By Jim McElhatton (Photo/Jim McElhatton)
In Don West’s first year running the T.C. Williams girls lacrosse team — when he was just the latest in a string of new coaches — the Titans lost to Lake Braddock 15-6.
That was in 2012. This year, after crushing Mount Vernon 18-1 in the season opener, the Titans fell to Lake Braddock by a single goal in a thriller of a match. Then the Titans rallied to nearly upset undefeated West Potomac — they ultimately lost 15-13 — Monday night at home.
Though close scores against tough opponents reflect the progress West has made in rebuilding the program, the losses were disappointing nonetheless. One of the few spectators to brave the freezing temperatures Monday night summed up the West Potomac game while exiting, telling a fellow fan, “Well, there goes another head scratcher.”
T.C. jumped out to a 4-1 lead, but West Potomac came back and scored in the final seconds of the first half to take a 6-5 lead. The start of the second half saw an energized Wolverines squad threaten to turn the game into a rout. After barely three minutes, they were up 11-6.
The Titans scored the next two, however, including one on a nifty shot from sophomore Claire Vermillion that arced just over the goalie’s head. The crucial scores kept T.C. in the game, though the Titans never held the lead again.
“We were coming back but once you get that far behind it’s not easy,” West said after the game. “I’ve been in situations like that where we’ve won, but it didn’t happen for us tonight and now we’ve lost two district games by a few goals. We need to press forward.”
Despite little on-field practice time because of all of the recent snow, the Titans have an early season schedule packed with district opponents. Edison is up next, expected to face the Titans this coming Monday.
T.C.’s team consists of several seniors who were members of the varsity squad as sophomores in West’s first year on the job. Before coming to Alexandria, he coached for more than a dozen years at Lake Braddock, where his teams won three district titles.
It’s not surprising then, that he has high standards for himself and his squad.
“We should be at the top of our game this year,” West said.
Offense has been an early bright spot. Senior Allegra Benites scored eight goals on 10 shots against West Potomac and was a perfect seven for seven against Lake Braddock.
Then there’s Lauralee McHugh, a senior and captain West calls his field general. Junior Katie Gallagher shot two for three against West Potomac and sophomore Mimi Hyre scored four times on five shots against Lake Braddock.
While praising the team’s offensive and defensive efforts after the West Potomac game, West said the Titans struggled on draws, which are the face-offs that decide possession.
“We had ample opportunities to come up with the ball but for certain reasons, we haven’t been good at this,” he said. “We’ll concentrate on that this week. It’s important to get the ball at the draw and gain control.”
Still, he’s pleased at where the team is this season compared to a few years ago. He also is encouraging his players to look ahead and think about life after high school.
West stresses how the game has changed, that it’s important for them to compete on travel teams in the offseason if they harbor aspirations of playing in college.
College coaches often are too busy to scout high school games in the spring because they’re in the midst of their own schedules, but they’re more likely to get to an offseason game, West said.
West held up Benites as an example, a potential Division I lacrosse player in his estimation. Her shooting percentage stands at over 90 percent so far this season.
To give his squad a sense of the college competition, West occasionally takes his team to see games at Georgetown.
“I think we’ve crossed a line in understanding the game,” West said. “Our lacrosse IQ is much better than it was two years ago.”