Until the middle of her sophomore year of college, Hana Caster had defined her lacrosse career by scoring and setting up goals. She scored more than 100 points her senior year of high school alone, but her coaches at UMass Lowell saw something more in her game and moved her into a new, defensive role. She is no longer counted on to score goals but to try and prevent them.
It was admittedly not an easy transition for the former North Attleboro star and 2016 HockomockSports.com Player of the Year, but with time Caster has grown into her new position and earlier this season was named America East Defensive Player of the Week, a sign of her growing comfort level and confidence in defense.
“Yep, I’m a defender,” Caster said with a chuckle during a phone conversation following the team’s loss to the University of Albany in March. Right before practice at the midpoint of last season, the UMass Lowell coaches told Caster they had a surprise. She was no longer going to be in the River Hawks midfield but be the backer in their zone defense.
“I was not very confident on my defensive skills,” she admitted. “I wasn’t 100 percent confident that that’s where I was going to best help my team but, you know, got through it the last eight games. I wasn’t great at it, but I got through it.”
Although she suffered a ligament injury in her foot that kept her out of fall ball, Caster was able to watch the game from the sideline, studying her new position, and came into this spring determined to be better and more comfortable in front of her own goal.
“This season, I was just like, alright wherever they put me I’m going to do the best I can and I’m really enjoying the position,” she explained. “I’ve tried to use my offensive mindset on defense because at first I was like this is boring, I don’t want to just stop the ball, but now I’m thinking, okay I’m going to get the ball back so we can get back on offense. I never realized how fun low defense could be.”
As a former attacker, Caster uses her experience on offense to help anticipate what opponents are going to be doing. She can read the hips of a driving attacker, realize what she would have done with the ball, and jump the play to prevent the ball getting to goal. She can also use her new vantage point to give advice to the River Hawks attackers about what might work best.
Caster’s speed was one of her biggest assets, both in lacrosse and on the soccer pitch, and she got most of her 34 career goals in transition. Playing defense could lead to some chances to convert a turnover into a fast break, when she has the energy to burst forward. “Defense is tiring,” she said with a laugh. “Sometimes I’m like, I don’t know if I can run this ball up. More often than not I run it over to the attackers and let them do their thing.”
UMass Lowell coach Carissa Medeiros noted that Caster wasn’t originally on the recruiting radar but drew the attention of the coaching staff at a summer clinic that Caster attended the summer before her senior season at North. After the three-day clinic, Medeiros said it was imperative that Caster come back in for an official visit. The coach had no idea at that point she would be moving Caster from midfield to defense.
“We had to convince her to trust us that her value is much more dynamic than that, and quite honestly, focusing on just that aspect of her game had been holding her back,” Medeiros said.
Medeiros added that there were several “teary-eyed meetings” as Caster learned her new position, but that there has been definite growth from her first game at defense to now. She said, “It’s a spot that allows all of her strengths to shine, while also allowing her to spend some time working on fine-tuning the rest of her skills.”
Caster’s progress was confirmed earlier this season when she was named the America East Defensive Player of the Week. “I didn’t know that I could be noticed for playing good defense because I don’t notice that,” Caster joked. “It is gratifying to just know that I am in a good place and my hard work is paying off.” The River Hawks went 1-1 that week, and Caster recorded seven draw controls, six ground balls, and eight caused turnovers.
While UMass Lowell is a relatively young lacrosse program, having only started in 2015, Caster entered this season in the top 10 all-time in career goals, assists, points, ground balls, draw controls, and caused turnovers. She has found success no matter where the River Hawks have lined her up, but Caster said that it took time to get her footing at the collegiate level.
“It’s definitely a humbling experience to play a college sport,” she explained. “The first half of my freshman season, every time I got the ball I would just pass it because I was almost scared to make mistakes. I did eventually get it but it was a tough transition.”
Caster continued, “I think I have learned more about the game of lacrosse in the past three years than I did my entire career…You learn so much so quickly and I think it’s stressful as a freshman but now as a junior I finally feel like a seasoned player.”
Medeiros appreciates the willingness of an upperclassman to take on a new role and the positive message that it sends to her teammates. “Hana is definitely amongst those rare players that can put their own thoughts aside for the betterment of the team,” Medeiros explained. “And in doing so, she has developed into one of the most valuable players on our roster.”
The River Hawks have struggled during their first few seasons, having only won 12 games all-time coming into 2019. Having top 20 teams like Stony Brook and Albany in the conference certainly doesn’t help the growing pains of a new program, but Caster appreciates the challenge of building a new legacy in Lowell.
She had a similar experience in North Attleboro. Her senior season, in which she scored 61 goals and led the Hockomock League with 46 assists, was the first time that North hosted a playoff game. The Rocketeers opened the playoffs with a win before losing to eventual state finalist Walpole. That season helped change the expectations around the program and Caster wants to do the same in college.
“That’s one of the biggest why I came here to play,” she said. “I like being the underdog and I loved my high school career and loved leaving the field for the last time and feel like we started something here.
“If that were to happen again, which I’m fully confident that it will, it would be like repeating history and I’d love to end my career knowing that I was part of building two programs.”