A strong team often has members with the skills and synergy to bring out the best in one another. For the Mount Holyoke College lacrosse team, two members in particular have used a life-long connection to both each other and their sports to lift the Lyons to one of the best seasons in program history.
"We played on the same team from third grade till just before high school," Ryan, an attacker, explained. "We ended up at different high schools and never really played one another during that time."
Despite the four year separation during their high school years, which saw Ryan at Longmeadow High School and Bell at Wilbraham and Monson Academy, the end goal toward their collegiate careers proved to be similar. Both looked to stay close to home while getting an outstanding education and continue their pursuit of athletic excellence. Enter Mount Holyoke College.
"We both knew that we wanted to play for Division III programs that weren't too far from home," said Bell, who plays midfield. "We were both recruited by Coach (Miriam) Esber and apparently we both felt that Mount Holyoke had the most to offer for each of us individually."
While the college had a lot to offer them, their own unique skills and talent brought a renewed life back into a program that finished 6-8 overall and 1-5 in the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) during the 2012 campaign. Their impact was felt immediately as the Lyons won their first game of the season – a 20-19 overtime decision – behind Bell's three goals and two assists and Ryan's two tallies and game-high four helpers.
That victory not only marked the first of the year for Mount Holyoke, it also started a familiar trend of the collaboration of life-long friends as Ryan scored her first collegiate goal off an assist from Bell. Through 15 games, 18 of the Lyons' 205 goals have been scored or assisted by the pair as thirteen of Bell's tallies came off an assist from Ryan, while Ryan has five goals that came from Bell.
"Because we've known each other for so long, there's really an established trust between us," explained Ryan. "We were able to be successful by building off that relationship and I think it has paid off."
Each has become an impact player in their own way for Mount Holyoke this season with Bell leading the charge. Scoring 49 goals with 22 assists for 71 points, she currently ranks second in the conference in points, while sitting fourth in goals and sixth in assists. Her presence was a difference maker in the minds of not just Esber, but the other league coaches as she was selected the NEWMAC Rookie of the Year, named to the All-NEWMAC First Team and most recently was chosen as an IWLCA All-Berkshire Region Second Team honoree.
For Ryan, her talent in setting up the action sent her straight to the top of the conference as she leads all players in assists with 39, while adding 15 goals for 54 points. In addition to 13 multiple point games, she's notched at least one assist in 14 of 15 games, including five with four or more helpers. Ryan's totals have also helped lift Mount Holyoke into the lead for most assists in the conference (107).
While the goals, assists, draw controls and caused turnovers that they've contributed are critical, both Bell and Ryan admit that it was the team that made it all happen. It was the camaraderie and will to win that has helped move the Lyons to an 11-4 record and a 4-2 mark in the NEWMAC.
"Seeing this program grow so dramatically shows the willingness and desire of this squad to improve," said Ryan. "This team is proof that hard work and the will to win can make all the difference."
The difference was felt at the end of April as Mount Holyoke secured the second-seed in the NEWMAC Championships. While they ended up falling to Springfield in the tournament semifinals, the Lyons' post-season hopes stayed alive as they were selected to play in the ECAC New England Championships.
For Mount Holyoke, it will mark the program's fourth appearance in the ECAC's and the first since 2010. This year's five-team event takes place on Saturday at Western New England University, beginning at 1pm when the Lyons, who are the second-seed, take to the field against the third-seeded University of Southern Maine at 1pm.
The Lyons hope to seal their first-ever championship title, aided by the strong foundation that the Longmeadow duo has helped establish this season.
"Being able to aid in the progress of this team has been incredibly rewarding to each of us," explained Bell. "We're excited for what's on the horizon, not just this weekend, but for next three years as well."
Story by Mount Holyoke College Athletics - Sports Information. Photos courtesy of Richard Orr Sports Photography and Frank Poulin Sports Photography.