on how you handle them and I think we're more sensitive to the differences. For the girls to see us as successful, both professionally and personally, is excellent."
Contrada said it affects girls in the community who play at the Little League level or the middle school.
"When they see the [varsity] athletes, it's inspiring," Contrada said. "They think, maybe someday I'll wear that uniform. We have a lot of great young women that deserve to be looked up too, both because of their success academically and athletically."
Contrada also cited the community, parents willing to go the extra mile for their daughters in athletic endeavors.
"A lot of credit goes to the community and the parents, getting the kids involved in summer ball," Contrada said. "They go out of Bennington and they see it outside of Vermont, how awesome the sport is. Then they see the success of the high school team and it's a winning combination."
The lacrosse team has had similar success, if more fleeting. MAU reached the quarterfinals last season in coach Whitney Brooks' first year leading the team and were semifinalists the previous two before that with Tom Otero, now the Southern Vermont College women's lacrosse coach, at the head of the program.
Brooks graduated in 2005 from MAU, while Griffin finished her career in the state final in 2009, so both coaches are under 30. The players seem to respond differently to them then they did to Otero — a legendary coach in his own right, Brooks said.
"I think they look at male and female coaches differently, maybe they are more reserved to a male coach," Brooks said. "They look at us more for the experience, like we've played, [we can say] 'We know this works, this is how we played.' I think being young coaches puts a new twist on the game as well. We were there not that long ago."
Contrada said the balance is important in coaching teenage girls.
"Being a little younger, you can relate to them better, but there's a fine line you walk, they want to be your friend, but you're not their friend, you're their coach," Contrada said. "It's important to make connections, but I think knowledge of the game is more important."
The success also reaches down to the youth levels as well. The Mount Anthony Lacrosse Association has high numbers throughout and they have provided the coaching for the girls at the varsity level now. Eight freshmen are on the team, some start, but all get significant playing time. The same thing goes for the softball team, with last year's championship team having four freshman playing a lot in crucial situations.
"It's a mature level spot and it goes to the talent at the younger levels," Brooks said, citing coach Maceala Shaughnessy's work in MALA. "The coaching there is excellent and it's a model program."
The younger kids also come to the varsity games and see the success, which Whitney believes will make them more likely to stick with lacrosse in the future.
"Especially now with us going to the championship, if they can understand the significance of it at a young age, their hearts are in this game, I know they'll stick with it," Brooks said.
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