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April 13, 2015 — Six months, four teams, two contests, one theme

It was about six months ago this week when Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), the consensus best scholastic field hockey team in the United States, defeated the team largely seen as the No. 2 team, Newtown Square Episcopal Academy (Pa.) by a larger score than most observers would have expected.

So, I wasn’t entirely surprised that the girls’ lacrosse team from Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.), the consensus best team in the United States, defeated a team largely seen as the No. 2 team, Alexandria Bishop Ireton (Va.), also by a larger score than most observers would have expected.

Why was I not entirely surprised? It’s not as though Ireton is a bad team; nay, the Cardinals got everyone’s attention when they won the VISAA title last year, beating a good St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.) squad in the Class AA final.

It’s just that, no matter what happens in facing a high-level opponent the first time, there is always the possibility for one team or the other to not have its best game that day.

In the opening minutes, both the Ireton lacrosse team and the Episcopal Academy field hockey team played even-up with their respective opposition. On Saturday, Ireton matched McDonogh athletically in the midfield, especially on the center draws. They also got a couple of good saves on the part of their goaltender.

But, like in the Eastern-EA field hockey game last fall, the host team started taking control about 10 minutes in. Just like Austyn Cuneo’s goal set off a run climaxing in three quick goals in the final four minutes of the first half, McDonogh went on a three-goal burst from Elizabeth George, Andie Aldave, and Maddie Jenner to take a 4-1 lead in the 12th, and would eventually run that out to a 9-2 halftime lead.

Ireton did its best, but did not generate enough on the attack; the Cardinals’ rhythm offense was disrupted by McDonogh’s close defenders, who played the passing lanes extremely well, almost seemingly knowing what Ireton was going to do in advance.

In the end, both McDonogh and Eastern left little doubt on the day as to how good they were. Both of these athletic programs exhibited a very rich seam of form, even after graduating a number of excellent players. Eastern, for instance, is a generation removed from the likes of Rachel Dawson, Lori Hillman, and Shauna Banta. Yet, it’s a nice thing to be able to replace them with junior national teamers such as Mackenzie Keegan, Madison Morano, and Cuneo.

McDonogh is doing its current work without Jen Cook, Megan Whittle, and Taylor Cummings. But they have Aldave and Brindi Griffin, who will be representing the United States at the FIL U-19 World Cup this summer.

And frankly, there may be no end in sight for the excellence of these two programs.

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