Hamilton West junior Lauren LeClair was the top scorer for the Hornets in 2018, with 24 goals. (Photo by Rich Fisher.)

Lauren LeClaire’s parents couldn’t figure out a way to wrap up Denise Roessler and stick her under the tree, but Roessler was still Lauren’s favorite Christmas gift.

Roessler was head women’s lacrosse coach at St. Joe’s University for 16 years and is in her fifth year of guiding the Bryn Athyn program. She also offers private lessons on the side, which is what the LeClaires got their daughter.

“I had about five sessions with her,” said LeClaire, a Hamilton West junior. “We worked on some stuff. She taught me some new skills that I hope to use this year. It was awesome, that was the best present. An experience like that is so much better than clothing or anything else. It was so exciting. I loved that.”

Hornets’ coach Kerryn Campbell is pretty happy about it as well, considering LeClaire was her top scorer last season with 24 goals and seven assists. The coach is hoping for even more this year as LeClaire also played in a winter league with her Hornets teammates in an attempt to increase her knowledge of a sport she just began in ninth grade.

A soccer player all her life, LeClaire played travel for the Rush and Hamilton Wildcats. As a freshman, she was urged to try out for lacrosse by other members of the Hornets soccer team.

Once she got a stick in her hand, soccer was a distant memory.

“I just loved it so much,” LeClaire said. “I didn’t feel that way about soccer. I just found this love and wanted to pursue it as much as I could. I don’t even play soccer now. Lacrosse just took over.”

She not only switched sports, but switched positions as well; going from a fullback in soccer to attack in lacrosse.

“I always played defense for soccer,” she said. “They asked me what I wanted to do, and I said offense. I fell in love with scoring goals, the rush you get, everything about it.”

LeClaire quickly made a positive impression on Campbell. Not so much for her talent, but her dedication.

“I’ll never forget this,” the coach said. “It was spring break, and we had a lot of people who all of a sudden decided they wanted to go on vacation, and I needed people for varsity. I asked her and another player if they wanted to come up. I wasn’t guaranteeing playing time, but I needed extra bodies in any event.

“Her parents had booked some sort of mini-trip. She asked her mom if she didn’t have to go. She sacrificed her trip to come play for me. She played in that game and has been on varsity ever since. It’s that kind of commitment that really stands out for me.”

LeClaire’s contributions were modest in 9th grade, as she collected four goals and one assist. Melanie Meara was the team’s big scorer that season, “and we were all trying to support her so I didn’t get a ton of full action.”

She was also still trying to find herself, as LeClaire had the usual growing pains.

“Horrible,” she said of her humble beginnings. “(Campbell) liked me because I could run, she liked all that stuff, but the stickwork took a long time. The first time I couldn’t catch a ball, or anything. I thought I’d never get it. It’s definitely frustrating at first but it just comes. If you have athletic ability you can catch on. Last year, I really found that I fell in love with the sport.”

It is easy to see why. Campbell does not keep track of her players’ goals during the season but was pleasantly surprised to see LeClaire’s total.

“I don’t think I was expecting that,” the coach said. “She had a great season. She worked really hard to get where she is and she’s been working hard in the offseason.”

Campbell points to LeClaire’s speed and strong, quick shot as her strengths, and the player won’t argue with that assessment.

“When I get the ball I just try to explode with speed and outrun them, and there’s not much they can do,” she said. “It’s not technical. I just have the heart for it. I just want it so bad.”

LeClaire also feels that her soccer past helps. Having been a defender on the pitch, she understands how the other side thinks.

“I know the defensive mindset,” she said. “I know exactly what they’re looking for and I try to do what would annoy me as a defender—just quick stutter movements, looking them right in the eyes and just that key stuff that could throw anyone off.”

It is not surprising LeClaire is able to figure things out. She has a sharp mind and is ranked third in her class with a weighted grade point average of 4.7, which comes from taking numerous Advanced Placement courses.

She has found a way to transfer those smarts to the field and as her knowledge of the game increases, Campbell feels that LeClaire’s ability to facilitate will also improve. That was apparent last year when she had one assist in her first eight games and six in her last four.

“She has something else I don’t think she recognizes yet, and that is she is a great feeder,” the coach said. “She can be great on assists. She knows where to look and when to look when we’re around those goal-scoring opportunities. She has grown every year and I know she’s going to grow even more this year. And I still have her another year so I can’t wait to see all the growth.”

Campbell hopes to see the same growth in her team this year, as she has 12 returning varsity players along with over 30 freshmen who came out for the program.

“I have a lot of girls with background,” she said. “They’ve been in the program for X amount of years, they all feed off each other, they’re picking up things that maybe the teams I’ve coached in the past haven’t been picking up. Or, they picked it up at the end of the season, and these girls are picking it up the first day of practice. I don’t want to be too optimistic, but I have a good feeling.”

As does LeClaire.

“I’m really excited, everyone seems to have improved all around,” she said. “I’m just out here to have a good time, I really just love the sport and whatever happens, happens.”