Cardinal Gibbons beat Charlotte Catholic 14-8 for more than the N.C. High School Athletic Association girls lacrosse state title Saturday afternoon at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park.
The two North Carolina powers also met for “dynasty” bragging rights to consider.
Gibbons’ won its third straight title while playing in its fourth consecutive state final. The Crusaders finished as the 2015 runner-up in their first state final appearance before they bounced back for titles in 2016 and 2017.
Three is one more state championship than Catholic, which was seeking its third in the nine years since the NCHSAA has sanctioned the sport. The Cougars won the inaugural championship in 2010 and added a second in 2014. Catholic played in its fifth final after runner-up finishes in 2012 and 2013.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Gibbons’ Grace Nelson of three in a row. “We have worked so hard for this, and it’s been a goal for us every year since we lost our freshman year. We’ve always came back and worked so hard.”
Nelson was named the MVP with three goals and her impact on the match winning 11 draws.
As a senior that played in all four finals, Nelson said the team didn’t feel as much pressure in 2018 as a year ago when they beat Charlotte’s Myers Park 19-12 for two in a row.
“I remember last year I was in bed the night before and I was shaking,” she said. “This year I was prepared for this. I was not stressing at all.”
Elizabeth Wilson, another Gibbons senior, led the Crusaders in scoring with five goals. Junior Grace New added two goals. Four individual scores were tallied by junior Ella Reaves Vaughan, junior Catherine Field, junior Caroline Kimel and freshman Caroline Mullahy.
When these teams met in the regular season on April 14 at Cardinal Gibbons, the Crusaders’ superior firepower was the difference in a 15-10 victory.
But in the rematch, three Catholic goals off free possessions helped the Cougars keep pace with Gibbons’ offensive advantage. At the other end, Catholic goalie Blake Palmer saved two free possessions. She seemingly played with a goalie stick with a net as wide as a deep-water fisherman the way she snagged shots.
Gibbons led only 6-5 at halftime before the Crusaders, maintaining their poise, finally broke through.
Reaves Vaughan, Nelson and Field scored three unanswered goals in the second half’s first four minutes to open a 9-5 lead that basically stood the rest of the match.
Nelson scored after her charging shot down the middle was blocked by Palmer into the air. But Nelson quickly picked off the ball in the air, circled behind the cage and scored.
“I think we really just rise to the level of play each time,” Wilson said of the second-half surge. “We were prepared; we play against the best goalie in the state (in practice), Gabby Young and Carolyn (Barbieri).”
Young’s best save came on a free possession with two seconds left in the first half Catholic’s Kaitlin Coleman appeared poised to score her third free possession goal of the game, but Young’s saved preserved momentum and the 6-5 halftime lead.
“These girls are so passionate,” Gibbons coach Patricia Alexander said. “These big games, they kind of turn a switch and start grinding. I’m proud of them. They wanted it so badly. They weren’t going to be denied in that second half.”