Portage Unites 'Frenemies' Into Lacrosse Force

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

May 11, 2021

PORTAGE — On the basketball court, Brooke Hoag and Grace Cheatham were “frenemies.”

Southwest CorridorBut now that spring sports are here, that has changed.

The two seniors from rival schools are teammates.

Hoag, from Northern, and Cheatham, from Central, are both members of the Portage girls lacrosse team, a co-op composed of players from both schools.

When playing against each other, “you have to be focused on your team,” Hoag said. “When you come to lacrosse, it’s almost like you flip a switch because they’re your team now.

“Playing against them is just fun. You look at them and you know how they play in different sports, so it’s fun because you can kind of pick on them. It’s also a competition, and you definitely learn how to separate the two sports.”

After being shut down last year because of COVID-19 restrictions, the lacrosse team is having one of its best seasons ever.

Portage is 12-2 so far and currently ranked No. 8 in Division I, according to LaxNumbers.com

“For our returners, I think (the year off) has given them more motivation to want to play,” said Kate Twichell, in her seventh year as head coach. “There’s a fire lit, especially under my seniors.

Portage girls lacrosse“They’re playing so hard. They understand every opportunity is another opportunity they weren’t going to get.”

This season is different from any other, with mandated masks and rapid testing. Adapting to cool weather and then hot makes masking up a little more challenging, Hoag said, but worth it to have a chance to play. Twichell said Portage schools provide a mask that is easier to wear. “None of them will claim they love it,” she  added. “The second we say they can take them off, they will 100 percent take them off.”

But in spite of the drawbacks, “This year, our varsity team is playing together the best I think it’s ever played together,” Twichell said. “The team chemistry is just phenomenal.

“That’s really all them. They’ve really taken extra time to make sure that they are putting in the work to come together.”

For the first time, Portage is hosting an MHSAA Division 1 Regional, facing Zeeland East on May 20. Finals are June 12 at Novi High School.

Other Northern varsity players are seniors Mairin Boshoven and Karly Turchan, junior Annie Galin and freshman Avery Kelly.

Central players include seniors Kyla Meyle, Jenna Camp, Calista Richmond and Lauren DeHaan; juniors Ryan Knauer, Olivia Jensenius and Lauren King; and sophomores Sam Swafford and Lexie Springman. Casey Hendrixson coaches the junior varsity team.

Learning Fast

Neither Hoag nor Cheatham grew up playing lacrosse, but that is not a problem, Twichell said.

“My varsity players are all returning, so I have six returning starters on varsity right now,” she said. “My JV team, of the 15 of them, 10 are new to the sport this year.

Portage girls lacrosse“They’ve never touched a stick before. MHSAA gave us some small practices so we had a few in earlier, but most of them are brand new within the last 12 months.”

Learning that the stick is actually an extension of their hand is one of the hardest adjustments for new players, she said.

“I always tell the kids the first week is going to be the hardest – the frustration of dropping the ball and not being able to figure out the mechanics of it is always going to be the most difficult,” she said.

Hoag first played the sport when she was in eighth grade and took to it immediately.

“The only downside is the bruises you can get from it, but I like to say they’re like trophies showing you’re an aggressive player and it’s just something that you almost want to show that you play,” the midfielder said.

She kept in shape during the shutdown by working out at home.

“I have a net and a rebounder in my backyard, so I would practice shooting and my stick skills by myself,” she said.

Losing last season was especially difficult for the midfielder.

Not only is the junior season a big year for college recruitment but “my sister (Ashleigh) was a senior and I got my last chance to play with her taken away.”

Cheatham also has played lacrosse for five years, with her interest piqued by her father and brother.

Family helped her hone her skills during the shutdown.

“I live super close to Portage Central High School, so me and my brother (Andrew, a freshman who plays lacrosse at Central) used to go and play a lot of wall ball against The Stable. We did a lot of shooting drills on our own, just to keep busy.”

Both Hoag and Cheatham also played on summer and fall travel teams, which helped keep them in shape.

One unexpected moment for the two happened May 1 at the Matt Thrasher Memorial Games when each received a $500 scholarship, awarded each year to two players from the girls team and a player from each school’s boys team.

Thrasher played lacrosse and, while a freshman at Northern, died in a boating accident in 2004.

Cheatham echoed Hoag in saying it was an honor to receive the award.

“The fact that his family still does this is really amazing,” she said.

Hoag is headed to Trine University and will play lacrosse there, while Cheatham will attend Kent State in the nursing program and hopes to continue to play the sport, possibly at the club level.

Ultimate goal

While the ultimate goal is to one day have enough players to field a girls team at each school, the co-op team is under the umbrella of Portage Northern.

Portage girls lacrosseThat poses one of the few problems for Twichell, who teaches Spanish at Hackett Catholic Prep.

“For me, honestly, the biggest thing is recruiting, getting into both schools equally to get enough kids to field a team,” she said. “Trying to get in the schools as one person from outside the school is pretty difficult.

“Likewise, especially during the offseason, getting enough practice time at both facilities so that each player gets their home facility or their home games or home practices, that can be a challenge.”

Next year that could be a bit easier. Twichell’s husband, Kurt, was recently named Northern’s head football coach after longtime coach Pete Schermerhorn retired. The past seven years, he was on the Portage Central football staff.

One future recruit for the girls team should be a shoo-in. The couple’s 2½-year-old twins – daughter Aubrey and son Griffin – already have lacrosse sticks.

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Portage’s Brooke Hoag fires a shot against Grand Rapids Northview this spring. (2) From left: Portage coach Kate Twichell, Grace Cheatham and Brooke Hoag. (3) Grace Cheatham (45) advances the ball against Ann Arbor Skyline. (4) Twichell and daughter Aubrey enjoy a moment with lacrosse stick in hand. (Action photos by Chris Boot. Head shots by Pam Shebest. Twichell photo courtesy of the Twichell family.)

Bloomfield Hills' Semifinal Run Powered By Scoring Skill, Talent in Net

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

September 29, 2023

Bloomfield Hills advanced to the Division 1 Semifinals this spring with one of the highest-scoring lineups in MHSAA girls lacrosse history, and one of its most accomplished goalies.

The Black Hawks scored 325 goals – sixth-most on the list – in going 19-4. Ella Lucia, then a junior, posted 17 single-game record entries for goals, assists or points, finishing with 125 goals, 59 assists and 184 points and pushing her career numbers to 186 goals, 113 assists and 299 points over three seasons.

Teammate Ilana Watson, a senior this spring, was added eight times for single-game accomplishments and also for 71 goals, 64 assists and 135 points for the season and 102 assists and 205 points over her two-season career. Goalie Sydney Butler, now a senior, made the single-season saves list with 186 and the career list with 466 over her first three seasons. Marlee Watson, who also graduated in the spring, was added for seven goals in a game.

See below for more recent record book updates for girls lacrosse:

Girls Lacrosse

On April 25, 2022, Holland West Ottawa then-senior Ella Spooner scored 13 of her team’s 16 goals against Zeeland. Those 13 goals tied for fourth-most in one game and also placed her on the single-game points list. She is playing at Kalamazoo College.

Troy Athens’ Claire Balintfy piled up eight record book entries during her sophomore season in 2022. A goalie, she posted a career-high 22 saves to tie for eighth on the single-game list, on which she appears six more times. Her 231 saves over 18 games that season rank second on that list as well.

Lexie Springman took 12 shots and made eight in Portage’s 19-9 win over Grand Ledge on April 5. She was a senior at Portage Central and is continuing at Regis University in Colorado.

Haslett/Williamston’s Abby Russell opened her high school career March 22 with a record book-worthy performance. The Haslett now-sophomore made the single-game goals list with seven in her team’s 10-9 loss at Portage.

Okemos’ Bridget Cox was a sophomore during the 2021 season when she earned her first four record book entries. She made the single-game saves list three times with a high of 16, and totaled 157 saves over 18 games total.

Holly/Ortonville Brandon tallied three single-game entries this past season. Junior Dakota Pinson made the single-game goals list with 10 against Fenton/Linden on May 4. Junior teammate Lainey Lasky made the same list twice with seven goals both times, against Flushing on May 3 and Lake Fenton/Goodrich on May 16.

Through three seasons, Salem’s Mileena Cotter has earned 35 record book entries – including setting the single-game record with 18 goals April 6 against Saline. Her 123 goals over just 10 games this past season rank seventh, and her 257 goals over 30 career games rank ninth on that list. Her career-high 19 points on April 5 against Dexter rank second for points in a game. She’s committed to sign with Syracuse.

Pontiac Notre Dame Prep junior Emily Szalach earned a record book entry with her 11 goals against Warren Regina on May 15 during a 13-12 triple-overtime win. It was the first entry for NDP for girls lacrosse.

Lake Orion’s Quinn McElroy capped her three-season varsity career this spring with eight record book listings, including for 69 goals and 100 points over 16 games as a senior, and 172 goals and 224 points for her career. Teammate Morgan Vasquez made single-season lists with 66 goals and 81 points, as did Amelia Guccione with 50 goals. Ava Adkins joined McElroy and Vasquez with single-game qualifiers, hers for 15 saves in a game against Troy Athens on April 12. Vasquez is a senior and Guccione a junior this school year, and Adkins also graduated this spring. McElroy is playing at Grand Valley State.

A pair of Detroit Cass Tech senior standouts made single-game and season scoring lists this spring. Taylor Weston made the single-game goals list three times, with a high of eight, and for her 64 goals total over 15 games; she also earned a listing for her 53 goals as a junior in 2022. Teammate Kayla Carroll-Williams made the single-game list twice, both for scoring seven goals, and the single-season list for 62 goals over 15 games.

PHOTO Bloomfield Hills goalie Sydney Butler, center, prepares to stop a shot against Bloomfield Hills Marian on May 11. (Photo by Susan Adams Photography.)