The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School girl’s lacrosse team had just returned from a week-long whirlwind across England and coach Betsy Dripps hardly knew where to begin in a conversation with The Times this week
“First, I have to say that these young women made me proud. They are wonderful representatives for their school, their country and the sport,” Ms. Dripps said of the 13 varsity and junior varsity players who were also accompanied by jayvee coach Laurie Gordon and former coach Amy Westburg, now a volunteer coach.
The MVRHS varsity and jayvee composite team traveled by bus from London to the Cotswolds countryside, playing five games, several against England’s elite lacrosse teams, winning two of them. “It’s a different brand of lacrosse in England. More aggressive and more physical checking than we play in the United States, so the kids had to adapt to a new style of play,” Ms. Dripps said.
The trip, conducted last month during school break week, is the second England tour Ms. Dripps has organized in her 20 years since beginning the MVRHS girls lacrosse program. “We did it five years ago and three of the five teams have since visited the Island as part of their U.S. tour,” she said.
Both the England and the U.S. tours provide host families to accommodate visiting players, a great opportunity for the athletes to bond and create lasting friendships, Ms. Dripps said. “It just seemed like a good idea for the kids and it helps to keep them playing the game during school break,” Ms. Dripps added about the initial idea for the trip.
The Vineyarders flew into London and spent a day and a half sightseeing at Westminster Abbey and the London Eye. “We had planned to visit Windsor Castle, but the Queen was going there for Easter. So we visited the royal palace at Hampton Court instead,” Ms. Dripps said. “We went to the ancient Roman baths. They had the right idea. They used tubs of ice then then a hot springs bath. The kids were enthralled.”
The team then visited the walled city of Chester, 200 miles northwest of London, to play at Moreton Hall School. “We tied them last time we played, but they are ranked third in the country. I don’t remember the score but they were really good and nice kids, so we enjoyed playing against them,” Ms. Dripps said.
The Vineyarders moved on to Oxford with a way stop at Stratford-on-Avon for a visit to William Shakespeare’s birthplace; then to St. Helen’s/St. Katherine’s School (SH/SK) outside Oxford where the team stayed two nights with host families. The Vineyarders hosted SH/SK two years ago.
The Oxford visit included punting (a form of rowing) on the Thames and a tour of the many colleges which comprise Oxford University. “We went to New College where all the Harry Potter films were made. We played that afternoon and lost by 4-5 goals in a pretty close game,” Mr. Dripps noted.
On to Cheltenham in southwest England, the birthplace of Winston Churchill and home to Cheltenham Ladies College, passing through towns with whimsical names like Stow on the Wold and Bourton on the Water.
“Laukan, our Irish bus driver, was wonderful, and we had a 29-year-old Brit named Mike Nixon who had never seen lacrosse before. He always said, “Oh, unlucky, after every shot we took missed, even bad shots,” Ms. Dripps laughed.
The Cheltenham game had special significance for Vineyarder Katrina Lakis. Cheltenham is the first school for women in English history and three generations of Ms. Lakis’s forebears have played lacrosse on the Cheltenham pitch, dating back to her great-great grandmother. Ms. Lakis’s grandparents journeyed from Scotland to see the closely-played game, won by Cheltenham.
The Vineyarders recorded their first win at Westonbirt, where they also learned to play rounders, a softball-ish British game before moving on to Bromley, outside London. Bromley is the country’s perennial women’s lacrosse champs. “We won, 11-6, in pouring rain. The kids were so happy they all jumped into a mud puddle on the field,” Ms. Dripps said.
Then, a tired Vineyarder squad headed home to begin a five-game stretch in EAC league play. After beating Coyle-Cassidy, 13-2, earlier this week, the Vineyarders stand at 3-7 on the season.
Ms. Dripps compiled quotes from players on their trip and the game they love.
Senior Charlotte McCarron: “It was fantastic. England lacrosse is a whole different game than the way we play here. They allow more aggressive checking and stickwork. You can check four times in the circle compared with two checks here.”
Olivia Ogden: “I found this trip was not only a great way to know my team and coaches better but also a great way to see more of the world and to meet some amazing people.”
Lee Hayman offered a precise summary of the trip: “This was a great experience. The sightseeing was awesome, but honestly the greatest part was all the girls on our team and the great English people we met on the trip.”