Photo by Christine Troyke
Like a lot of Gwinnett County's startup high school lacrosse programs over the past few years, Collins Hill has depended on a handful of players with prior experience in the sport that is still in its infancy here to provide valuable leadership.
The Eagles, however, have managed to keep much of their lacrosse experience in the family.
Brothers Connor and Alex Squires have combined with a few other former club players to provide the cornerstone for Collins Hill's rapid rise among the ranks since becoming a varsity team last season.
They are major factors in the Eagles (14-3) more than quadrupling their win total from a year ago to earn a Class AAAAA state playoff berth in just their second season as they travel to Walton for a first-round game tonight at 7:30.
"They get it," Collins Hill coach Travis Pearre said about the Squires brothers' understanding of lacrosse. "Here's a game that moved down here (in recent years) and that people are still learning. So, having people who have played it before is huge. Their on-field leadership is something as a coach you rely on."
Indeed, both Squires brothers have been leaders.
Connor, a senior, leads the Eagles with 77 goals in 17 games this season, and has 10 assists and 63 groundballs as the team's top attackman.
Meanwhile, Alex, a junior, has been a steady defensive leader as the Eagles' goaltender, posting a 5.51 goals against average and a .750 save percentage.
Their experience with lacrosse, though, comes as no surprise.
Their interest in the game was cultivated at an early age from their father, Mike, who played collegiately at Bowling Green.
That interest helped them become among the original members of the Gwinnett Blackhawks, Gwinnett's first lacrosse club.
"Me and Alex and (Collins Hill teammate) Hayes Hoey were the first lacrosse players in Gwinnett County way back around eight or nine years ago," Connor said. "I'd played baseball along with a lot of my friends until then. But when (the Blackhawks) started, I told them, 'I'm going to play lacrosse.' And they said, 'What's lacrosse?'
"It was really funny. I'd tell my teachers I had a lacrosse game after school, and they'd say, 'Huh?'"
Once the Collins Hill program started up as a club team two years ago, it didn't take long for the Squires brothers to take up a leadership role.
It's Alex who had to make the biggest adjustment in finding his specific role.
Having played attackman like his older brother most of his career, the younger Squires stepped in between the pipes when the program needed him during his freshman season two years ago.
However, he says the adjustment hasn't been as difficult as one might think.
"I'd never even played defense before," Alex said. "But playing attack before helped me a lot as a goalie. I'd always been shooting on goal before, I know how attackmen think."
Still, it's one thing to be serviceable in a dramatically different role, but according to Pearre, it's something else to thrive the way Alex has.
"That's a tough one -- first, finding someone who wants to play goalie and second, finding someone with experience to do it," Pearre said. "Alex has stepped up and done a good job at that position, which makes him kind of a spotlight figure."
Connor has also made himself a central figure in the Collins Hill program, where his offensive skills have not only helped turn the Eagles into a playoff team, but also earned him a chance to follow in his father's footsteps and play college lacrosse at Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina.
And he will get a chance to become an early cornerstone for a new team as Lenoir-Rhyne starts a brand new program next year.
"That's awesome. It's something I can carry with me forever," Connor said of playing college lacrosse. "I've been thrown around in new teams and programs all the time. It's all I know. And Lenoir-Rhyne will be a first-year program next year. So, obviously, I had to be there."
Even after Connor leaves for college in the fall, the Squires name will continue to help build the foundation for lacrosse at Collins Hill.
Alex has another year of high school and it won't be long before the Squires' younger sister Abby, now a sixth-grader, will have her chance to make her mark on the girls program.
"She's going to be a huge part (of the program)," Connor said. "She's gotten tough hanging out with me and Alex in the front yard. At first, we wouldn't let her play with us because she was younger, but she had to be tough. And (lacrosse) is in her blood."