Freeport girls lacrosse team gaining experience

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Tuesday, April 19, 2022 | 1:49 PM


Ed Smith is looking for improvement, and he sees it happening every day.

Freeport’s first-year girls lacrosse coach has witnessed his 16-member team grow and develop with every practice and game this season.

“They’ve improved every game,” he said. “Last week was the best we’ve played yet.”

Freeport is off to an 0-4 start after going 0-10 in Section 2-3A games in 2021. The Yellow Jackets, who are part of a co-operative agreement with Armstrong, play up in Class 3A, so the competition level is stiff against some of the bigger schools in Western Pennsylvania.

“They listen. They are coachable. They are some of the hardest working young ladies I’ve ever been involved with,” Smith said. “They don’t give up. They’re going to go out there with their heads up. Every game gets a little better.”

Smith is coaching lacrosse for the first time, though he has a lengthy background in coaching. He took over for Tahlon Kirkland, who also coaches Freeport’s boys soccer team. Smith is joined by assistant coaches Dan Snow, Mayce Wonderling and Tea Smith, his daughter, who plays at La Roche.

“These girls really respond well to Tea and Mayce. They’re a huge plus,” Coach Smith said. “Me and Dan are there to encourage and bring out the best in them. Him and I have been learning a ton from our young assistant coaches.

“Dan is an unbelievably positive human being. He helps bring fun to the team. That’s what we needed with these girls. When you lose all these games and are kind of getting beaten up the last couple years, they get bummed out. Dan has helped with morale. He’s positive and encouraging.”

Smith called Wonderling, who was a senior on the 2019 team, the best player in Freeport history.

He also highlighted the knowledge Tea Smith brings to the “good, young balanced team.”

A trio of seniors have led the way. Morgan Wise and Lauren Bowser are fourth-year players, and Brettlyn Johns is in her second season.

“Those three are our captains. They are the three anchors on this team,” he said. “They’re just fantastic seniors. They’re working really, really well with these girls.”

Smith also highlighted the contributions of senior Olivia Zanotti, who moved to goalie this year.

“She’s fearless in the goal, and she loves it,” he said.

Fellow senior Hayley Smieszek moved from goalie to defense and has helped mentor Zanotti in front of the cage.

Sophomore Saige Smith, the coach’s daughter, and sophomore Lillie Snow also have shown some scoring touch this season.

The team also includes senior Kaitlyn Savinda, another fourth-year player, and juniors Savannah Colberg, Abby Kirkner, Abbi Spinner and Nicole Venendaal.

There also are four freshmen — Makenna DeZort, Ava Dreher, Briley Lucas and Caitlynn Wheeler — making an immediate impact.

“These girls are fantastic. They’re having a lot of fun,” Coach Smith said. “That’s always my strategy when coaching.”

In a 16-5 loss to Moon, Wise scored four goals, and Lillie Snow added a goal. Johns and Saige Smith scored in a 21-2 loss to North Allegheny. In a 20-7 loss to Butler, Wise had four goals, and Smith, Snow and Johns added goals. Zanotti made six saves. In a 17-12 loss to North Hills, Wise scored six times, Johns had five goals and two assists, and Smith added a goal and assist. Zanotti made 15 saves.

“Being in this upper division makes for a very tough season,” Dan Snow said. “Especially since we have a big portion of the team literally picking up a lacrosse stick for the first time just a couple months ago. But the girls are learning fast, and the team is getting along great, and having a blast.”

Freeport will play at Sewickley Academy on Wednesday and host Winchester Thurston in a nonsection game Thursday.

“Just keep getting better. It would be nice to win a few games. I think we can get two or three wins this year,” Coach Smith said. “If they keep working hard, we’re getting better at coaching and working on strategies here and there.

“Just trying to keep it real simple and basic and focus on the fundamentals.”

Bill Hartlep is the sports editor of the Tribune-Review. You can contact Bill at bhartlep@triblive.com or via Twitter @BHartlep_Trib.

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