Fort Mill: From Scratch to South Carolina Girls' State Champions
by Rhiannon Walker | LaxMagazine.com
|The Fort Mill (S.C.) girls'
lacrosse team won its first South Carolina state championship on
April 14, just a few years removed from the creation of the town's
first girls' club team in 2008.
Image courtesy Fort Mill
Six years ago, residents of Fort Mill, S.C., never could have predicted this. Call it a Cinderella story.
The people from the small town of nearly 11,000 had never heard of lacrosse. Sure, they were rabid fans known for supporting their athletic teams. But lacrosse?
"I had never heard of the sport," current Fort Mill sophomore Kirsten Terry said.
Said Amy Katz, mother of senior Mady Katz: "Some people were like, 'What is this? Why are you doing this?' This is a sport from the north.'"
Amy Katz didn't listen to the doubters. Instead, she helped make history. Fort Mill won the South Carolina state championship on April 14, culminating an effort that Katz spearheaded in 2007 after she and her husband moved their family from Annapolis, Md.
When the Katz family arrived in Fort Mill, they were disappointed to learn lacrosse wasn't offered at any local public schools. After starting a grassroots effort to find support by putting advertisements in the local newspaper, Katz formed a girls' club lacrosse team in 2008.
In a place where teams must earn the right to gain recognition, a small group of girls and parents fought for lacrosse's right to be among those respected. In 2010, they even paid for their inclusion as a sanctioned sport.
"We had to pay out of our pockets for it ourselves," Katz said. "The school refused to pay [because they didn't have the money]."
Fort Mill showed the same determination off the lacrosse field as they did on it. At first, the rag-tag group of girls, ranging from ages 12 to 18, couldn't catch, cradle, shoot or defend.
Through hard work and dedication, Fort Mill blossomed into South Carolina champions this spring. A once-overlooked team is now one of the prides and joys of the town.
Fort Mill threw a huge celebration for its newly crowned state champions: The team rode through town on a fire truck, t-shirts were made and the team received a free lunch. But, possibly most importantly, they had the respect of their hometown.
"The town really supported us after we won the state championship," sophomore Kirsten Terry said. "It was amazing."
Fort Mill's girls lacrosse received the long overdue recognition it believed it deserved.
"I had goosebumps. I was crying. It's just hard to explain how you feel," ex-coach Minka Taylor said. "It was absolutely amazing. Just to see something we were able to get started actually came to fruition."
Flash-back five years ago, and it was a totally different story for Fort Mill.
In its inaugural year, the club team struggled. It was a long season for the coaches, players and parents alike.
"It's tough watching your kid lose so badly," Kevin Terry said. "Teams were just beating us by huge scores in the first few years."
Scores like 33-0 and 18-0. That became Fort Mill's motivation.
"[Blythewood] beat us 33-0," Amy Katz said. "We were a new team and most of these girls had never played a day in their life. To beat us that bad was disheartening. It made girls cry."
Fort Mill promptly put beating Blythewood at the top of their goals, and in 2010 the team got one step closer to doing so. A presentation in front of the school board to add the sport was initially shot down, but Katz organized the group to pay out of pocket and eventually sanction the sport.
That year the team went 9-7 but lost to Blythewood three times, including the first round of the playoffs. In 2011 the team went 10-2, but Wando knocked Fort Mill out in the first round of the playoffs.
Those shortcomings only helped Fort Mill, however, and the Yellowjackets knew 2012 was going to be their year. Fort Mill, 15-2 at season's end, was ranked No. 1 in South Carolina and considered the state favorite. The team beat bitter rival Blythewood — not once, but twice — the second of which came 13-7 in the state tournament on April 5.
Another obstacle stood in Fort Mill's way: Wando, the defending state champions and the team that had knocked the Yellowjackets out last year. After going up eight goals, the Yellowjackets slowly let their lead slip away. But they pulled it out in double-overtime, 17-16, in April 10.
Terry, the team's second-leading scorer, took advantage of her defender over-playing her. She spun toward the net and scored with nine seconds left in the second the extra period.
"I was just so happy I had made the shoot," Terry said. "It was the best feeling ever."
Then, it all came down to the state championship game against J.L. Mann on April 14. The Yellowjackets admit they went into the game cocky; they were quickly humbled by a four-goal deficit at the half.
"At half time we explained to them what we explain to them at every game, at every practice, at every timeout" coach Nicol Morris said, "We play Fort Mill lacrosse. We play as a team and nothing else."
"We needed to play as a team, we needed to trust each other if we wanted to win."
That's exactly what Fort Mill did. They hadn't come this far to fall short in the state title.
The Yellowjackets played their way into another overtime dual. Tied at 11, and facing a player-down, 12 became the magic number for this Cinderella team.
Fort Mill went on the offensive after a J.L. Mann attacker threw an errant pass, and sophomore Claire Fraser intercepted it. Just like the last game, Terry had the ball in her stick. She scored the game-winner with 30 seconds left in overtime.
"Kirsten saved the day again," Fraser said. "It was a miracle, but somehow we pulled through."
Said Fort Mill boy's lacrosse coach Jim Van: "It's a story of determination, practice and a little luck that made them into a state champion. They deserve the credit and the recognition."
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