Bishop Ireton Coach Rick Sofield didn’t see his team at full strength too often this season. Injuries forced him to cut and paste lineups game after game against a nationally formidable schedule, and a physical early season loss to defending Washington Catholic Athletic Conference champion Good Counsel took a particular toll on his starting team.
But as the shorthanded Cardinals pushed through ups and downs in April, they wore T-shirts to remind them that “six days in May” were all that mattered. By the most important of those May days — Monday’s WCAC championship game — the No. 2 Cardinals were finally at full strength, healthy and uninhibited. The result was a spirited 17-7 victory over third-ranked Good Counsel and the first WCAC girls’ lacrosse championship in school history.
“Today we finally got healthy,” Sofield said. “We knew we were capable of this, but we hadn’t done it. We saw tastes of it, but in this game today, we just knew we’d play our game and things would work out for us.”
With an unstoppable second-half barrage that forced a running clock late, the Cardinals (17-4) discovered their potential as they fulfilled it. They bombarded Good Counsel (14-6) with a multifaceted attack the Falcons didn’t see when key defenders like Kaitlin Luzik and Natalie Irwin, attackers Kendall Cunningham and Kate Carney and eventual WCAC player of the year Charlotte Sofield were out with injuries.
“Luckily the injuries that did happen were early enough that we could get back to full strength when it counts,” Mathews said. “Now, in May.”
Often runners-up or semifinal victims of Good Counsel or Holy Cross in the WCAC tournament, Ireton’s players pegged this year as the breakout season, a loaded freshman class bolstering an already talented lineup.
“As soon as someone starts keying on one player, someone else makes plays,” Sofield said of his team’s showing. “We talked about it before the game: We don’t need kids making big plays. We need lots of players making lots of little plays. Ground balls, draws, slides on defense. We don’t need to make big plays to win a championship.”
But the Cardinals’ loaded lineup — which graduates first team all-WCAC goalie Olivia Cole and honorable mention attacker Cunningham but no one else — provided plenty of big plays to back up the little ones.
First team all-conference attacker Kelly Mathews and classmate Sofield, who played Monday at 100 percent for the first time since breaking her wrist on Ireton’s spring break trip, sliced through the Good Counsel defense with seeming ease. Mathews scored six goals, and Sofield added three from the midfield. When the Falcons keyed on Mathews in the second half, sophomore attacker Kelly Larkin chipped in four.
“It’s surreal. The feeling is just amazing right now,” Luzik said. “We kept telling each other this was our year, and we made it our year.”