After teammate’s death, Severna Park girls’ lacrosse pushes through emotional postseason run


Severna Park’s Rachel Vander Kolk, right, comforts teammate Jennifer Nance after the Falcons’ soccer team lost to B-CC in the Maryland 4A soccer finals. The death of Vander Kolk’s sister has brought the Severna Park girls’ lacrosse team closer together during a run to the state finals. (Jonathan Newton/THE WASHINGTON POST)
May 21, 2012

From their positions on the Severna Park defensive line, seniors Jenny Skrenta and Erika Spilker made it to Rachel Vander Kolk first. In the moments after Friday’s 15-10 girls’ lacrosse win over Catonsville, the pair had already wrapped their arms tightly around the sophomore goalie by the time the rest of the team arrived to celebrate.

With the victory, seventh-ranked Severna Park clinched a spot in its fifth Maryland 4A/3A final in six seasons, but none of that previous success could prepare the group for the emotional challenge of its latest postseason push. Since sophomore Tracy Vander Kolk died unexpectedly on May 10, the Falcons have turned to each to other, particularly Tracy’s twin sister Rachel, for strength in a difficult time. They will try to finish their season with a state title for Tracy on Wednesday night at UMBC against Westminster.

“I love every single one of them,” Rachel Vander Kolk said after the semifinal win. “They are the only reason I’m getting through this as well as I am — if you can use that word. I think I’ve spent almost every moment I’ve had with at least one of them, just trying to talk through it, keeping my mind off things. They’re helping me get through it, getting used to life as it is now.”

Tracy Vander Kolk’s death came a day after Severna Park (17-2) began the postseason with a win over Old Mill. Since then, the team has pulled together, closer than ever through a two-week stretch that included their teammate’s memorial service, viewing and burial. Despite little time for practice, the Falcons have earned four victories along the way to move to the cusp of another title.

Longtime Coach Carin Peterson, who has guided the team to 10 state titles in the past 21 years, said she and school administrators quickly decided that playing on would be beneficial, allowing players to slip into a familiar routine.

Severna Park players have scrawled Tracy Vander Kolk’s No. 15 and one of Tracy’s favorite words — “once” — on posters and their skin and taken the field with their teammate on their minds. Coaches and players from around the area have shown their support, too, including rival Broadneck, which presented the Falcons with a batch of white T-shirts bearing the slogan “one county, one rival, one heart” on the back.

“It’s just been emotionally, physically, mentally exhausting,” Peterson said. “It’s hard to put into words what these kids are going through. For them to do what they’re doing is unbelievable. Sometimes I don’t know how they’re standing.”

Rachel Vander Kolk, the team’s backup goalie to senior Camille King, has played a key role in the run, logging time in three of the four games since her sister’s death.

Last Wednesday, Vander Kolk took over in net at halftime with her team trailing Southern Maryland champ Leonardtown by three goals. She made four saves, including one in the final seconds, as the Falcons rallied for a 13-12 victory.

Vander Kolk, who also plays soccer and basketball at the Anne Arundel County school, accepted the team’s East region title after the performance to a standing ovation.

“When she’s in there we want to protect her at all costs,” senior Ally Adams said. “She’s been an amazing part of our team over the past week. For as much as we want to be there for her, she’s really kept us together.”

Facing another early deficit Friday, Vander Kolk energized Severna Park again. She entered the game when King suffered a minor injury making a save midway through the first half. At the time the Falcons trailed, 4-3, but they proceeded to score eight of the next nine goals and cruise into another state final. Vander Kolk played the final 36 minutes and recorded eight saves in the five-goal victory.

Afterward, Severna Park players gathered briefly on the sideline at Franklin High in Reisterstown, breaking out of the huddle with a unison shout of “15.”

“It’s unbelievable,” Vander Kolk said. “I don’t think words could even describe the feeling that would come along with winning that [title] game because we all know that’s all she wanted to do.”

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