Members of the Yarmouth High girls’ lacrosse team gather around their coach, Dorothy Holt, at the end of practice on Monday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Last spring, Dorothy Holt wanted to ensure that members of the Yarmouth High girls’ lacrosse team could stay connected – at least virtually – during a scary, uncertain time while they were isolated at home in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.

It turns out those Zoom sessions, virtual workouts and lessons in self-motivation are continuing to have benefits.

“I really feel like we’ve created a community by doing what we did last year,” said Holt, now in her 16th season as the Clippers’ head coach. “And from feedback from parents alone, and from the players, they’re so grateful we did it.”

Yarmouth enters the 2021 girls’ lacrosse season with 11 seniors and plenty of younger talent. Like all teams, they did not get to play games or even hold practices in 2020.

But even when the season was officially canceled on April 9, the Clippers kept gathering virtually five days a week, with extremely high participation rates.

Freshmen who were new to the program got to know the older players and the coaches.

“As soon as we shut down, Dorothy created Zooms and all these different ways for us to connect so I got to know them a lot better,” said Sara Wentzell, a sophomore defender. “I feel this year there’s more connection with me and the upper class than there would have been if we hadn’t done those things.”

The older players also benefited. Clancy Walsh, a junior who plays attack and midfield, said that “because we were going through a pandemic and it was so unexpected,” the interpersonal connections were at a deeper level than just athlete-to-athlete. The meetings gave a daily emotional boost.

“We built a bond that was so special because it was such a hard time for all of us but being together, I was always like, ‘Yes, I have lacrosse later. I get to see my teammates,'” Walsh said.

In this May 2020 photo, Yarmouth girls’ lacrosse coach Dorothy Holt demonstrates a screenshot of a Zoom meeting with her players. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

When Holt and her assistant coach, Jill Thomas, decided to keep their team together, they were hoping there might be the opportunity for an ad hoc summer league. In many ways, the focus during the spring of 2020 was on giving the since graduated seniors some form of a final season.

Along the way, the coaches made a statement to the community that they cared deeply about their players. Parents noticed and appreciated their efforts, said Lisa Wentzell, mother of Sara and senior defender Abby Wentzell.

“It gave them some structure, something to do, when honestly there was not much to do at the time,” Lisa Wentzell said. “It was nice to have that certainty as a parent to say, ‘Oh, you have lacrosse this afternoon.’ It gave them something to do with two coaches who are amazing, so positive – and in a scary time.”

Holt and her players believe the team has the potential to reach its eighth straight Class B final – and perhaps this year snap a string of four straight narrow championship losses by a combined five goals.

In both 2018 and 2019, Yarmouth lost to Cape Elizabeth in overtime in the state title game.

“We all hold that as our last memory. It’s a little painful, but I think we all want to win and it’s just in the back of our heads and driving us to do even better this season,” said senior defender Lizzie Guertler, who was a varsity player in 2019.

Even if Yarmouth had done very little together as a team in 2020, chances are the Clippers would still be a contender in 2021. After all, the program can claim six Maine Principals’ Association championships – five with Holt as the head coach (2006, 2007, 2011, 2014, 2015).

But there has been positive carryover.

“It created a bond and we didn’t have to start from ground zero to have a bond with this year’s team,” Holt said.

Walsh said she improved as a player, too, “because I was able to use the schedules that Dorothy would send out and just have some me-time working on stick work and stuff.”

As Walsh chatted with an observer at a recent practice, a crescendo of laughter and joyous noise rose in the background during a team drill. It was the sound of players enjoying themselves and enjoying being together to play a sport.

“I think it’s way better this year,” Walsh said, a smile evident even behind her face mask. “Although we have masks, it’s still fun. We have a really good group of girls this year. I think we have a chance. We’ve got some great players on the team.”

Regardless of how 2021 turns out, Guertler is certain the experiences last spring helped her as a player and a person.

“I just learned how strong we can be as a team,” she said. “I definitely learned about myself, how much motivation I can make myself to work out on my own. And definitely seeing other people just get into it, it meant a lot.”

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