Girls lacrosse takes third at state

Overcoming injuries and tough SF loss, Devils save their best 'grit' for last

For the sixth straight season, Hinsdale Central girls lacrosse finished among the state's elite.

A 10-7 win over Lake Forest Saturday in the third-place game on Central's Dickinson Field avenged a 7-9 loss to the Scouts back on March 14, the first game of the season. It also helped salve the disappointment from the Devils' Friday night defeat to eventual state champ Loyola Academy in a hard-fought contest.

"We definitely showed up in (the Lake Forest) game, and felt like we were in control the entire time," said head coach Matt McNiff. "The seniors did now allow anyone to have a let down. They didn't want to end their season on a loss."

The victory elevated Central to the 20-win mark, a gratifying milestone for a team that has the championship in its sights every year. Freshman McCall Brzozowski led the scoring with four goals followed by junior Peyton Moncrief with three. Senior Parker Matthews and juniors Addison Linn and Ella Parker-Briones chipped in a goal apiece.

Moncrief said the team's hard work paired with a close camaraderie was key to their success all year.

"I think just how hard we have worked all season on the field and the relationships off the field helped us grow as a team," she said. "We were all just very proud of ourselves just how far we had come."

Moncrief acknowledged the challenge of shaking off the previous day's loss, compounded by teammate senior attacker Daphne Venetsanopoulos leaving the game in the first quarter with a knee injury. But she credited McNiff and the squad's seniors for maintaining focus.

"I think our team responded very well to it," Moncrief said. "It's the 'next player up' mentality, and it's crucial that everyone pulls their weight. It goes to show how much grit we have."

Even though the Loyola showdown was a semifinal, the implications of that game felt bigger, McNiff related.

"To me that was the state championship right there," McNiff said of facing the Ramblers, who beat Central in last year's final.

McNiff said getting past tough sectional opponents St. Ignatius and Sandburg and then York in the super-sectional helped forge his girls' resilience.

"Our path to get to the state series was difficult," he said.

Freshman Demetra Gatzulis, one of the Devils top defenders, was lost to injury earlier in the week forcing personnel adjustments.

"We had a hard time bringing it downfield" against Loyola, McNiff said. "Turnovers kind of hurt us. But we stuck with it and tried to utilize our strengths."

Gatzulis appreciated her cohorts' resilience.

"I felt like we played as a team and our defense really stepped up," she said. "I think we played with a lot of hearts during that game."

Losing Venetsanopoulos was another blow. But the Devils kept battling and entered the fourth quarter down just 3-4 to Loyola and energized for an upset.

"We were pretty banged up and we played one of the best teams in the nation and we gave them a battle," he said. "They knew it was a David vs. Goliath moment, but they weren't afraid of the challenge."

Loyola pulled away late to notch a 7-3 win and a date with Benet in the final, where Loyola romped to a 14-5 win. The Devils had showed their mettle.

"We belonged there among the best teams in the state," he said.

Matthews was heartened by the way everyone, both veteran player and underclassmen, adjusted to different roles in the wake of the injuries.

"I was proud of the team for really sticking to the script and adapting," she said.

Their confidence level was subsequently high going into the Lake Forest finale to avenge that blemish at the start of the season.

"I think we came out pretty strong, we came out prepared, and we knew that we had really developed as a team," Matthews said.

She spoke to the personal impact of the Central lacrosse community.

"I love this team. We're a really big family. It was just a really close group of girls," Matthews said. "Central lacrosse has definitely shaped who I am. I'm glad I got so much out of it."

McNiff praised his five senior starters.

"We had the best leadership I've ever seen," he said. "The only thing they cared about was winning. They set a precedent for future leaders. They definitely changed the trajectory of leadership for the program."

He also praised the goalkeeping of junior Makenna Schultz, a three-year varsity starter, whose 14 saves on Saturday were critical.

"It was another outstanding performance at this state series, as always," McNiff said.

Schultz said the team had nothing to regret about Friday's game.

"A game like that you aren't disappointed because we all know we played really well," Schultz said, underscoring how everyone wanted to make sure the seniors went out on a winning note. "We were going to miss our teammates and their seasons were going to be over soon. It feels just like a second family. This is a sisterhood."

Junior starter Logan O'Connor, who was sidelined by injury most of the year, nevertheless stayed fully engaged as a pseudo-coach, McNiff said.

"She made it her mission to make sure everyone who was learning her spot under her wing were caught up on the strategies," he said.

Senior Chloe Vande Lune said the defensive effort in the state tournament was particularly inspired.

"We fought hard together and it was really emotional," Vande Lune said of her last game as a Red Devil. "I think we all just thought this season was unmatched from the rest and we all had such an incredible bond together. We were all happy with the outcome."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean