Nothing was going to sit right with the Chesapeake girls lacrosse team until it got another crack at Northeast.
Matched up in the 3A East playoffs on May 10, the Cougars wrote their redemption story.
Chesapeake took advantage of early draw controls and aggressive midfield and re-defending play to jump out to an early lead before withstanding a valiant Northeast comeback attempt to march past the Eagles with a 13-10 playoff victory. Kiersten Blanchard led all scorers with seven goals and three assists; Karlie Stracke, Mariana Donahue and Georgia Spangler all had two goals and two assists; Abby Dunn added a score; and Eryn Beal came up big with 12 saves to get Chesapeake over its visiting rival.
Having lost 16-11 to Northeast on March 29, the Cougars were focused on not allowing a repeat Eagle celebration.
“We all wanted to come out as hard as we can,” said Blanchard. “We did not want to lose again. Redemption. All week we just kept saying, ‘Redemption, guys, this is redemption.’ So I was happy to play them again and get redemption.”
The redemption plan did not face great resistance early, when the teams began play in a heavy Friday-night rain. Chesapeake benefitted from poor Northeast clearances and superior draw control to take a 3-0 lead on goals by Spangler, Donahue and Blanchard; Blanchard had six draw controls for the game, while Donahue had five, and Chesapeake won the draw battle, 15-6.
From there, Northeast began clawing to stay in it. Alyssa Borgert got Northeast on the board at 3-1, completing an end-to-end sequence that saw the Eagles pass their way up the field to score when Alyssa Borgert was assisted by her sister, Emma Borgert, with a hockey assist by Abi Zimmerman. Dunn and Blanchard scored in succession to make it 5-1, and Alyssa Borgert again stopped the streak with a goal before Northeast’s Hailey Helmick circled the cage and fired low to make it 5-3.
Scores by Blanchard and Stracke offset Northeast goals by Sydney Makarovich and Morgan James, and Spangler closed the first half with a goal to make it an 8-5 Chesapeake lead.
Though Chesapeake couldn’t quite separate, and Northeast refused to go away, it still seemed like the Cougars’ game to lose — until the Eagles popped off to start the second half. In the span of several minutes, James took control: the senior scored, then fed Alyssa Borgert for a goal, then top-shelfed Beal for another goal. The game was suddenly tied at 8-8.
When Madison Gregg scored from a free-position goal with 13:26 left, Northeast improbably had its first lead at 9-8.
Eagle coach Kim Kolarick said the key to stay competitive and get back into the game was trust.
“We’ve been working a lot this year on trying to find that trust, that family side of things,” said Kolarick. “In one of the timeouts, we just talked about trusting each other and trusting the game plan. We were digging ourselves in a hole [early] by missing passes. We started getting those over-the-top clears, which helped our transition.”
The Cougars nonetheless responded. Blanchard scored to tie the game at 9-9, and the teams’ goalies spent the next five minutes one-upping each other with dazzling saves — Northeast’s Sydney Wingate came up with three point-blank stops to keep her side in it, and she finished with 16 for the game.
“Sydney was amazing and brought us back in with a lot of those point-blank saves,” said Kolarick.
Not to be outdone, Beal rejected multiple Eagle shot attempts to get the ball back to the Cougars, and a diving goal by Blanchard, who fired an airborne shot while sliding down to the wet turf, regained the lead for Chesapeake at 10-9.
The late-March version of the Cougars may have let Northeast’s hot start to the second half carry the day, but Beal said the team learned what it needed from its prior loss to the Eagles.
“That whole thing there is composure,” said Beal. “That [regular-season] game got away from us. This game, we wanted to keep our composure. We worked hard to keep it that way.”
They likewise worked hard to execute the defensive game plan and finish the job. Stracke caused a turnover by re-defending, then found Donahue with a nice pass for an 11-9 lead. After a Beal save near the three-minute mark, Stracke got a goal to make it 12-9. Blanchard found Donahue for a goal to make it 13-9, and Chesapeake killed off Northeast’s last-ditch effort with yet another defensive stand.
Chesapeake held Northeast scoreless over the final 13 minutes until Sydney Makarovich assisted Alyssa Borgert with less than a second left.
The Cougars spent all week focusing on defense.
“At the beginning of the week, I told the girls, ‘We’re going to win this game from the back, forward,” said Chesapeake coach Sonny Jones. “We focused on our defense all week long, and draws. We really only focused on offense yesterday. That really paid off for us.”
He added that while confidence can be an asset, he would rather have a team enter a game with something to prove.
“Coming off of a loss from the beginning of the year, that doesn’t taste very nice,” said Jones. “I said to the girls, ‘They’re going to come out confident, but we’re going to come out hungry.’ I’d rather be hungry than confident any day. I think what won the game for us was heart and hustle.”
For Northeast (8-10), the season was a success, complete with an early-season win over Chesapeake. James, a senior, said the team never lost confidence when times were tough.
“I’m just proud that we had some really hard obstacles on us, and we never stopped,” James said. “It never fazed us. We came back better.”
While the Cougars advance to the next round, Kolarick and the Eagles reflected on the foundation being built in her first year leading the program.
“I’m so proud of the amount of teamwork, trust, compatibility, energy,” Kolarick said. “We’ve kind of changed the atmosphere of the team so that everyone has a role, whether it’s on the field or off the field.”