What the Stonewall Jackson girls' lacrosse team lacks in confidence before -- and sometimes during -- games it makes up for with exuberance afterward.
Coach Caitlin Barbakoff has spent much of the season convincing her young Raiders that they are good enough to win. After a 14-7 home victory over Osbourn Park on Thursday, she faced another challenge -- juking through a gauntlet of giddy players squirting water bottles.
It has been that kind of season for Stonewall, timidity tempered by celebrations. By knocking off Osbourn Park, a team that had beaten the Raiders, 13-12, last month, Stonewall has jockeyed into a first-place tie in the Cedar Run District. The same two teams tied last year and met in a playback (won by Stonewall) to determine the district champion. They would seem to be on a similar course this season.
But, in some cases, the similarities to a year ago end there. Stonewall lost a dozen players off its 9-3 team, and it has taken the better part of this spring for the replacements to realize that their ambitions and abilities did not walk off the field with Nicole Brozovich, Jenny Tran and the rest of the talented class of 2003.
"This year is gratifying, but it's also really frustrating," Barbakoff said. "Mentally, it's very difficult to coach them because I tend to [think], 'Stop whining, stop whatever, you guys are good, get over it and go play.' . . . This team is still young. I think that the Forest Park win [10-9 on April 29] and this win were very big wins for them. I think they're getting that mental maturity.
"But that coddling is hard for me," she added with a laugh. "It's a lot of work."
It's work that is paying off. Stonewall (8-2, 4-1) clung to a 5-4 halftime edge Thursday, a bit of a relief considering Osbourn Park had erased the Raiders' six-goal first-half lead in the teams' first meeting, then a two-goal deficit in overtime to pull out the win.
This time, something was different. Raiders juniors Megan Behrle and Jessica Noone had scored the last two goals of the first half, then Behrle and sophomore Manda Krimmer tacked on three more scores in the first five minutes of the second half for an 8-4 cushion that was not seriously threatened.
"I was happy that the first half was close, because I felt like OP was giving us their best game," Barbakoff said. "OP is usually a second-half team, and that scares you because you're just waiting for it to come. I think that gave my girls confidence that it was so close but that we were winning."
For the game, Noone tallied five goals and Behrle three. Stonewall senior Megan Wilkens and Krimmer scored twice each, and junior Sarah Gouch and freshman Sarah Klam added single goals.
Junior Kelly McConnell, who provided the game-winner last time the teams met, put in three for the Yellow Jackets (11-3, 4-1), with junior Shayna Sargent, senior Crystal Beck and sophomores Kerry Shannon and Heather Thoreson adding one apiece.
"We've played a few games since [the loss to OP], and we've really learned that it was our mental [game] that really felt apart last time," Behrle said. "We just fell apart. And it wasn't our stick skills, because we had the best skills on that field and we just mentally didn't click with each other."
"Last game . . . I think everybody just crumbled," Noone said. "That night that we lost, I think we all went home and we said, 'Next time, it's ours.' It was just plain and simple. We were a better team then. We're a better team now. We're always going to be a better team."