High School Girls' Season Rewind: Midwest Region (June 13)
by Teddy Cahill | LaxMagazine.com
1. Loyola Academy (Ill.), 22-3
Player of the Year
Kelsey Murray, New Trier (Ill.)
Murray was dominant for the Trevians, who spent the whole season ranked either No. 1 or 2 in the Midwest. Before the season, New Trier coach Pete Collins called Murray a "scoring machine, but really selfless," a designation she lived up to this spring. She scored 118 goals and added 86 assists for a total of 204 points in 25 games. Murray, a junior attacker, now owns all of New Trier's single-season and career scoring records. This year, she broke Ginny Gummersall's single-season record for goals, which had been 102. For her efforts, Murray was named first-team all-state by Illinois coaches. She is committed to Stanford.
After losing to local rival Grand Rapids Catholic Central (Mich.) in the first few rounds of the Michigan High School Athletic Association for two straight years, East Grand Rapids (Mich.) came together as a team to make a decision. The Pioneers knew they would have a talented, if young, team this spring. They wanted to prove it.
"This year the girls put their minds to get to the finals," coach Rich Axtell said.
The only problem with such a boom or bust approach, Axtell said, is the chance of disappointment is increased.
Axtell needn't have worried. East Grand Rapids beat Okemos (Mich.) 17-6 in the Division II state championship game, completing the season 28-0. The Pioneers have been playing girls' lacrosse for eight years and this was their first state championship.
Midfielder Lauren Hooker was the Pioneers only senior starter, but she more than did her part. Hooker led East Grand Rapids with 112 goals and 41 assists. Her 112 goals rank second all-time in Michigan's record book and her 153 points are third most.
Axtell said Hooker, a Marquette recruit, increased her work in the offseason, which led to her success.
"Among all girls, she made a commitment get in the weight room and do agility work to make herself and her teammates better," he said. "It was apparent as season progressed."
In addition to the dedication of the players in the offseason, East Grand Rapids was helped by playing a difficult schedule. Nine of its 23 regular season games were against teams ranked in the top-10 in Michigan by LaxPower.
East Grand Rapids played Grand Rapids Catholic Central, reigning state champions, twice before the state tournament, where they met again.
"Catholic Central was our toughest competition this year," Axtell said. "Since they're literally in our back yard, we played them three times and they were always our toughest game."
After beating the Cougars 15-8 on April 18, the Pioneers won the next two meetings 11-9. It was a turnaround from last year, when East Grand Rapids split its regular season meetings with Grand Rapids Catholic Central and then lost 14-13 in double overtime in the state tournament.
Axtell said he wanted to challenge his team so they wouldn't be intimidated in the tournament.
"Last year I thought we got into our regional semifinal with Catholic Central and got into a dogfight," Axtell said. "We came out on short end so I decided to get those games early in season this year."
That strategy would pay off when they met in the Regional Final this year. Grand Rapids Catholic Central led 5-4 at halftime, but East Grand Rapids was unfazed and won the second half 7-4.
"When we were struggling, they'd say, 'We're a second half team. We'll be fine,'" Axtell said. "And they were."
With only two seniors on the roster, Axtell knows expectations will be high for 2013. He hasn't shied away from comparisons to the Okemos teams that won 64 straight games and back-to-back state titles in 2009-10. But he knows the success East Grand Rapids had this year will put a target on its backs next spring.
"I'm really proud of how girls played this year," he said. "With the record we had a lot of teams are going to be gunning for us. It's a tough situation to be in but also a good situation."
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