By Kat Cornetta
When Pentucket girls lacrosse gets ready to play Newburyport, the rivalry is evident. Even though many players are club lacrosse teammates or friends, those friendships get pushed aside and battle lines are drawn.
"We took it really seriously," said Erin Mikson, a 2017 Pentucket graduate and the women's lacrosse program's all-time leading scorer. "We weren't saying hi, we weren't buddies on the field. It was business when we played Newburyport."
But Mikson and Newburyport's Kit Geary have put that rivalry aside. The two are now teammates at Saint Michael's College women's lacrosse, a team that considers itself a family.
"Even our new coach, who just came in from UMass Lowell, sensed (the closeness) right off the bat," said Geary, who helped lead the Clippers to two consecutive Division 2 North titles in 2017 and 2018. "She said, 'It's almost weird how close you people are.' It's something you definitely notice right away. I think it's the community of the school in general. The school is small, and it's the type of person that St. Mike's attracts."
That family-like closeness has helped Mikson bounce back from two serious injuries. Her freshman year ended before it even began due to a knee injury that required surgery.
"When I was told I was having surgery, it really took a whole toll on me mentally, not just physically," said Mikson. "As a kid, having played lacrosse since first grade, all I wanted to do was play in college. But the week before the season started, I was sitting out on crutches."
Having such close teammates helped Mikson find purpose while stuck on the sidelines.
"My teammates were great, my coaches were great, the athletic department here at Saint Michael's College helped me keep my cool," said Mikson. "I had to learn a whole new role on the team. Instead of being on the field, we would do sideline team, cheering, what can I do to help my teammates be better from the sidelines. I had a completely different role."
Mikson's season was in danger this year due to a pre-season concussion, but thanks to her coaches, staff and teammates, she only missed one game. She is now thriving, having scored 14 points (8 goals, 6 assists), good for second overall for the Purple Knights. Milkson is supporting others on her team who are going through similar challenges.
"My teammates have gotten me through every injury," said Mikson. "Even now, there is a girl on our team who is out due to compartment syndrome, and I go up to her on the sidelines and tell her, 'I play for you.' Because I see her on the sidelines standing there and I know exactly how it feels and how hard it is to do that."
The closeness of the Purple Knights has helped Geary make the transition to college lacrosse in the strong Northeast-10 conference, home of some of the best Division 2 teams in the nation. The freshman attacker is used to playing high-level lacrosse, having played for a Newburyport squad that went undefeated in the regular season two years in a row, but playing at the college level was a whole new ballgame.
"It's kind of intimidating as a freshman coming in to the NE-10," said Geary, who has tallied three goals so far. "Once you're here, you truly realize what a competitive conference it is. I just need to keep my confidence up."
It isn't just the level of competition that is a big difference, but the time commitment. There are more off-season practices than high school or club lacrosse required, and college coursework is more challenging and time consuming. Mikson's older teammates helped her learn how to balance it all.
"I can remember coming in as a freshman being so nervous about balancing classes and games and practices," said Mikson. "Our seniors last year were like, 'It's okay if you make a mistake. It's going to be okay.' It's nice having that support."
Mikson, Geary and the Purple Knights will take the field this afternoon when they head down to New York City to face Queens (NY) for a 1 p.m. start.
West Newbury's finest
Erin Mikson's teammates are always there for her – that is, unless she starts boasting about one of the area's most famous former residents. John Cena, the WWE Superstar, grew up in West Newbury and is always introduced as being from there before his matches, something Mikson loves to bring up whenever she can.
"I'll say something about John Cena, and everyone will be like, 'Erin, we get it. He's from your area,'" laughed Mikson.
"Erin likes to take credit for him being from the same town as her," said Geary.
"Kit is the only one who will stand by me and have my back," Mikson added.