CHAPEL HILL — The Apex girls’ lacrosse team wasn’t used to exiting the playoffs in the second round, which it did last year. Losing in the playoffs at any time is uncommon ground for the four-time state champions.
So it took some time this season to figure out how to avoid that again, and the answer was chemistry.
“Last year we had more cliques. This year our main goal is we want to be a team. We want to be friends with everyone because you want to trust everyone on there,” senior Beth Fellows said. “Just going out – wanting to be a closer team – has made us better in general because we trust everyone.”
In the first big test of its season, the Cougars defeated Wilmington Hoggard 12-7 in one of the weekend’s Cardinal Classic games hosted by East Chapel Hill High School. Hoggard entered the game unbeaten and ranked third in the state, while Apex was fourth.
And maybe as some extra motivation, Apex was playing on the same field where last year’s season ended.
“It created a bigger want and desire and a drive for us during practices and stuff. It was almost a smack in the face, like ‘You’re not as good as you think you are, you need to work for everything. Things aren’t going to be handed to you,’” Fellows said.
The Cougars moved up to second in the state after the win.
What worked: At times, the Apex passing was pinpoint – even against a Hoggard team that re-defended well.
“We have each other’s back all the time and it’s amazing to have a group of girls like that,” said junior Jessie DeLuca, who has committed to Old Dominion.
Turning point: After Hoggard tied the game at five with 4:10 left in the first half, Apex went on a 6-0 run, preventing Hoggard from finding the net until there was 12:48 left in the second half.
Putting up numbers: Apex’s Mia Castagnero had five goals while DeLuca had two goals and two assists. Beth Fellows had a goal and two assists. Abby Flynn had two goals while Erin Cornell and Meredith Chapman each added goals late.
Goalie Rose Redfoot had 14 saves for Apex.
“(Hoggard) had two goals in the second half, and I’m really proud of my defense,” said Apex coach Sarah Fellows. “(Redfoot) did incredible.”
Looking forward: Apex has a few more tough nonconference tests, but its biggest Conference 2 showdowns with Green Hope are on the horizon. After rain canceled the first meeting, the Cougars and Falcons will tangle at Green Hope on April 12 and at Apex on 17.
Blake: 919-460-2606; On Twitter: @JMBpreps