LaBelle scorches ‘Canes

By Mike Zima Correspondent
Posted 3/30/23

FLEMING ISLAND - Fleming Island lacrosse player-coach Jillian LaBelle, a senior, scored seven goals to lead the surging Fleming Island girls lacrosse team to a 21-3 rout of visiting Gainesville on …

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LaBelle scorches ‘Canes


FLEMING ISLAND - Fleming Island lacrosse player-coach Jillian LaBelle, a senior, scored seven goals to lead the surging Fleming Island girls lacrosse team to a 21-3 rout of visiting Gainesville on March 27.

LaBelle now has 139 career goals, a school record that she continues to extend well beyond the old mark of 101 set by Isabella Marx between 2018 and 2021.

“She is an immense athlete,” Fleming Island head coach Brian Seech said of LaBelle, who is the will be attending Anderson University in South Carolina on a lacrosse scholarship next fall. “The other teams know she is our shooter, and they still cannot stop her.”

LaBelle scored six of her goals in the first half, freeing herself for shots by driving toward the goal from the left wing or circling around the goal from the right side. She dominated other aspects of the game as well, winning 10 of 12 draws, leading the Golden Eagles in steals with three and scooping up a game-high seven ground balls. But it is off the field where the 5’9” senior has had an even larger impact this year. LaBelle helped save Clay County’s only girls lacrosse program from being disbanded, assisting new head coach Brian Seech, who stepped in before the season began when longtime coach Chris Peterson left Fleming Island for a coaching position at Flagler College in St. Augustine.

Seech never played lacrosse, and although he had been an assistant boys lacrosse coach from 2015-2018 at Atlantic Coast High School in Jacksonville, he had been away from the game for the last five years while teaching history at Middleburg High School. It was LaBelle who educated Seech on the rule differences between the girls’ game and the boys’ game. Using the knowledge gained while playing for the elite North Florida club team, LaBelle also provided Seech with drills to run during practice and offensive sets to run in games.

“Jillian literally helps me plan the practices and implement the drills,” said Seech. “I do not know where I would be without her.”

Splitting her time between midfielder and attack, LaBelle also calls out the offensive set for the Golden Eagles to run each time they gain possession.

“It is a little difficult to be thinking of the sets and calling them while trying to play,” said LaBelle. “But I feel like I have become more of a leader.”

The LaBelle-Seech combination has worked wonders for Fleming Island, who lost four of their first seven games, with three of the four losses by 10 or more goals. But the young Eagles, who have only three seniors, have surged of late, routing Mandarin 20-8, beating Stanton 15-2 and dismantling Gainesville. Now 6-4, the Golden Eagles have hopes of ending the season with a winning record and winning a first round playoff game.

“We have a lot more confidence on the team now,” said LaBelle. “Other players are not afraid to try and score.”

Against Gainesville, the turning point came with four minutes remaining in the first half and Fleming Island nursing a 5-2 lead. Ava Lorenzini, the Hurricanes’ senior captain, secured a ground ball that had squirted away from a midfield scrum and raced down the left alley. Bearing down on Golden Eagles goaltender Esther Fernandes, Lorenzi fainted high and side-armed a shot towards Fernandes’ right hip from close range. Fernandes did not buy the fake, kept her stick in place and blocked the shot. The first-year goalie then launched a long pass to LaBelle on the right side. Using a pick from teammate Sophie Roberts, LaBelle flipped a bounce shot past Gainesville net minder Evelyn Ragsdale. Instead of leading only 5-3, the Golden Eagles led 6-2. Fleming Island won the next four draws and scored six more goals in the final 3:35 of the first half to take a commanding 12-2 lead into the intermission.

Seech was thrilled with Fernandes, a first-year player whose skills were so raw at the start of the season that she would lay the ball behind the goal for a teammate after making a save, rather than attempting a pass.

“Essie is probably the hardest worker on the team,” said Seech. “She stays after practice to work on her game, and even practices with the young kids from the rec league that come in after we leave. I am seeing her develop into a confident goalie.”

Katie Logan scored four goals while Chloe Perry and Josie Walker had three apiece for Fleming Island, which returns to action Thursday, March 30 at St. Augustine Menendez.

Ragsdale had eight saves for Gainesville, which fell to 4-4.


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