WORCESTER, Mass. -- Junior Isabella O'Connor admits that coach Meredith Frank challenged her mental toughness a bit in her first official tryout as the Cougars' head coach.
After two 1,000 meter runs and a pair of 300 meter dashes, O'Connor had reached the point where one's shot went. Meredith had credited mother and five-time Westwood state champion coach at Meredith for her ability to physically push players and it was this same resilience she was instilling with her players when she stepped in as the head coach.
In the finale of a challenging postseason run three years later, O'Connor showed no signs of letting her shot slip as she buried four goals and assisted one to push Notre Dame girls' lacrosse (24-2) to the programs' first Division 1 state title with a 13-10 defeat of Western Mass champs Longmeadow (22-2-0) at Foley Stadium in Worcester last night.
“(The conditioning) really kills your mental toughness,” said O'Connor. “That is really when everyone’s shooting goes. You have to focus, see the net and take that extra second when you are tired.”
The Cougars are the first squad besides Framingham and formerly two-time champs Westwood to win state title since the Lancers did it nine years ago.
A Dominant Tiebreaker: Tied 4-4 with seven minutes remaining in the first half, Notre Dame made a six goal run to pull away.
Freshman Charlotte Allard looked to be leaping to the outside of the net when she bowed down back towards the crease and ripped a 5-4 score top corner to begin the streak at 6:56 in the first.
Sophomore Keeley MacAfee twice beat her defender across the front of the net to score ten-yard efforts and prompt a run of three tallies in 2:38. Lenaghan managed to plant a foot and spin back towards the crease on a backdoor pass from O'Connor for the 10-4 goal with 22:22 left in the game.
“We wanted to slow the ball down a little bit (and) see if we could maintain a little bit more possession,” said Frank. “To make sure when we did have the ball we were taking really good care of it.”
Transitional Trouble: Longmeadow lead only once when it had a 2-1 advantage at 19:10 in the first half.
Alexa Cambi took a pass up top from fellow junior Kristina Schafer and rotated around a pick to score the unassisted tally.
Schafer (five goals) slid with the ball under a pick and right in front of the net for the 4-4 evening score at 8:23 in the first half.
“Their pressure really hurt us towards the end of the first half,” said Longmeadow coach Steve Dudeck. “We needed to collapse on them because they are such great dodgers. A few transition scores really got them going early in the second half.”
Longmeadow could only muster runs of two goals or less.
An unassisted score by Schafer and an assist from Caroline Kusiak to fellow junior Caroline McKenna cut the margin to 13-10 with 2:41 left in the game.
The Crease Roll: A strong and power driven attacker when isolated with the ball O'Connor's go to move has been the crease roll. The move which often involves a pair of quick spin moves in opposite directions leaving O'Connor wide open in front of net, lead to two goals for the junior.
“There are so many people that dodge from the top that I never got the chance to,” said O'Connor. “I decided to take it around the crease and I guess my footwork was fast enough. Even if someone knows you can get around them.”
The Frank Legacy Grows: Meredith Frank won two state titles under her mother at Westwood, while winning the NCAA Women's Lacrosse championships in each of her four years at Northwestern. The Cougars' skipper beat her mother for the first time in three tries with a 10-7 road win in the South sectionals.
Tears stilled Meredith's eyes as she accepted her first title as a head coach.
“When I took the program over I always thought it was something we could accomplish, but I think you can accomplish it till you have a group that really buys in,” said Frank. “If you remember that it is fun to win and to play in big games like this then hopefully some of the nerves go away. (Westwood) pushed us to get to this level.”