By James Cullum | [email protected]
Three Alexandria high school girls’ lacrosse teams have reached the final four of the Virginia Independent School Athletic association state semifinals. On Friday, reigning state champs St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes plays Episcopal High School and the fast-attacking Bishop Ireton plays the Richmond-based Collegiate school at the Highland School field in Warrenton.
St. Stephens advanced into the tournament by defeating St. Anne’s Belfield 16-1 on Wednesday. The team has the best record of the bunch at 26-1, and head coach Kathy Jenkins expects history to repeat itself with another championship game against rival Bishop Ireton, which it defeated 12-5 last year in the finals. Ten of its 24 players are graduating seniors, all of whom are committed to playing collegiate lacrosse.
“I think this is going to be one of those that is going to go back and forth between us and Bishop Ireton,” Jenkins said. “Our team is very competitive, very committed and many of our players have played a together on the same team since middle school.”
Bishop Ireton has its sights set on winning. The Cardinals beat St. Catherine’s 17-3 at home on Wednesday to advance into the tournament. The team is 17-5 this season, and is respected in the region for its commitment to fitness and team-building. Athletes play lacrosse year-round, and participate in 6 a.m. weight room workouts in the off-season. Typically, schools do not have such a commitment to a single sport, and Episcopal and SSSAS athletes typically play more than one sport each season.
“Ireton is very strong and fast, but 99 percent of our kids play other sports,” Jenkins said. “They run a very tight ship, and they start every year in June.”
The team has adjusted this year after losing leading scorer Kelly Larkin, the former WCAC player of the year, who is now playing at the U.S. Naval Academy. Larkin scored an incredible 238 goals in 94 total games during her tenure at Ireton and the Cardinal offense was largely structured around her.
“I feel great about where we are now,” said Ireton head coach Rick Sofield after Wednesday’s game. “The kids are healthy, they are playing fast. Our defense looks tight. We held this team scoreless for about 35 minutes. There’s a certain standard of play that is expected of a Bishop Ireton Cardinal, and we’re playing at our peak right now.”
Ireton’s 24-player squad will do light workouts and yoga before heading into this weekend’s tournament.
Ireton senior Kayla Marshall, who scored two goals on Wednesday, said her team is unselfish and is playing one game at a time.
“We play as one unit,” said Marshall, who will attend the University of Louisville this fall. “Outside of lacrosse we’re all best friends and we hang out all the time. Right now we’re not focusing on the championship yet. We want to focus on our next opponent, because we respect all and fear none. That’s kind of been our team motto this year.”
Episcopal High School, with an 11-5 record this season, is the dark horse in the upcoming competition. The team defeated Potomac 9-8 and faces SSSAS at 4 p.m. on Friday.
“The game [against Potomac] was very much a nail biter. We were up 7-3 at one point and Potomac came back and made it very exciting,” said Episcopal head coach Ashley McDowell. “I think we can win this thing. We are absolutely the underdogs and we know that the story of lacrosse in Alexandria has been St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes, and Bishop Ireton, and I am proud that Episcopal is in that mix.”
McDowell said that her young team, which has four seniors, has won hard-fought 1-to-2 point victories throughout the season, and that the team has turned a corner since she took over as head coach four years ago.
“When I started our record was 4-15,” she said. “We’re a very fast team, very scrappy.”
As for St. Stephen’s, should the team win on Friday and advance to the finals on Saturday, will spend the night in Warrenton, Jenkins said.
“We are going to stay Friday night,” she said. “My girls like to stay and hang out as a team, because it is the end for them and we have so many seniors.”