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Sophomore Fortier earns player of year honors

Photo: Andrew McMurtrie. Peachtree Ridge's Michelle Fortier was selected as the Daily Post's girls lacrosse player of the year.

Photo: Andrew McMurtrie. Peachtree Ridge's Michelle Fortier was selected as the Daily Post's girls lacrosse player of the year.

SUWANEE -- It hasn't taken long for Michelle Fortier to make a big impact on the Peachtree Ridge girls lacrosse program.

The 2011 Daily Post Girls Lacrosse Player of the Year enjoyed a breakout season in helping the Lions (10-7-1, Area 4-AAAAA runner-up) to their second straight state playoff berth.

"She's just athletic," Peachtree Ridge coach Michael Thomas said of the sophomore attacker. "She does pick things up pretty quickly, though."

It's only been two years since her brother, recently graduated Peachtree Ridge boys midfielder Tyler Fortier, and one of her closest friends, Lions' goalkeeper Erin Palanza, coaxed her into giving the sport a try.

"At first, it was pretty hard," Fortier said. "But then, I got better and better at it. I was playing with good people, so that made it easier. (Palanza) was really the one who got me into lacrosse -- she and my brother. He kind of taught me some stuff, too."

One of the first things she had to learn had to do with the sport's basic equipment.

After starting with a hand-me-down stick from her brother, an observation from her friend and teammate Palanza got her to switch over to a stick more designed for girls lacrosse.

That suggestion, along with adapting the different rules of the girls game from what she had seen in her brother's games, made honing her skills a little easier.

"Erin told me I should try (using a girls' stick)," Fortier recalled. "I had no idea of the rules when I first started. I had to learn as we went along -- the checking of the stick and a lot of (other things) you can't do.

"It was a lot of hard work to ... get used to the game. It's a lot easier (now). I think the 'A-ha' moment was when I started scoring goals."

And scoring goals is something Fortier has done a lot for the Lions over the past two seasons.

After earning second-team All-County honors by scoring 23 goals with 13 assists a year ago, she's been even more prolific in finding the back of the net this season. Her 63 goals were second most among all Gwinnett County girls players.

She also added 17 assists, 30 groundballs, 50 draw controls and 12 caused turnovers in what was an outstanding all-around season.

But it was more than just Fortier's skills on the field that has made her valuable to the Peachtree Ridge program.

Thomas sees the same competitive, yet fun-loving, attitude Tyler Fortier brought to the boys teams.

And he believes the younger Fortier has been a positive influence on the Lions' girls program.

"Honestly, she's got a kind of similar personality (to her brother)," Thomas said. "She just likes being out there (on the field). She has fun with it.

"She really wants to win, but she's playing out there and taking it as a game."