By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
RICHMOND — With two of its biggest offensive threats tightly guarded for the vast majority of the game, the St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes girls lacrosse team had to spread things around in its Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association final against local rival Bishop Ireton on Saturday.
Attackers Ellie Carson and Zoe Belodeau had to fend off the close attentions of Ireton markers, but the rest of the Saints’ offense filled in the gaps as SSSAS won 12-5 and took its
first state title since 2013. The Cardinals had won the last two state titles over their local rivals.
Midfielders Elena Ricci and Annie Dyson led the Saints’ offense with three goals apiece, while sophomore Grayson Offutt added two. Caroline Wise- man and Anna Pusey had one goal each, while Carson and Belodeau managed to take advantage of some free time each to supply a goal of their own.
“Heading into this game, we knew that Zoe and Ellie were going to be the prominent attackers that they were going to focus on,” said Dyson. “I think our depth really showed in this game, because the past couple of games, we’ve started to get better and our attack movement has been better.”
“We have seven or eight girls that can really score, so we’re not too worried about it because we know if they take out someone, someone else will step up,” said SSSAS head coach Kathy Jenkins.
Defensively, it took a big effort from the Saints to keep Ireton to five goals, given the numerous offensive weapons at their disposal. Kelly Larkin was again strong for the Cardinals with four goals while Lexi Ledoyen added another, but the SSSAS defense held firm in the face of tremendous pressure.
“Defense, if you get goals on yourself, you kind of get down, and that can really break a defense down,” Dyson said. “But we really stayed positive. We cheered each other on, and that really helped.”
Offutt put the Saints in the lead early in the first half, then stretched her team’s advantage to 3-1 with 11:01 left in the period on an assist from Carson. Ricci scored two goals in the first half, including one from free position, while Dyson tallied a goal with 3:56 remaining to put the No. 1 seeds ahead 5-3 at the interval.
After the break, Wiseman, Pusey and Carson all found the net for the Saints with just over 14 minutes to go in the game, before Offutt added another to complete her hat-trick. The Cardinals threatened a comeback through Larkin as she scored on the next possession to make the score 9-4 with 10:30 left, but the Saints took the sting out of the game with several long possessions.
Holding the ball for more than two minutes at a time wound down the clock, then Belodeau and Ricci scored into an empty net to secure the victory.
“We were all tired and we knew [whether] there was 30 seconds left or 10 minutes left, we just had to keep going,” Ricci said. “Holding the ball meant that they didn’t have the ball, so it was something we had to keep in our minds. We wanted everybody on our attack to score a goal, and we did that. I wish I could play it all over again.”
For the Saints’ seniors, it represents a glorious end to a season in which they finished 25-1 overall and won the Independent Schools League regular season and tournament championships.
“I think we’ve never had a team with 14 seniors, and they’re very close, they’ve done very well together,” Jenkins said. “Not all of them have played, which has been hard, but they all come and work really hard. Every one of them is playing in college and they’re very committed to the sport and to this team, and they really wanted to leave with a legacy. I think they’re doing that.”