City rivals vie for all-Alexandria LAX final

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City rivals vie for all-Alexandria LAX final
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On the Episcopal side of Seminary Hill, Tuesday turned out to be an unequivocal celebration. The Maroon’s 9-7 victory against Flint Hill pushed their winning streak to 12 games, adding to their program-record win total and bolstering their standing for the upcoming state tournament.

At St. Stephen’s / St. Agnes on the other side of the hill, the afternoon was far more sobering and simultaneously uncharacteristic.

The perennial girls lacrosse powerhouse had its own 16-game run snapped by a Notre Dame Prep team mourning the death of former teammate Yeardley Love, the University of Virginia player found murdered a little more than a day earlier. The circumstances and the result a rare 17-9 loss at home were anything but normal for the Saints.

Despite the contrasting results on Tuesday, both Alexandria schools were already regular season champions, going undefeated in their respective divisions of the Independent School League.

Now, after not playing each other at all for the first time in years, the Saints (19-3) and the Maroon (18-1) could find themselves in a rivalry game to savor: The May 15 state final at Episcopal’s Hummel Bowl.

“It would be awesome” to face St. Stephen’s in the final, said Episcopal’s senior goalkeeper MC McClellan. “Anything can happen and I think that would be a great way to go out of an awesome season, to end with a game against the Saints.

“We’re totally psyched it’s going to be here,” she said.

St. Stephen’s midfielder Kelsey Horton was similarly excited at the prospect of a season-ending intercity matchup.

“That would be fun.” Horton said. “I like rivalries and playing in Alexandria. That would be a good challenge.”

The current success for each program is nothing new: The schools have claimed all of the last four state titles, with Episcopal winning in 2006 and St. Stephen’s taking the crown every years since.

This year, though, was still something of a surprise for each team.

Episcopal had hovered around .500 since that 2006 championship season and coming into this season, McClellan’s position was one of few without a question mark. The addition of sophomore Kelly Chandler has ignited a Maroon attack averaging more than 10 goals a game.

“I honestly had no idea what it was going to be like” this year, McClellan said. “It could have gone either way and after the first game, I kind of knew this team was going to be really good.”

On Tuesday, McClellan was again a crucial backstop with 15 saves and after the visitors cut the Maroon lead to a single goal early in the second half, it was Chandler (four goals) who responded with a quick counter-attack goal that made it 8-6 and proved to be the game-winner.

Less than a full school year into the fray, Chandler is already eyeing silverware for her new team.

“From the beginning we’ve wanted that state title and we’ve been hungry for it,” Chandler said. “At the rate we’re going and how we’re playing, if we keep it together we’ll have a shot.”

St. Stephen’s, meanwhile, is in the thick of repeating as ISL champs for the 16th year in a row. Their legacy of success is well known, but after losing a handful of veterans from its current state title run, coach Kathleen Jenkins wasn’t sure how quickly her team would mature.

Almost 20 wins later, Horton, one of the Saints’ few returning leaders, said they have done “really well” to get to where they are today the likely top seed in the state tournament.

“I think we’ve kind of out-done ourselves so far,” Horton said. “Last year we graduated a lot of seniors, so we had a lot of catching up to do to live up to past St. Stephen’s teams.”

Facing a talented and motivated team (Notre Dame players had Love’s No. 1 painted on their calves and UVA-orange ribbons in their hair) and talented team Tuesday afternoon, St. Stephen’s got the stern test they were looking for on the eve of the playoffs.

An early second-half barrage from the visitors meant a losing regular season finale, but with the league tourney beginning today it’s already behind them.

That the drive for a fourth straight state crown could pit them against the neighborhood rivals only adds to the excitement of the postseason.
“I’d like to play them,” Jenkins said. “They have a very good team … and they have a core of good players.”

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