MORSE HIGH SCHOOL girls lacrosse coach Linda Levesque instructs her team before a fitness drill at practice this past Thursday in Bath. Levesque started the Bath Rec Women’s Lacrosse Club, which eventually became today’s varsity program, over 25 years ago. She’s been assisted by her former player, Jess Avery, since 2004.

MORSE HIGH SCHOOL girls lacrosse coach Linda Levesque instructs her team before a fitness drill at practice this past Thursday in Bath. Levesque started the Bath Rec Women’s Lacrosse Club, which eventually became today’s varsity program, over 25 years ago. She’s been assisted by her former player, Jess Avery, since 2004.

BATH

JESS AVERY (right) chats with one of her players at practice.

JESS AVERY (right) chats with one of her players at practice.

Linda Levesque always saw something special in Jess Avery. As a player, on top of scoring all the goals, she was the one guiding her teammates on the field and always asking what she could be doing better.

At a team barbecue at Levesque’s house, she remembers the entire lacrosse squad gathered around Avery in the backyard, listening to funny stories and jokes. She was the captain, the face of the team, and what Levesque called “a coach as a player.”

It was only fitting that Avery eventually became a coach right alongside Levesque at Morse High School.

Birth of a team

Like many varsity programs, Shipbuilder girls lacrosse started small. Levesque, who has also coached girls tennis at Morse, had been coaching field hockey for almost 10 years when Avery and a few of her friends decided they wanted to play lacrosse.

Levesque and others, knowing varsity wasn’t yet in the cards, started raising money in the school parking lot and at yard sales. When they had the numbers, players had to pay to play, but the Bath Rec Women’s Lacrosse Club was born.

Fortunately for Levesque, academy teams like Hyde, Gould, Kents Hill and Hebron took them right in. They had competition, transportation and Avery, who played in an academy all-star game as a standout on the team.

When the Maine Principal’s Association came calling in 1997, Levesque and her team were ready to give up the freedom of club play and start a varsity squad.

That was also the year Avery became an assistant coach. She eventually left Bath to attend law school and also gave birth to her son, who is now playing for Bath Middle School’s first boys lacrosse team, but Levesque saved her spot on the sideline.

The two have been coaching together every year since 2004, and now, they’re practically one.

Two-for-one

For most of her tenure, Avery has led the junior varsity squad. But as the game has evolved and she’s grown as a coach, Levesque has taken notice.

On last year’s program, she appeared as a co-coach.

“We use our strengths,” Levesque said. “The co-coaching thing, she didn’t have anything to do with it. That was me thinking ‘OK, really she’s the brains and I’m the manager or the coach or whatever,’ but we’re using our strengths.”

Avery sees it a bit differently.

“I think she undersells herself,” she said. “I just happen to be the loud one, the bossy one. Truthfully, I played for her, I learned from her. It comes from that history. We have settled in our roles. To me, it’s like the head NFL guy. She’s calling the shots and I’m kind of the one barking on the field.”

Levesque and the players know it’s much more than that, though. There’s a certain type of connection there.

“She can intuitively see things as a coach and as a person,” Levesque said. “I don’t want to know too much about a kid, but she’ll know all these things about them and the way to treat them and get the best out of them, which is a talent.

“She was a coach as a player. Field hockey, basketball, lacrosse. She was a coach as a player. Guiding other people, understanding strategy. Being really good at figuring out technique — what works, what doesn’t work.”

Levesque, on the other hand, is typically more soft- spoken. She brings knowledge and tradition to the group. The players expect it.

“She kind of brings the history and legacy to the team,” Senior Noa Sreden said. “She’s been here since the beginning. So, she always kind of reminds us of where we’ve come from and where she wants us to go.

“I think she does all of the soft power but still in a hard way. She’s always the one encouraging us and really working on team first and all this team-building stuff.”

“It’s been awesome playing for her,” senior Paige Daigle said of Levesque. “We’ve learned lots of stuff, mostly that you want to do everything as a team. We’re always together. You can’t just have one person. If you’re on offense, it runs as a team and you guys all work together to achieve what you want.”

At practices like the one this past Thursday at McMann Field, the two Morse coaches seem equal. Players run from Levesque’s end of the field down to Avery’s. As everyone does warm-up drills, both coaches circle around and check in. They converse before each fitness spurt or free-play game and always share the same page.

Over the years, they’ve only grown closer.

“I think they definitely have a very symbiotic relationship,” Sreden said. “They definitely kind of enforce each others’ strengths and make up for the weaknesses they might have. We definitely appreciate it, as players, to have two perspectives at once. They’re able to put a lot more attention on individual players because of it.”

“They both push is in their own way and it’s awesome to have two different coaches to tell us what to do,” Daigle said.

If last season is any indication, the system is working splendidly. The Shipbuilders finished 13-2 and hosted their second regional final since 2013. A 16-7 loss to defending Class B State Champions Yarmouth was a disappointing end to a “magical” run.

It was a run that started not with play on the field, but trust off it.

“The other thing that’s really working these three years, is the team has believed in us,” Avery said. “So, whether she says it or I say it, it doesn’t matter — it happens. We’ve worked really hard to get them to trust us.

“For three years, we haven’t had a team that’s hesitated to pass. They’ll hit anybody. They don’t have to see that it’s ‘so and so’ to give them the ball. And that’s a trust thing and that’s a team thing and it’s awesome.”

Bottom up

A major reason the trust is so strong at Morse is because it starts at a very young age. Most of the seniors on the team like Sreden and Daigle have been playing lacrosse together since they were in third grade.

Right there, at the foundation? Levesque and Avery.

Levesque in particular has been heavily involved in youth lacrosse development for both girls and boys in Bath. She was instrumental in getting the school team to Bath Middle and on the girls side, she’s been running clinics with Avery for years.

There’s only way to develop players in their program.

“It keeps it local. I think we’re both about keeping it local,” Avery said. “Trying to do these groups. The travel teams are great, but they’re individual. We’re trying to bring back the team game and ‘Where do you fit in a spot, how can you adapt?’”

Last year, Levesque and Avery took the next step in developing the youth. In an effort to reach the kids, the coaches started attending their practices in favor of varsity and junior varsity practices. Levesque arranged a “youth night” where the youngsters all ran out of the tunnel before a varsity game and took the field like the Shipbuilders.

“It makes a difference,” Avery said. “They love it.”

“The game started here in Bath because of kids’ love for the game,” Levesque said. “To have the big picture, to have a community thing. The parents are into it — the parents come out and help us coach.”

With this philosophy, each player is reached. At the start of last season, Levesque and Avery decided to keep a group of talented freshman together on the junior varsity side. Some may have been cut out for varsity, but a season on jayvee would benefit them and other freshmen that weren’t quite ready.

Now, most of them are on varsity together as sophomores.

“We have a kid that’s miles ahead and we think our role is to get the one that’s furthest behind, there. And they struggle with that,” Avery said. “But they now accept that, once they’ve seen they come together, we’re a three-peat. When we don’t come together, we look good on paper and we don’t do it.”

As they eye another deep postseason run, the Shipbuilders will rely on a proven technique — the more girls that get involved on the field, the better the results. Rotating starters and sacrificing playing time is sometimes best for the team.

Everyone learned that from Levesque and Avery.

“Every year there’s something new we have to learn and get better and push ourselves,” Daigle said.

”I think every year, we work on getting better than the last one,” Sreden said. “Not just settling for being better than we were last year. Kind of blazing our own path but always trying to be better than the last one.”

Morse will begin the new campaign on April 25 at home against Boothbay at 5 p.m.


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