It was tough to make out what Robinson Coach Liz Case was yelling to her players in the closing minute of Thursday’s 6A North girls’ lacrosse quarterfinal, but whatever it was looked important.
Case walked speedily down the sideline, jumped up and down whenever the ball left a stick, waved her arms and stomped her feet as if the three-goal lead in the last minute were much smaller.
But in long-lived rivalries, you can never be too careful. With the potential to win a big game so close to realized, Case wasn’t ready to exhale. Not until long after the final horn sounded and sealed her team’s 14-11 victory at W.T. Woodson did Case catch her breath, with her players headed to the region semifinals for the first time in any of their careers.
“Everything has come together this year,” said Case, who took over the Rams three years ago. “I think the bonding of the team has come together, the camaraderie has come together, and they know my heart’s in it too.”
The Rams’ roster features just two seniors, and they were just middle schoolers the last time Robinson played this deep into the postseason. Midfielder Maggie Hyland and defender Kate Moody, the captains, “did a tremendous job taking the team under their wing” all season, Case said. But Thursday it was a junior — and an injured one, at that — who lifted the Rams (13-6).
Midfielder Mackenzie Schuler — or “Big Mac” because, as Hyland explained it, “she’s always there when you need her” — tore a ligament in her knee earlier this season. On crutches one day, on the draw the next, Schuler continued to play through the pain, and she did so to near perfection against the Cavaliers. She propelled every draw toward Rams’ sticks, and when the ball hit the ground anyway, she was often there to scoop it up.
In what Case said she knew would be “a possession game,” given Woodson’s offensive abilities, the Rams ended up with 20 draw controls with Schuler in the faceoff circle.
“I knew I wanted to push it to our team,” Schuler said. “I just wanted to get it on our side of the field. I didn’t want them to even get it in their sticks, so I just tried to overpower them and push it as hard as we could.”
Those draws kept the ball away from Woodson’s Isabel Obregon, who scored seven of the Cavaliers’ 11 goals, keeping Woodson within striking distance — and keeping Case’s heart rate up.
But three goals each from Schuler, Katie Checkosky and Kaitlin Luccarelli were too much for Woodson and its limited possessions, which were cut further by swarming defense from Moody and the rest of the Rams and smart stickwork from Hyland. Those efforts gave the Rams their second win of the season over their rivals. No one on Robinson had ever beaten Woodson (12-4) in their careers coming into this season.
“This is our strongest team; we have the most depth we’ve seen,” Hyland said. “This is what we wanted. We never got this far, and now we’ve done it. We made history.”