Cardinal Gibbons’ girls lacrosse team felt pressure to defend its N.C. High School Athletic Association state title Saturday at WakeMed Soccer Park.
The pressure lingering in the back of the Crusaders’ minds included understanding this was their third straight championship appearance following a runner-up finish in 2015. They didn’t want to go home 1-of-3.
But Gibbons also had experience on its side and used it to its advantage to lighten the load for a quick start. The Crusaders scored five unanswered goals in the match’s first five minutes on their way to a 19-12 victory over Myers Park of Charlotte.
The Mustangs, in contrast, were playing in the final for the first time since 2011 – in other words, since the seniors were in sixth grade – and they were tentative in the early moments.
“We tried to rely on our experience,” Gibbons head coach Patricia Alexander said. “We knew Myers Park plays a similar game to us, so we wanted to jump ahead of them. Myers Park is known for comebacks, so we wanted to score early.”
Mustangs coach Catherine LeBlanc also felt the experience difference played a role in the Myers Park having to dig out of an early hole.
“Cardinal Gibbons is a great team,” LeBlanc said. “These girls weren’t here six years ago and that makes a difference.”
The 5-0 lead didn’t last long, though. Myers Park closed to within 5-4 with a goal from Becca Riopel with 8:33 left in the first half.
But that’s when Cardinals Gibbons’ experience was tested. The Crusaders responded with three quick goals in two minutes. Two were scored by junior Elizabeth Wilson and one by senior Jordan Lappin. The 5-0 start was still serving the Crusaders well as they led 11-8 at halftime.
Wilson, who finished with a match-high five goals, was named the title game MVP. The scoring opened up for Wilson and others when Myers Park shadowed Lappin. The Boston College-bound Lappin only scored two goals, but her impact was felt in other ways.
“I think Jordan is an amazing player,” Wilson said. “She knows how to score and she knows how to pass. She’s the most unselfish player I’ve ever played with. She’s amazing.”
Gibbons’ scoring was spread among seven girls, including eight between the New sisters. Louisville-bound senior Cassie New and sophomore Grace scored four each.
Myers Park senior Elizabeth Robertson led the Mustangs with four goals. Teammate Rachel Perkins closed the deficit 14-10, but Gibbons outscored the Mustangs 5-2 the rest of the way.
Wilson said the title was a relief to the players.
“I think it’s really hard to repeat,” Wilson said. “Everybody is watching you, but every single person on the team worked hard every single day. We worked really hard, but we had fun, too.”