Nike/US Lacrosse South Girls' Season Rewind
by Laurel Pfahler | LaxMagazine.com
1. Milton (Ga.), 18-3-1
2. Vero Beach (Fla.), 20-4
3. St. John's (Texas), 21-2
4. Barron Collier (Fla.), 19-4
5. Lassiter (Ga.), 15-5-1
6. Hutchison School (Tenn.), 23-2
7. Benjamin (Fla.): 20-2
8. Ursuline (Texas), 14-2
9. East Chapel Hill (N.C.), 16-2
10. Walton (Ga.), 17-2-2
South Player of the Year
Annie Ruland, Milton (Ga.)
Each of Milton's previous seven state championship seasons was special, but the Eagles never experienced a year like this one.
The 2013 squad became one of the best in South Region lacrosse history, and Ruland, a senior attacker, was at the heart of it all.
A day after playing national No. 1 McDonogh (Md.) as close as anyone this year, the Eagles beat South Region rival Vero Beach (Fla.) for the first time ever in six meetings. Ruland gave Milton its first lead of the second half with 6:03 left, and the Eagles never trailed after that. She finished the game with three goals, four assists and six draw controls, and Milton won 15 of the draws she took.
The two-time All-American produced similarly impressive results in other big games that helped Milton finish No. 1 in the South and in the Top 10 in the Nike/US Lacrosse National Top 25 for the first time in program history. While also helping the Eagles earn notable wins over Archbishop Carroll (Pa.) and South Region-ranked Hutchison (Tenn.), Ruland racked up a team-high 77 goals (on 60 percent shooting) and 54 assists. With her help Milton also tied No. 21 Good Counsel (Md.) — a game in which she chipped in five goals, two assists and three draw controls.
Ruland, who signed to play at the University of Southern California, was one of 44 seniors selected to play in the 2013 Under Armour All-America Lacrosse Classic, and was one of ESPN High School's Top 50 juniors to watch last year. Milton's leader in goals and assists the past two years, she was a part of the first class of Eagles to win four state titles.
St. John's (Texas) has won state, conference and city titles before, but never have the Mavericks achieved all three in one year.
There was always a slip-up in at least one of those efforts.
But that's what made this year so special for St. John's coach Angie Kensinger, who was in her 17th season. The Mavericks finished 21-2 but went unbeaten against Texas competition for the first time, claiming the Southwestern Preparatory Conference and Houston city titles en route to their third consecutive state championship.
"At the beginning of the year, the seniors told the rest of the team, 'It doesn't matter your age, we want you to contribute,'" said Kensinger, whose roster included 10 seniors. "The seniors being so selfless enabled the sophomores and freshmen to step up, and that's why we played so well together. It didn't matter where the scoring came from or who got the credit, it was a complete team effort."
Seniors Lauren Resnick (80 goals), Amanda Leavell (60 goals, 44 draw controls, 34 assists, 31 caused turnovers) and Robby Rybarczyk (53 draw controls, 33 goals) proved to be the leaders, but Leavell was dominant in the postseason. The Princeton signee had five draw controls, four caused turnovers, four goals and three assists in the state championship and contributed 29 goals and 13 assists over seven postseason games.
Kensinger said the team grew by leaps and bounds since the beginning of the year.
St. John's was thrown into the fire right away and suffered their two losses in the first two weeks of play. With the season beginning a week later than previous years, the Mavericks had just five practices before their spring break trip to California, where they went 2-2 over a three-day span with losses to California state finalists Carondelet and Amador Valley.
After that, the Mavericks played just three more games decided by four goals or less, and after beating Hockaday (Texas) for the SPC title, they outscored their two final four opponents 35-13.
"Our spring break trip was huge for us," Kensinger said. "Going to California, we got a chance to look at some of their top teams, and it exposed our weaknesses early in the season. It was a crash course for our game, and we got a chance to see some really good players and teams we normally don't get to play."
St. John's is one of the few teams in Texas to regularly schedule games against out-of-state competition, and it's a big part of why the Mavericks have remained one of the top teams in the South.
Kensinger first took the Mavericks out of Texas in 1999 to a tournament in San Diego, and since 2004, they have gone on a spring break trip for games every year, including matchups against Vero Beach (Fla.) and Milton (Ga.). Mid-Atlantic teams like St. Stephen's & St. Agnes (Va.) also have come to Houston for games against the Mavericks, and Kensinger hopes to work in more teams from traditional lacrosse areas into the schedule in the future.
"For us, playing out-of-state competition is a huge difference-maker," Kensinger said. "We worry less about wins and losses and just try to play the best competition we play. You learn so much from playing teams in other areas and regions, and it's so much fun for our girls."
Note: The Nike/US Lacrosse Regional rankings will not necessarily reflect the same order as the Nike/US Lacrosse National Top 25 poll, which is voted on by US Lacrosse area representatives and Lacrosse Magazine contributors. LM contributors compile the regional rankings.
Check back to LaxMagazine.com every other Tuesday throughout the high school season for updates to the Nike/US Lacrosse Regional Girls' Top 10 rankings and the Nike/US Lacrosse National Girls' Top 25. This concludes the season-long look at the girls' South region.