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A Decade Of Growth And Friendship For Newtown Lacrosse Teammates



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At the end of almost every high school season, there are seniors who part ways after having played a sport together for several years, some going all the way back to grade school. In the case of Newtown High School’s girls’ lacrosse team this past spring, a half dozen Nighthawks capped a collective career that went back a decade to the beginner days of basic skills and introduction to the game. Most of these girls starting playing together back in second grade and they have all learned the game, practiced, and competed together since at least fourth grade.

“They’ve been hanging around the lacrosse fields since they were so little,” said Rori Sughrue, mother of Elena Sughrue, the last of three girls among four children to go through Newtown’s youth and high school programs.

Rori Sughrue points out that most of this year’s seniors — also including Shannon Kelleher, Ella Hage, Izzy Butler, and Erin Phaneuf who have been together since second grade, and Meghan Tarpey who joined the group in fourth grade — have siblings who played the game.

“It’s so awesome we’ve gotten to play together. We’re such good friends and all so close,” said Elena Sughrue, who followed in the footsteps of her siblings, Julia (2017) and twins Kiera and Declan (2019).

Phaneuf said that these recent NHS graduates met and got to know each other through lacrosse. “On and off the field we’ve grown so much closer,” Phaneuf said.

That familiarity, combined with their skill sets, and backed by the strong play of the rest of their teammates, translated into success on the playing fields. Sughrue and Butler were key cogs on attack; Phaneuf at midfield; Hage on defense and midfield; and Tarpey and Kelleher were solid on the defensive end of the field for a team that won all but one regular-season game this past spring. They also reached the South-West Conference title game as juniors.

“This is a cohesive group. We’re going to miss their presence on the field next year for sure. They have a lot of chemistry,” Newtown Coach Maura Fletcher said. “It’s nice to see the growth. It’s pretty cool. It’s nice to have a relationship with the families as well.”

The high school athletes helped out with coaching the younger players at offseason camps and clinics and saw past versions of themselves in these future Newtown High standouts.

“It’s interesting to see what we used to look like playing as little kids and how far we’ve come,” Phaneuf said.

It starts with basic stick skills and having fun for the beginners. The skills improve and competition becomes tougher until, for many, it reaches the pinnacle at the high school level. These girls had impressive careers that culminated with a 14-1 regular season in their senior campaign, followed by opening-round South-West Conference and state playoff wins.

The Hawks supported each other and encouraged one another, won together, and learned to lose (occasionally) together — for the last ten or so years.

Butler said the closeness of the teammates gave them the confidence that they had each others’ backs out on the playing field throughout their playing careers.

When it finally came to an end, with a 14-9 setback to visiting Ridgefield in the Class L State Tournament quarterfinals on June 3, it was just one of several season-ending games for the underclassmen who can look forward to next year and, for some, beyond. For these seniors, however, it marked the end of an era. It is possible lacrosse will continue at the collegiate club level for some. But the Newtown chapter, the first chapter and perhaps the most competitive part, of their lacrosse lives has come to a close. It is time for new chapters with each of these NHS graduates headed off to continue their educations.

Sughrue and Butler stand to have no problems keeping in close contact as both are headed to Boston College, where Sughrue will study business and Butler psychology. Hage is headed to the University of Rhode Island to major in textile merchandise and design; Kelleher will go to Providence to study marketing; Phaneuf is going to the University of Connecticut to study psychology, and Tarpey is headed to Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. to major in criminal justice.

“They’ve grown so much from freshman year to senior year — it’s unbelievable,” Fletcher said.

And they have grown even more since those first days of practices while in elementary school.

“Lacrosse has been a long and wonderful road for our family. It is something our kids will always love and something they will always share,” said Rori Sughrue, who has spent much of her time along the sidelines, capturing these moments with her camera.

Sports Editor Andy Hutchison can be reached at andyh@thebeee.com.

Six Newtown High lacrosse players who graduated this past spring competed together since fourth grade, with five of them having hit the field together since second grade. Pictured are, from left, front: Erin Phaneuf and Meg Tarpey; and back: Ella Hage, Shannon Kelleher, Elena Sughrue, and Izzy Butler.
Newtown lacrosse players compete during the 2014 season. Pictured are, from left: Izzy Butler, Elena Sughrue (with ball), Erin Phaneuf, and Shannon Kelleher. These players, along with Ella Hage and Meghan Tarpey continued to play together through their senior year at Newtown High. —Rori Sughrue photos
Newtown lacrosse teammates who have played together for most of the last decade, pictured in 2014 are, from left: Meghan Tarpey, Elena Sughrue, Erin Phaneuf, Ella Hage, Izzy Butler, and Shannon Kelleher.
Ella Hage defends Elena Sughrue, and Shannon Kelleher (green shorts) joins the play during 2012 lacrosse action.
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