Before this season, Marshall girls’ lacrosse Coach Nicholle Depaz Clinton took her team to check out the banners hanging outside the school, recognizing past Statesman teams for winning state championships. She pointed out a void in the decorations: banners hung for the Marshall’s award-winning theater program and marching band, both of which have won awards in recent memory. No banners recognized Marshall sports teams for state titles.

“Since the 70s, we’ve never won a state championship in team sports,” said Depaz Clinton, who graduated from Marshall in 2003. “We went out, we took a picture, and we decided that the next thing it’s going to say there is ‘State Champions, Women’s Lacrosse’.”

For the first time since Virginia High School League began holding girls’ lacrosse state championships in 2006, Marshall won’t have to go through former Liberty District foe and defending state champion Madison, nor Northern Region powers Chantilly or Oakton to earn that banner. Because of the state’s realignment, instituted before the 2013-14 academic year, Marshall now competes against 1A-5A classified schools for the state title, avoiding 6A powers like Madison, Oakton, and Chantilly. While annual contender Stone Bridge remains a potential stumbling block, Clinton and her team have seen their chances improve dramatically with the shift in competition to similarly-sized schools.

“With Madison and other teams in the Northern region, it was always hard to get out of the region and go to states,” said Depaz Clinton, who played college lacrosse at Old Dominion and Virginia Tech. “We’re hoping we can get to that state championship this year, but we’ve been talking about it since before the realignment. The realignment just made the goal that much more attainable.”

The Statesemen are off to a 6-2 start, and have beaten two non-6A opponents — Wakefield and Falls Church — by a combined score of 38-4. While being boxed out of the playoffs by bigger schools was frustrating, the Statesmen say playing state title contenders like Madison year in and year out readied them for this year’s new opportunities.

“Getting to play the big teams for the past few years, we’re really prepared to play in this new conference,” senior Allie Johnson said. “It’s been great to have such competition in the 6A in the past, so now that we’re in the 5A, it’s helping us out.”

Since this year’s four-player senior class arrived at Marshall for the 2011 season through last year, the Statesmen were 13-13 against Liberty District competition and 13-5-2 against all other opponents. Though the Statesmen’s four-player senior class — Johnson, Alexis Fahrney, Carly O’Beirne and University of Southern California commit Kelly Brown — will still face annual competition from Stone Bridge and other Loudoun teams in smaller classifications, they know their chances at a deep playoff run are better this year than ever before.

“We don’t want to let anything interfere with us playing our game, us playing Marshall lacrosse,” Brown said. “We know this year that we can do it. We have to know that, and not let ourselves be our biggest obstacle.”

Visitation takes on challenging schedule

When former Georgetown Visitation coach Aubrey Andre left to take over the girls’ lacrosse team at St. John’s, Eva Shea, who coached youth lacrosse in the Alexandria area for 15 years before coaching junior varsity at T.C. Williams last year, was tasked with the challenging job of maintaining and improving a squad that has been nationally ranked and one of the area’s best for years. Her first step was a risky one: setting up a grueling early-season schedule against the nation’s best teams in the hopes of readying her squad for big late-season wins.

“I set up the season to challenge them,” Shea said. “When we went down to Florida for spring break, instead of playing teams we could beat by a lot, we really wanted to challenge them.”

The Cubs (6-4) have played five of their 10 games against teams currently ranked in the Nike/U.S. Lacrosse National High School girls’ top 25, going 1-4 in those games. Three of the four losses came by one goal, including a 13-12 defeat in a rain-soaked matchup with Bishop Ireton Monday afternoon. Shea said the goal for the season is to win the Independent School League AA title — a feat which will require beating another Top 25 team, No. 1 St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes — later this season.

“Three games against McDonogh, Vero and St. Anthony’s — those games are equal to the level of competition with St. Stephen’s for us,” Shea said. “They’re a big rival, so it’s something we talk about, but it’s not the only thing on our schedule we’re focusing on.”

The Post Top 10

Ellie Majure had 14 goals in four games to spark St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes to four wins this week. . . . Marriotts Ridge’s Taylor Hensh scored five goals each against Reservoir and Howard to propel the Mustangs to two more wins. . . . Georgetown Visitation’s Kelly Myers had 14 goals in three games against nationally ranked foes St. Anthony’s, Good Counsel, and Bishop Ireton.

1. St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (14-0) LW: 1

2. Georgetown Visitation (6-4) LW: 2

3. Good Counsel (6-2) LW: 3

4. Bishop Ireton (7-1) LW: 4

5. Marriotts Ridge (8-0) LW: 5

6. Severna Park (4-0) LW: 6

7. Madison (3-0) LW: 7

8. Mount Hebron (7-0) LW: 8

9. Severn School (6-2) LW: NR

10. St. Mary’s Annapolis (5-3) LW: NR

Dropped out: No. 9 Broadneck (3-2), No. 10 South River (3-3)

On the bubble: Spalding (7-4), Broadneck (3-2), Westfield (4-0)