By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
In years past, members of the Episcopal girls lacrosse team might have been daunted by the prospect of facing their big rivals St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes. The Saints are ranked in the top 10 in the country by a number of outlets including Nike/Lacrosse Magazine and TopLaxRecruits.com, and beat the Maroon 17-3 in the corresponding fixture last year.
But with a record of 4-1 after going 2-15 in 2014, Episcopal have started brightly and can now look forward to their rivalry game on Thursday afternoon with optimism. Within those four victories so far have been a 12-11 overtime win over Bishop O’Connell and a 16-5 decision over St. John Paul the Great Tuesday in a game truncated slightly by inclement weather and lightning in the area.
For Ashley McDowell, the Maroon head coach, it is especially rewarding to see her side start so well after years of poor results.
“We’ve been really happy,” she said after the St. John the Paul the Great game. “We’ve got some really young, talented players and some older veterans and so it’s been a nice mix so far. I’ve been impressed with how they’ve executed what we’ve learned and put up a good fight. Two of our wins have been by one goal, so they’ve shown a lot of determination early on so we’re really excited about where we are.”
The Maroon helped their cause earlier this year by spending a week during spring break at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Fla. It was a tough training camp for the squad — especially their new players — but Episcopal believe it has allowed them to hit the ground running.
“We usually do two or three sessions a day and then they get to go to the parks at night to hang out with their teammates,” McDowell said. “It’s a good way to start the season. We had some good scrimmages down there and again we have a bunch of freshmen on our team so it was good to have them get up to speed, just having a week down there just to focus on lacrosse.”
“It was so fun; it’s definitely a lot better than being here in preseason for a week,” senior Meredith Sackett said. “It was definitely a lot of work, we had three-a-days, sometimes four-a-days, but it was clearly worth it with our team. We started putting in new defenses just at the beginning, when we’d probably just be working on passing and catching last year.”
The core of five seniors, which includes three defenders who all played together last year, means there is plenty of leadership on the team. In addition, a group of talented freshmen have joined and ensured that the inevitable roster turnover has not been too problematic.
“We definitely have a bunch of younger players and new players that are coming in, so I think it’s a lot due to the upperclassmen taking them under their wing, making sure they know our play and how we as a team want to present our program,” Sackett said. “It’s definitely a lot due to those new players who’ve taken in and bought in to our team philosophies but it’s definitely an all-round effort. Our seniors have bought in and our chemistry is completely there and we never give up on each other.”
The rivalry clash away to the unbeaten Saints beckons next for Episcopal, who enter with a two-game winning streak and both their offense and defense looking strong based on the game against St. John Paul the Great. Sackett led the way with six goals to continue a strong start to her senior season before she plays Division III lacrosse for Sewanee: The University of the South, while the defense restricted a potent Wolves attacking unit throughout.
“We get really excited for St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes,” McDowell said. “They’re right across the street, they’re a big rival for Episcopal in all of our sports, so we get excited to play them every year. It’s a pretty unique opportunity to get to play such a great legacy team. We’re excited.”
“We’re going to be there, so it’s definitely an adjustment, but I think this is the team to compete against them the best,” senior defender Izzy Farrell added. “I think we have a chance to rattle them and hopefully we have a good finish.”