By Hayley Tafuro
Had you asked seniors Bianca Melillo and Laurie Stark in middle school if lacrosse would be a part of their futures, they would have been quick to say no. Now, the two Danbury High School defenders have been an integral part of their team and been playing nonstop since their freshmen years.
“I had never touched a stick before,” Melillo said. “I played soccer for the varsity lacrosse coach and she said I should try out, so freshman year I picked up a stick and made varsity.”
Melillo’s freshman season was cut short due to a torn ACL, but her comeback season saw a new addition to the defense when Stark transferred from Immaculate High School.
“I wasn’t going to play lacrosse in high school,” Stark said. “I started at Immaculate and transferred to Danbury my sophomore year, where I continued to play and I loved it.”
Their sophomore season marked the start of something special between the duo. Both had their obstacles to overcome, Melillo with her injury and Stark with her adjustment to a new place. On top of that, they were not seeing the field often and realized they needed to make a change.
“We didn’t get much playing time,” Melillo said. “We decided that the sidelines were horrible and we wanted to play. We kept pushing ourselves in the offseason and at practices we would always be partners to pass. We would make each other work harder. Both of us wanted to be on the field and be a part of it.”
That’s when they decided to make lacrosse a priority.
The two defenders joined the Yellow Jackets North lacrosse club and began playing through the summer and fall seasons. The two came back under Danbury Coach Jaime Williams, who is also involved with the Yellow Jackets, and started on varsity.
“My first year at Danbury, they didn’t really play and they needed to do the extra things to get on the field,” Williams said. “They improved so much from playing on the club team, and from there obviously got on the field.”
Highlighting their junior seasons was a matchup against Darien High School, this year’s FCIAC and Class L champion, in the opening round of the state tournament. Although Danbury lost in the end, 8-3, it was one of the most complete games the squad had played and really showcased the defensive talent.
“We had awesome defense, we played so well together, and that was our best game all season with our Danbury team. Even though we didn’t win, it was still one of the least that any team has held them to and it was a big accomplishment,” Stark said.
What makes this pair so unstoppable on the defensive end is their quickness and overall knowledge of the game.
“The two of them have great speed,” Williams said. “It’s like having two offensive players who know where each other is going to be. They basically lead the defense and control the defense. Great speed, great work ethic and they have a high lacrosse IQ. As soon as things start happening, they know exactly what to do.”
All of this along with their love of lacrosse has led them right into the hands of the recruitment process, something that the Yellow Jackets has taught them all about.
“Another big thing about my senior year was getting recruited,” said Stark, who has given a verbal commitment to Pace. “The Yellow Jackets take care of it so well with going and showcasing yourself, so that way it’s more than your high school season.”
Melillo’s sights are set on college lacrosse as well, although she is not looking for a Division I program.
“I want to play in college, whether it’s D2, D3, or even just club,” she said. “If the college doesn’t have lacrosse, then it’s crossed off of my list.”
As they get deeper into the process, Stark and Melillo are quickly learning what it’s like to struggle through managing to balance staying on top of school work as well as excelling in lacrosse.
“It’s really hard because you’re either up late at night doing homework or early in the morning before class finishing up something that’s due at the end of the day,” Melillo said.
“Especially when taking AP’s,” Stark added. “Your exams are in the spring and so is the season, so you’re stressed out the entire time, but you play because you love it. Even though it’s hard sometimes, you keep going.”
However, by now, they’ve mastered the drill. With a 10-9 junior season under their belts, time with the Yellow Jackets program, and their senior seasons ahead of them, the sky’s the limit for Stark and Melillo.
“They’re both fantastic players,” Williams said. “I’m not just saying that because they’re my own players, but because I think their work ethic shows. These are the girls who if they had a bad practice, they’ll be out there after getting extra work in just so they can keep improving.”