WALES — The shrill tweet of assistant coach Brandon Tiner’s whistle pierced the wind-swept spring air.

“Family!”

The front line of about two dozen Oak Hill lacrosse players stepped forward, kicked their feet high into the air and touched their outstretched hands.

Tweet. “Family!”

Tweet. “Family!”

The pattern continued for nearly 10 minutes. The drills changed as the players worked on stretching their arms, legs and backs before practice began in earnest. But the reply never did. Nor did it fade.

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“They had that unity, that, ‘You don’t leave the field, I don’t leave the field,’ that brotherhood,” coach Dan Brannigan said.

For many of the players on the 2014 edition of the Raiders, that brotherhood truly began in the fall, when 11 of the team’s players laced up their cleats, strapped on their shoulder pads and buckled their helmets for the school’s football team, ultimately earning a state Class D championship.

“They’ve carried that right over, and it’s rubbed off on all these kids who didn’t play football,” Brannigan said. “It’s amazing to see.”

“Lacrosse is a game of team chemistry,” junior Kyle Flaherty said. “So is football. Our football coach has done a great job of bringing us all together, and coach Brannigan does a real good job, also. It helps the team.”

Team unity was on full display during a pre-practice run. One of the team’s members fell back a bit after the first of two laps. The rest of the team didn’t let him. Some of the faster players dropped back and ran with him, ultimately catching up the the pack.

“This is a perfect example right here,” Brannigan said. “We have one player, he’s a bit bigger, but he’s got great hands. As a team, we need to bring him along and work on fitness like the rest of the team, and he’s going to be an asset. And nobody leaves him behind. It’s great to see.”

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Another benefit of having so many football players on the roster is fitness. Brannigan was impressed in the fall when he saw half of his returning team out for the football team, and the shape in which they’d returned to athletic action.

“I ran into Flaherty and (Alex) Mace as we got to football season, and I looked over and I said, ‘Flaherty, where did you go?’ A guy that was already in shape was smaller, but he was just ripped. This was great, and to have these kids come from football in that kind of shape already, that’s phenomenal. It goes right down to the freshmen and JV kids. They were coming in already in better shape than in the past three years.”

Brannigan is hoping all of the chemistry and athleticism translates into success on field this spring.

The players are buying in.

“We all know how to work as a team, work together,” Mace said. “We made things happen in football season, and I think we’re going to make things happen now, too. We’re all pretty excited about it.

“It gives us confidence, because we know how to play together as a team,” Mace added. “We know everything about each other, our strengths, our weaknesses.”

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The tighter camaraderie has also led to better cohesion on the field, and in particular in running the offense.

“Last year, we had some kids doing their own thing, wanting to be superstars for themselves,” Brannigan said, “and this year, you’ve got these kids out, and all they want to do is work for each other, work for the kid next to them. That’s the kind of stuff you can’t teach.”

Having players acclimated to playing football also helps when the Maine spring weather doesn’t cooperate — as it has a tendency to do from time to time.

“I got a text today from one of them,” Brannigan said. “He said, ‘Where are we going? The parking lot’s soaking wet, the field’s got an inch of snow on it.’ I told him, I said, ‘Hey, remember that Dirigo (football) game, the one you played on a Friday under the lights up there, and you won 8-6? It was freezing that night, wasn’t it? And you played?’ He said, ‘Yes, coach.’ I said, ‘OK, then there’s your answer.’ That’s all it took.”

“It’s wonderful, I love it,” Flaherty said. “It feels like it did in the fall.”

There’s another feeling from the football’s fall season the players would like to replicate: a run to a state title. But the Raiders have no illusions that such a run will be easy. There will be losses along the way, they figure, but “a loss or a win, we’re still a team, and that’s all that matters to us,” Flaherty said.

The Raiders will, indeed, still be a team.

And a family.


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