The Canal Winchester High School club lacrosse team did not walk off the field after a 10-1 loss to Bexley's junior varsity on April 12 like a team that had just lost by nine goals.

Co-head coach Hansel Henry's postgame talk did not take that approach, either.

Instead, Henry focused on the fact that the Indians gave up only three goals in the second half and eight fewer overall than the previous day in an 18-3 loss to Johnstown.

Incremental improvement, rather than the scoreboard, is the overriding theme for the Indians in their first season with a high school-age team. It is the latest step in the Canal Winchester Lacrosse Association's drive to grow the game in the area, four years after the Canal Winchester Joint Recreation District began a "learn to play" program and launched a progression that continues today.

"Wins ... are what you want eventually, but if we come through a game and we see the defense is playing better together or the offense is moving the ball better than they have been, if we keep taking steps forward, that's what we're looking for," Henry said. "Having that experience of starting a program in college, that was one of the things that came to mind when this opportunity came for me to be out here."

Playing a mix of growing varsity teams and some junior varsity squads, the Indians were 0-6 before an April 16 game against St. Charles.

Half of the team's 28 players attend Canal Winchester. The other 14 attend Grove City and are members in the Grove City Lacrosse Club.

The two programs worked out a one-year arrangement to field one larger team. Home games are split between Canal Winchester Middle School and Jackson Middle School.

Henry and Grove City coach Scott Fannin share head coaching duties.

"The high school game seems to be growing all the time, especially in light of the OHSAA making it a sanctioned sport (in 2016)," said Joe Malone, vice president of the CWLA. "For starters, there is a huge community of local lacrosse programs willing and able to help new programs. Our collaboration with Grove City is a great example of that. ...

"Secondly, as the sport becomes more popular nationally, people are realizing what an amazing crossover sport it is. Players from football, hockey, soccer, cross country, wrestling, baseball and basketball can all find success in lacrosse. ... The combination of those factors is putting more youth players into the system and as a result, there is a greater demand to incorporate them into the schools as they grow older."

Freshman midfielder Nick Haskins said the team's greatest improvement has come from better hand-eye coordination.

"There's a lot of getting used to having either sliding your hand down to pass or keeping your hand up top to catch the ball, and a lot of seeing that ball coming at you and where you have to have your stick to catch it," Haskins said. "A few months ago, a lot of us didn't know how to pass or catch. Now we can pass the ball 30 yards and we're able to run and know to look up, how to shoot and find the open man. It's a lot of work, but the growth has been amazing."

Henry was a captain on the first lacrosse team at Mars Hill University and later was an assistant coach at New Albany and perennial power Upper Arlington before stepping away from the game for a few seasons. Now a Canal Winchester resident, he felt compelled to join the program when a high school team was announced.

"It was a tough conversation at home, but I told my girlfriend, 'I have to do this,'" Henry said.

"This is all falling this way for a reason."

CWLA's hope is that the team becomes an official school club sport as soon as next season. That status currently is held by the high school's swimming and diving team, which has an OCC schedule but remains on club status.

Freshman defender Tyler Terflinger, who also is a swimmer, hopes to see lacrosse become a varsity sport before he graduates. He took up lacrosse as part of the CWLA's "learn to play" program.

"I want to see a lasting team, a lasting sport here," Terflinger said. "This sport keeps growing. I think that can happen here."

Softball team rebounds from brief slump

The softball team's 4-0 start came to a halt with consecutive losses in which the Indians were outscored 25-11 and run-ruled once, but coach Casey Whitlatch said he couldn't have been prouder of how they rebounded -- and not just because they followed those losses with back-to-back wins.

"The kids have done a nice job preaching to themselves how things should be done," Whitlatch said. "After the London game (an 11-7 loss April 2 in which Canal Winchester led 5-0 through five innings), they had a chat and woke up a bit. The next game (a 16-8 win at Hilliard Davidson on April 4), we were a different team. We were in tune with what we needed to do. There was a lot of positive emotion. ...

"We've talked a lot about how we want the team to be player-led. They are very good at listening to what we (coaches) tell them, but sometimes if a message comes just from the coach, you might not have as much success getting your point across as if something comes from a teammate."

Canal Winchester was 9-4 overall and 1-2 in the OCC-Capital Division before playing New Albany on April 17.

The Indians followed up the win over Davidson with an 11-3 victory against Olentangy Orange on April 8 in which Dani Skinner hit a grand slam in the sixth inning. That was the key inning against Davidson as well, as Canal Winchester scored eight runs to break the game open.

The Indians began league play with losses to Big Walnut, 8-2 on April 10, and Groveport, 18-4 on April 11. They swept Licking Valley in a doubleheader April 13, winning 12-6 and 11-4, and earned their first league win April 15 by beating Franklin Heights 14-1.

"Our league is tough," Whitlatch said. "Groveport got to a (Division I) district semifinal last year and so did Big Walnut (in Division II). We have to play better within the league this year."

Baseball team getting set for Eagles

The baseball team won three of its first five games in OCC-Capital play, splitting two tight games last week against rival Groveport, but has a big test looming next week with two games against New Albany.

Canal Winchester was 3-8 overall and 3-2 in the league before playing Franklin Heights on April 17. The Indians had the weekend off after having played 19 innings against the Cruisers in two days, losing 8-7 in nine innings April 10 before winning 2-1 in 10 innings the next day, and returned to the field with a 23-3 rout of the Falcons on April 15.

The Indians continued league play April 17 at Franklin Heights and are scheduled to play New Albany on Monday, April 22, on the road and Wednesday, April 24, at home. The Eagles, who were Division I regional runners-up last season, were 12-1 overall and 3-1 in the league before April 16.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave