East Chapel Hill has come full circle with its girls’ lacrosse program, with one of its own alumnae as head coach of the defending state champions.
First-year head coach Emily Sternbach played on the first girls’ lacrosse team at East and helped the Wildcats win three club state championships before before the NCHSAA sanctioned the sport in 2010.
Sternbach is taking over an East Chapel Hill team that finished 16-2 last year and won the N.C. High School Athletic Association girls’ lacrosse championship in 2013.
East graduated seven players off that team who had more than 170 goals. Record-setting Sydney Holman scored 128 goals. Fellow graduates Allison Morsberger and Cassie Watters provided much of the rest of the offense.
“We will never be the same team as we were last year, but that doesn’t take away from our potential and where we think we’re headed,” Sternbach said. “Years like this surprise you, because new talent is discovered and different people step forward to lead.”
Junior Marissa Creatore (17 goals, 5 assists) and sophomore Farrell Guest (14 goals, 6 assists) are the leading returning scorers for the Wildcats. Sternbach said she’s also counting on returning players like Maddie Futch, Marina Jones and Liz Jensen to organize the midfield and veteran Christine Kolk to lead the defense.
“My high school coach Meredith Meade would tell us after we won states that this is the time to work harder than ever,” Sternbach said. “We haven’t reached a plateau but only a steeper part of the mountain.”
East Chapel Hill opens the defense of its 2013 championship with a home game Wednesday at 6 p.m. versus Apex. A JV game at 4:30 p.m. precedes the varsity match.
A perennial area power, Apex finishd 13-5 last year after reaching the NCHSAA playoffs.
The Cougars bring back conference player of the year junior Mia Castagnero (53 goals, 30 assists), who has committed to Richmond. Also returning are junior Abbey Flynn (44 goals, 15 assists), senior goalie Rose Redfoot, Liberty recruit Erin Cornell (49 goals, 13 assists) and Old Dominion recruit Jessie DeLuca (27 goals, 16 assists).
The Cougars’ new coach is Mike Bagnasco, a former assistant to coach Sara Fellows, who is now in grad school.
East Chapel Hill’s 2014 schedule also includes a home game against Jordan on March 24 and a game at Jordan on April 24. Jordan is one of three area schools -- along with Wake Forest and Raleigh Sanderson -- fielding a girls lacrosse varsity this year for the first time.
Boys begin play Friday
East Chapel Hill’s boys’ team, which reached the NCHSAA semifinals last year and finished 16-3, opens its 2014 season at 6:30 p.m. Friday with a game at Cardinal Gibbons. The Crusaders (18-2 last season) Crusaders will have back all-conference picks Robbie Lavelle and Chris Lappin to go along with midfielder Gannon Morrison, a Marist recruit, who was an all-American pick with 42 goals and 37 assists
East Chapel Hill returns Hampden-Sydney recruit Ian Levin, who led the area in scoring in 2013 with 109 points. “Los Gatos” also have back top defender Daniel Wittekind.
The Wildcats play at Chapel Hill on March 4.
Chapel Hill (12-5 last year) are expected to be led on offense by junior Colin Mraz, the Tigers’ top returning scorer with 38 goals, 18 assists last year.
J. Mike Blake of The Cary News contributed to this report.