Tehoka Nanticoke and Chris Cloutier recently paid a visit to Depew High School and spent a practice with their girls’ lacrosse team.
Depew’s program is one of the newest in Western New York as head coach Emily Fleetwood launched the program weeks before COVID-19 shut down the 2020 season.
“I think it’s a really unique opportunity,” she said. “It’s a very special thing because lacrosse is such a fun sport and those who experience it develop such a passion for it. Sharing my love for the sport with the players is really cool.”
Fleetwood played four years of varsity at Orchard Park High School before playing collegiately at nearby Niagara University. After graduating in 2014, Fleetwood began her coaching career as a JV assistant for the Quakers while also earning her referee certification.
Following her involvement in local summer lacrosse camps and clinics, an opportunity arose to lead the upstart Depew program. Fleetwood’s first challenge was having its inaugural season halted after a few weeks of practices.
“During COVID we were required to do something for our teams whether it was a Zoom session or Google Classroom,” she said. “I gave the players info and tutorial videos so that they could get a stick in their hands as much as they could even though we couldn’t practice as a group.”
Depew was able to play locally throughout the summer where players got their first taste of in-game action and grew tremendously in their knowledge of the game.
The limited 2021 season was another impactful learning experience for the Wildcat program as they had just one sub, resulting in the girls taking what they learned over the last calendar year and applying it to Section VI play.
During the 2022 campaign, Depew also took strides in the right direction in its first “normal” season, but was limited due to injuries and played two girls down towards the end of the year.
Fleetwood mentioned how having Nanticoke and Cloutier come towards the end of their school season will benefit the group as they transition into summer ball.
“I asked the guys if they wanted to run drills or that I could give them some ideas and they just jumped right in,” she said. “I loved that because they used their knowledge and adjusted throughout the hour we were with them.”
Nanticoke and Cloutier were receptive on providing suggestions by tuning into their knowledge of the girls’ game instead of keeping it broad for lacrosse in general. Over the hour session, not only did the players learn a lot, but Fleetwood did as a coach as well.
To help grow the game in the greater Buffalo area, Bandits players have been attending practices of local teams, and the featured school received discounted ticket prices to attend a Bandits game this season. The program is presented by Intense Milk.
“I just soaked it all in and since then we’ve been using what they taught us,” she said. “I had one of our injured players record the instruction of how they explained each drill so that I could look back on it and keep it in mind for the future.”
Depew is in the beginning stages of starting a feeder program through free clinics for players K-8th grade that are interested in playing. The only expense for the summer program is for the players to purchase their own equipment.
“The game is still so new here that it’s important to get the word out,” Fleetwood says. “What we are doing here is special and I just want to share the love of the game to more girls in the area.”