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The City Journals

Deep senior class, coaching staff rocketing expectations for Bengal lacrosse

Mar 12, 2020 11:24AM ● By Travis Barton

Senior midfielder Paige Sieverts was named second team All-State last year after recording 17 goals and three assists during the regular season. (Photo courtesy Brighton lacrosse)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

In Melissa Nash’s first season as head coach of the Brighton girls lacrosse team, the team won one game. 

Last season, her second year, the team completed a massive turnaround, finishing 9-5 and reaching the quarterfinals.

Just imagine what year three could bring. 

“I really do think this could be a really powerful year for us,” Nash said. 

She has high expectations for this season, and with good reason. Starting with a large senior class filled with talented players, all of whom Nash has coached for six years when she first joined the Brighton program. 

They were eighth graders then. Now they are “strong, senior leaders,” Nash said. 

Midfielder Paige Sieverts is one of those seniors, and shares the enthusiasm of her coach. 

“All of us (seniors) would always talk about how great we’re going to be our senior year,” Sieverts said. “We all just love the sport, we play year-round, we play club in the summer and play with each other all the time. We've been really excited for this year, and I'm pretty sure it’s going to be our year.” 

The senior class meshes well, Sieverts said, adding their close bond allows them to better assess team morale and individual players. 

Also their love of the sport and familial feeling, according to Nash, trickles down to the rest of the team. “Their energy, enthusiasm and work ethic translates to everything,” she said. During the moratorium before the season, seniors were running practices. 

But it’s not just the senior class that gives Nash confidence. 

“I think we'll be one of the most powerful teams because of our senior leadership, our coaching staff and the younger girls that are coming up,” Nash said. 

Nash attributed much of the team’s progress last year to her coaching staff. All but one have returned this year. 

“We have the best coaching staff in the state,” she said. Made up of two Brighton alums —Chelsea Owens and Courtney McCabe — and two Bingham alums — Rachel (Quigs) Muller and Annie Van Valkenburg (Nash played at Olympus) — the entire staff played in college, giving an extra edge of expertise. 

“It's really unique to have such a powerful coaching staff,” Nash said. “Because a lot of schools have dads that have never played before or girls that have played, but not necessarily at the college level.” 

Owens runs the offense while Muller coaches the midfield and defense. Van Valkenburg coaches the goalies and McCabe is in charge of the JV team. There is also a volunteer coach. Nash oversees everything and said coaches are there every day. 

Having that quality of coaching is a credit to the area, Nash said, noting Brighton lacrosse is a desired location, for both boys and girls, due to the players and parents. 

“We have such a great coaching staff,” Sieverts said. “They all play different positions, (but also) know every part of the field, how to play every position. So if you’re struggling with a certain defense, you know what coach to ask for help.”

The new season is not without challenges. The Bengals lost talented attacker Hannah Gebauer for the season with a torn ACL, four contributors to graduation and another few to boundary changes under rules from the Utah High School Athletics Association (lacrosse is undergoing its first season as a UHSAA-sanctioned sport).

The team will need someone to compensate for Gebauer’s absence as well as a new draw girl to win face-offs. Sieverts, a second team All-State performer a year ago, is regaining full fitness herself after her own torn ACL seven months ago. 

But with its whole midfield line back, including Sieverts, and two defensive stalwarts in Sam Heugly and Baylee Bruce, Nash said the team needs players to “step up into their roles and have the passion for it” to meet expectations. 

Nash has watched Sieverts, who plans to play at Southern Virginia University next year, along with all the seniors grow in front her eyes. For Sieverts, Nash said she’s watched her develop and start to love the sport having first picked up the stick in eighth grade. 

“(Sieverts) is seriously an incredible athlete,” Nash said. “And not only is she a great athlete and lacrosse player, but it’s the stuff she does outside of that. It's her attitude, work ethic, being a good teammate, being coachable, respectful. In every way, in every aspect of the game she shows up to do her best and as a student she does the same thing.”

“I think that's why she's been so successful in lacrosse and also why she's going to be so great at SVU,” Nash said.

That connection extends to all the seniors, Nash said. “I don’t know any other coach who has had the same girls for six years. I just love them.”  

From a one-win season where the team was “young and intimidated” being on the field against older girls, Nash said, to now being the oldest, will make “a huge difference with their mental capacity and their passion for wanting to win.” 

“We turned it around last year and we're just continuing to move forward,” she said. “Our progress hasn't stopped yet.”

The Bengals kick off the season at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 10 at home. Due to construction at the school, home games will be played at Butler Park (7500 South 2700 East) next to the tennis courts.