Lincoln School, Wheeler take rivalry to next level

One of the oldest clichés in baseball is “three strikes and you’re out.”

Rhode IslandThe Lincoln School girls’ lacrosse team already had its “three strikes” in games against Wheeler School. Twice the Warriors beat the Lynx for the championship when both schools were members of the SENE. Earlier this season, Wheeler’s first in the Rhode Island Interscholastic League, the Warriors mauled the Lynx, 19-13, which enabled them to earn the top seed heading into the Division II State Tournament.

Realistically, the odds weren’t in Lincoln School’s favor when it played the Warriors for the state championship.

“The thing that kept up our spirits was we were missing our varsity goalie [Adelae Durand] that weekend when we played Wheeler because she was away on a recruiting trip,” said Lynx coach Martha Bennett. “We threw a sophomore [in goal].

“But we were very optimistic. We definitely were a team that worked its way into playing its best. We peaked at the right time.”

That was especially true in the championship game when the Lynx out-lasted the Warriors, 13-12, in triple overtime with Alice Bennett scoring the winning goal with a mere eight seconds left in the third extra session.

It also would have been realistic to expect that both the Lynx and the Warriors would have been playing on tired legs and found it difficult to maintain focus as the championship match wore on – and on and on.

“I would focus on something that my team really worked on during the second half of the season – controlling the timing of the game,” said coach Bennett. “They were very conscious of the clock the whole time. They had learned if we didn’t get a fast-break goal, and besides one or two players we’re not very fast, if we didn’t get a fast-break goal they had no problem taking their time setting up a goal.

“My team was very conscious of that. When you have seniors and juniors leading everybody their mindset was control the ball and control the game.”

In retrospect, that’s exactly what happened as the Lynx won their second consecutive Division II state title.

“I think this year was harder in a way because last year was our first in the Rhode Island Interscholastic League,” said coach Bennett. “You’re kind of taking it all in and saying ‘It was fun.’

“Wheeler had beaten us (this season) and we beat Portsmouth (16-15) in the finals last year. I would say staying at the top is harder.”

One of several reasons why the Lynx were able to stay “at the top” was because of the prolific scoring of senior Larson Bennett (89 goals and 40 assists) plus juniors Jen Schweccheimer (39 goals and 12 assists) and Ali Gaissl (29 goals and three assists).

But what made Lincoln School’s championship even more impression was the fact that only four seniors were on the roster.

“As much as you look at the seniors and say there only were four, we had high expectations because my junior class had been playing together since they were freshmen,” said coach Bennett. “One of the four seniors [Kate Ross] was a transplanted basketball player who had never played lacrosse until this year.

Bennett continued, “We get these great athletes who don’t decide to play a sport until the spring. Kate’s basketball sense was great for defense. She was a great help to our defense. Lacrosse isn’t an easy eye-hand sport but anybody who’s athletic can play good defensive lacrosse. There are a lot of similarities between basketball and lacrosse so those kids really understand defense when they get out on the lacrosse field.”

Good point considering the Lynx allowed a respectable total of 131 goals while posting a 13-1-1 overall record.

But while Lincoln School’s defenders did their part, so did Durand – and then some.

“I would my goalie (Durand) exceeded expectations,” said coach Bennett. “(The championship game) was the best game (11 saves) she had all year. She’s a kid who comes up big in the big game.

“Unlike some people who rise to the occasion in regular-season games and then crumble in championship games, she rose to new heights in this game.”

Given the fact Bennett will return the majority of her players for 2015, would it be reasonable to expect the Lynx to “three-peat?”

“In the Interscholastic League, if we stay in Division II, I would be optimistic about our chances of being a contender,” coach Bennett said quite matter-of-factly. “Losing our number one player (Larsen Bennett), who controls the draw, will be a big thing to redesign.

“I would be optimistic about our chances to contend if we remain in Division II. If we move up to Division I, it will be tough.”

Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y, he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.