By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
After cruising past St. Ignatius 16-5 in its first game of the annual Spring Fling tournament Saturday, the St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes girls lacrosse team faced a stern test in Good Counsel in its second and final game of the day.
It was a game that brought together two dominant forces from the area, with the defending Independent Schools League champion Saints facing a Falcons team that won the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference last season.
What followed lived up to the billing, as a back and forth encounter between two programs littered with Division I recruits and ranked among the top five in every national poll finished 16-14 in favor of the visitors. It was the Saints’ first loss of the season, leaving them with a 6-1 record overall.
The hosts fell behind early in the first half, but the Saints’ offense caught fire and scored on each of its first eight shots before the Falcons defense was able to get a stop. Junior attackers Lea Cox and Zoe Belodeau led the way for the hosts’ offense with three goals apiece in the first half, while junior midfielder Caroline Wiseman added two.
At one stage, having been behind 3-1, the Saints led 10-5 with 9:42 left in the first half. But the hosts went into halftime only up 10-8 after a rally by Good Counsel, which narrowed the gap with three goals in the span of six and a half minutes before the break.
After halftime, the Falcons tied the game through senior midfielder Lexi Rieu, and went ahead with 14:53 left in the second half on a goal from senior defender Maia Walters, a lead that the Saints could not overcome. The visitors’ rally combined with some strong play on the draw put them ahead, while the hosts felt they lost their way somewhat in the second period.
“Definitely in the first half we were moving the ball really well and were making it a group effort to score,” said Belodeau. “I think in the second half when we got a little frantic, we each felt the pressure on ourselves individually, so I think we felt we had to score ourselves instead of working together. Any great team is a team [that is] all together instead of just one person.”
“I think I felt like they were getting down, because they haven’t had a close game at all this year,” said Saints head coach Kathy Jenkins. “I think they felt like they were going to try to do it for the team. Our game is teamwork and passing the ball and moving it down the field, and that’s how we’re so effective. We started trying to run it down the field, and when they did that it wasn’t as effective.”
Senior attacker Ellie Carson led the way for the Saints in the second half with a hat-trick, while sophomore attacker Grayson Offutt tallied one to add to an earlier strike. The offense looked strong for the hosts, even against a physically challenging team like Good Counsel.
“Today, we pushed the fast break, which I think really benefited us because our attack has a lot of speed and we read each other really well,” Carson said. “We were seeing the backdoor cuts and things like that, and looking up, not trying to drive, which really worked to our advantage.”
Both teams played at a fast pace, roared on by a large crowd that gathered for one of the Spring Fling’s most anticipated games. The tournament brought together teams from as far afield as Illinois and California. Even after a physically taxing day’s play, the Saints and Falcons kept up a frenetic pace of play, which was reflected in the high scoreline.
“A score of 16-14, that’s not normally how high-scoring our close games are at all,” said Carson. “I think that because we kept scoring and it was back and forth, that made it a lot more tiring, and our midfielders just never seemed to get tired, which was really helpful.”
The defeat put a dent in the Saints’ strong start to the season, which already has included several blowout victories for a team loaded with future college lacrosse talent. Despite the loss to a similarly strong program, the players saw the defeat as a learning experience ahead of a tough slate of upcoming games.
“We still have a long season to go, and I think having something like this happen so early is just going to motivate us to go even harder in the next games,” Belodeau said. “We still have so many good teams that we have to play, and I think we’re going to hustle even more, work even harder to get there in practice and in games, and keep our heads up. There’s a lot more opportunities.”