By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
Even after a strong start to the season, the girls lacrosse team of St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes know plenty of tough challenges lie ahead, especially as they continue league play in the strong Independent Schools League.
To get ready for a difficult second half of the season, there was perhaps no better way for the Saints to prepare than hosting their annual Spring Fling tournament, now in its 24th year on the Upper School campus. With a total of 12 teams competing from across the country, each playing twice in a packed day of competition, the intensity was perfect for the highly ranked hosts as they looked to keep their winning streak alive.
It was not an easy tournament for SSSAS, who fell behind in both their games against Cold Spring Harbor of New York and Milton of Georgia, but the team managed to come away with a 13-8 win in the first game and a 13-12 overtime victory in the latter to cap a successful day.
Given the strength of both teams and the physical demands of playing two games in the space of a few hours, Saints were heartened by their performances.
“I was so proud of them today, they did such a great job, especially in the first game,” Saints head coach Kathleen Jenkins said at the end of the Spring Fling. “Cold Spring Harbor are just so strong, athletic, they have great kids going to great schools.
“We’ve been trying to concentrate on how to defend and our defense, and I thought we did a great job in that game. For the second game [against Milton], our shot selection was a little bit off. We got the shots, and I thought we were moving pretty well, we just weren’t placing it in the goal and the goalkeeper was excellent.”
Jenkins was especially pleased to see her team show great character to come back from deficits in both games, having trailed each time by as many as three goals.
“We’re young,” she said. “We’ve had three of our seniors in attack have surgery in the last couple of weeks so that had an effect on the team, but the young girls are getting better with every game and getting experience.
“I don’t know if they’re actually afraid when we get down, because they don’t know better. They just keep pushing hard and they really want for the older girls to have a great season and so I think they feel like they have to just keep going, pushing and get that ball back. We really want them to have possession and keep it as long as we can.”
“I think it really says something about our team overall that we came back from deficits in both games,” added senior attacker and captain Ellie Majure. “In this one, we pushed it to overtime and didn’t want to quit, even when certain plays weren’t working. We kept in it, and we really kept up the intensity and were cheering each other on. I thought we did a great job overall.”
Overall, the tournament remains a crucial part of the Saints’ schedule, even as it has evolved over the years to include a trip to California over spring break as well as a tough schedule in the ISL and a number of other powerhouse teams from across the country. Those games start to increase in intensity this week with the likes of Notre Dame Preparatory School, Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart and Summit of New Jersey to follow in the near future.
“This tournament was really important,” Jenkins said. “We’re hitting some tough games at the end of this week, then we have Summit coming down and they’re a great team. I was just waiting to see how we would do with Cold Spring Harbor and Milton, who are both very strong programs, and waiting to see what we have to go back and continue to work on.
“Defense to me is huge in these kind of games. If your shooting is a little bit off, your defense has to be right on, and they have very good attack players and they go really hard. We didn’t want to swing and put them on the eight, we wanted to play good solid defense and they had to take a wide angle shot.”
The players are also well aware of the reputation SSSAS has as one of the top lacrosse programs in the country, ranked in the top 10 by the likes of USA Today and Nike/Lacrosse Magazine. However, they feel they are coping well with the pressure that comes with that.
“Every game we do play, we always have that target on our back for having this reputation,” senior Kendall Swenson said. “These teams that come to this know how good we are and they always try to beat us.”
“Every year, it’s hard because you lose your senior class and you start off the year thinking, ‘What are we going to do without them?’” senior Hedy Veith said “But this year, I think we’ve really stepped up and we’ve come together as a team. I think we’re doing a pretty good job.”
“People talked about us, especially for this year, that we had really big shoes to fill,” Majure added. “Instead of filling those shoes, I think we’ve made our own shoes, new shoes, and really redefined ourselves as a team. It’s been an exciting season so far.”