Team-first mentality is what makes EL's Kiki Ryan great
Kiki Ryan is telling a story, this one about fellow attack Erin Fritz, the two East Lyme High School girls' lacrosse players most frequently seen weaving their way behind the opposing goal and causing headaches.
"One game this year, they thought we were sisters," Ryan said. "We're so close (in height). Only two feet apart."
(Not really two feet. Ryan is 5-foot-4 1/2, Fritz 5-9).
Ryan continues: "People don't expect me to be a good lacrosse player. I cut and not everyone sees me. I'm less visible than Fritz, for example."
It's a team concept, a lightheartedness, a chemistry that Ryan sees as the catalyst for the Vikings' success.
And that's not a cliche. Coach Phil Schneider sees teamwork in his program's framework, too. About 61 percent of the Vikings' goals this season were assisted, up from 50 percent last year and not a number often heard in girls' lacrosse.
Teamwork is the first thing Schneider mentions about Ryan, in fact.
Ryan, a junior, finished the season with a team-high 73 goals and added 37 assists and 39 ground balls, earning All-Eastern Connecticut Conference Large Division and Class M all-state honors, as well as Academic all-state distinction.
A year after spending a lot of time with the junior varsity, Ryan became the best player on a team which reached its second straight Class M tournament semifinal and earned its sixth straight ECC tournament title.
Ryan is The Day's 2012 All-Area Girls' Lacrosse Player of the Year.
"Her biggest asset is she's an unselfish player," Schneider said of the best of the best. "She really looked to be more of an assist person. Her goals weren't forced; it was more in the flow of what was going on.
"Her skill set, her stick work allows her to do some things. She does some things that other players haven't been able to do, kind of her ability to move through traffic. And she still has more growth in her senior year."
Schneider has coached Ryan, who is the same age as his daughters, since her days in youth lacrosse.
He tells of a free position shot for a potential East Lyme victory she had in last year's overtime loss to Hand of Madison in the state semifinals. Unused to being in that situation, she rushed it and missed. This season, Ryan scored five times in the Vikings' 10-9 regular-season victory over Hand.
"I went to a (summer) tournament down in Florida," Ryan said of the offseason growth in her game. "I got a lot more experience with different tournaments. Things got a lot more tense. I just gradually got better."
Ryan, who plays for Nor'easter Lacrosse, recently attended the Elite 180 recruiting camp at Keene (N.H.) State. She and her brother, Mitchell, who will be a sophomore next year at East Lyme, have a backstop and a goal in the yard of their Salem home and practice regularly, competing with one another.
The fun-loving Ryan points out she works at Salem Valley Farms Ice Cream Co. (She wants to mention it so she doesn't get in trouble). Her favorite flavor is grasshopper (featuring mint cookies). Her given name: Michaela.
Also a member of East Lyme's state championship volleyball team, Ryan gives the credit for this season to her lacrosse teammates.
"I still can't get over it," Ryan says of her player of the year honor. "Our team is so good. I can't believe I'm being acknowledged as the best one. This year's been crazy. Our whole team works so well together. Without one person, the team would fall apart. We're like a family. We have a saying, 'BOS' for band of sisters. We wear bracelets. It's like a big, fun family."
"She was always a smaller kid, but she had talent," said Schneider of the sixth-grade Ryan. "... She's not as physically big as some of the girls we play against, but she's developed and improved every year."