Martha’s Vineyard RHS girls lacrosse team hosts British school

Players from the Vineyard and SHSK jayvee teams huddled together to stay warm during Saturday night's varsity game. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School girls lacrosse teams, varsity and jayvee, hosted players last weekend from the St. Helen and St. Katharine School (SHSK) in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England.

SHSK is an independent day school for girls with an enrollment of 660, located five miles south of Oxford.

For the past 15 years, Vineyard varsity lacrosse coach Betsy Dripps and her Island squads have hosted a team from England, a tradition that has its roots from her tenure at the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Penn.

Each year, one of three English schools — Westonbirt, Cheltenham College, or SHSK — visits the Vineyard as part of a United States tour.

In the spring of 2008, the Vineyarders visited England and played against all three schools.

This year, SHSK flew into Washington, D.C., to begin a six-game tour. The players combined lacrosse with sightseeing in the nation’s capital, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City, prior to their arrival on the Vineyard Saturday afternoon.

Both games against the Vineyarders were exciting and well played. Coach Jess Wilcoxsin’s jayvee team played the visitors close throughout, but came up short, 9-6. The varsity contest was, as the British might say, a cracker.

The Vineyarders ran out to 7-2 lead and led 8-4 at halftime. SHSK roared back in the second half and tied the game with five minutes to play. With the visitors hovering around the Vineyard goal, the clock expired and the teams justly shared the spoils, 11-11.

“They [SHSK] have a lot of speed and good stick work — a lot of speed in transition,” Coach Dripps said after the game. “They play a really clean game of lacrosse.”

Sally Keogh, the SHSK varsity coach, is the goaltender for the English women’s World Cup team. Stephanie Furneaux is the jayvee coach. Claire Bulmer and Sue Evans, whom Coach Dripps has hosted on the Island and stayed with in England, are the assistant coaches.

Following Saturday’s games, the teams gathered in the MVRHS cafeteria to get acquainted and eat a potluck dinner.

The SHSK players spent the weekend with Vineyard families, two to a household. On Easter Sunday, they explored the Island with their hosts.

Robin Davies, whose daughter Sydney is member of the lacrosse and ice hockey teams, took her guests on a tour of Oak Bluffs. The group stopped at the Flying Horses and the Campground, and then headed to Edgartown to see “The Hunger Games.”

Several of the English players were delighted to ride on the carousel at the Flying Horses. “I’m loving it, it’s really nice here [on the Island] and I love the carousel,” said Claire Fabes, who stayed with the Davies family.

The Hughes family, Phil and Alleyne, varsity co-captain Madison, and former MVRHS player Taylor, took their guests to the beach and out for a bike ride. Many of the SHSK players, in fact, braved the chilly waters off South Beach and put their feet in the surf. “They wanted to put their feet in the Atlantic Ocean,” Madison said. “We thought it was cold, but they thought it was pretty warm.”

Next, the Hughes gang stopped for ice cream in Edgartown. “We went to Dairy Queen for their first American ice cream,” Madison said. “They had a lot of firsts: they dyed Easter eggs for the first time, too.”

Sunday night, Coach Dripps hosted a turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

Monday, with the Vineyard girls back in school, Coach Dripps assumed the role of tour guide and took the English team to the East Chop lighthouse. The players climbed to the top and posed for a group photo.

Prior to boarding the noon ferry, the team walked through Vineyard Haven for some last-minute browsing.

Earlier in the morning, Coach Dripps had asked the SHSK players to write down some thoughts about their experiences on the Vineyard.

Emma Walsh and Charlotte Hoskin, who stayed with Texe Craig, wrote, “Our experience of the Martha’s Vineyard teenager was exciting and intriguing. We put our artistic talents to the test, dying our eggs, but we don’t think our feeble attempts did English art justice.”

Hannah Ellis stayed with the Ogden family. She wrote, “Everyone was so welcoming and I couldn’t have asked for a better tour around this beautiful island.”

The Vineyarders also enjoyed the visit. Robin Davies hosted students from SHSK several years ago when her daughter Brianna played lacrosse for MVRHS and knew that Sydney would also have a positive experience.

“It was great. We invited another Vineyard player, Chantal Booker, to stay with us, so it would be two and two. They [Claire Fabes and Louise Harkness] were comfortable right from the start. I told them they need to feel at home, raid the pantry and raid the fridge, because I wasn’t going to do that for them. They were quite lovely. They had a blast.”

In previous years, players have often stayed in touch well after the weekend is over. “Usually our kids keep up with the players that they host as pen pals and they give them a fun time here,” Coach Dripps said. “It’s a great bonding experience for our kids.”

Upon leaving the Vineyard, the SHSK team completed its tour with a stay in Westwood to play one more game, see the sights in Boston, and attend a Boston University-Boston College women’s lacrosse game. The team heads back to the UK on April 12 to begin the summer term.