GAME CHANGERS: Honkonen, Ross have helped fuel Hawks’ resurgence

By Mike Whaley / mwhaley@fosters.com Jun 5, 2019  

SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — Seniors Cooper Ross and Henry Honkonen have played key roles in the resurgence of the Marshwood High School boys lacrosse team.After three years of lows, the high-scoring duo and their Hawk teammates are experiencing some elevation this season. Screen Shot 2019-06-06 at 1.12.19 PMNo. 5 Marshwood (9-3) enters the Class B state tournament quarterfinals Thursday (5:30 p.m.) at No. 4 York (6-6). The winner advances to the Class B semis on Tuesday.

It’s a huge improvement for a team that won just six games the previous three years.

Both seniors, who scored their 100th career goal this season, point to the return of Ralph Ruocco, who coached the program from 2010 to 2013 before departing. During that stint, the Hawks made the Class A playoffs three of the four years.

This playoff berth is the first since Ruocco left.

This time around, Ruocco’s return did not pay immediate dividends, but there was improvement and now the players feel the effect of his presence.

“We had to change the culture back to where it was when I was here before,” Ruocco said. “And they did.”

Ross said Ruocco worked with the state championship Marshwood football team this past year. “The team implemented some of football’s structure, mindsets and taking it a lot more seriously,” he said.

“We have a lot of good players,” Honkonen said. “We just had to believe we had a good team.”

The Hawks believe.

“He makes kids want to work harder,” Ross said of Ruocco.

The two have been key on the attack for Marshwood. Honkonen has 50 goals this season and 134 for his career. Right behind him is Ross with 43 goals and 110 overall.

Two of the Hawks’ three losses this spring were to Class A teams. The one Class B loss was to York by a goal in overtime last month, a game, Ross believes, that was more a case of the Hawks beating themselves.

“Our whole team is solid, starting with our goaltender, Connor (Hohn),” Honkonen said. “He’s really stepped up. Our defense is solid and our attack is right there.”

Ruocco said what has saved the team is Hohn stepping in and playing well after spending last year with the JV team, and two freshmen providing strong roles on defense.

“We have a lot more depth this year than in years past,” Ross said. “We have kids on the second line that are just as capable as kids on the first line. There really isn’t a weak spot at any position.”

The program has improved to the point that four or five freshmen start, which means this isn’t a one and-done playoff run. The Hawks are back as a tournament-contending program.

Honkonen, who also plays hockey and soccer, uses his speed to score or pass when he gets close to the goal.

“We played at Biddeford last week and got down 3-0 right away,” Ruocco said. “Henry only had one goal the first half. We talked to him at half and he took the team on his shoulders and scored six goals in the second half.

“That’s what it’s been like all year long,” Ruocco said. “Him and Cooper are our two most prolific scorers, that I can remember, that Marshwood has ever had. They’re not afraid to go to the cage. The have great shots. They have a work ethic. They stay after practice and shoot and shoot and shoot.”

Ross has his speed, strength and agility as major factors in making him an effective scorer, but he also says there are other guys like sophomore Sean Maguire and junior Cullen Casey (a former defensive middie) who can score if a defense keys on Ross and Honkonen.

The Hawks are excited about their first playoff appearance for everyone on the team. “It’s really motivating us to push ourselves harder,” Ross said.

“For the seniors (this is it),” Honkonen said. “Just give it all you’ve got.”

“Henry and I came here when the program was low,” Ross said. “We’ve been trying to rebuild with everybody else. We’re finally seeing all that hard work paying off.”

Ross plans to attend and play lacrosse at Wheaton College (Mass.), while Honkonen will attend Northeastern University. He is contemplating playing club hockey and club lacrosse.

″(The team) has the confidence, when they’re down, to come back,” Ruocco said. “When I first took over in 2010, they didn’t have that. When they got behind, their heads would go down. But now they understand that it they get down a few goals, they can come back. We’ve got the skill now to do it, and they do.

“I’m happy with our midfielders. I’m happy with our attack. Our defense has really stepped up. We’ll see what happens (Thursday).”

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