Nike/LM HS Midwest Report: Excellence Takes Work
In life, mediocrity is always an option. Excellence takes work and commitment.
The Guerin Catholic (Ind.) girls' lacrosse team was great once, going 15-3 in 2012. But, when those seniors that built the burgeoning program left, the Golden Eagles settled for mediocrity, according to coach Brian Billand.
His Eagles went 10-9 in 2013, and at the end of last year's sub-.500 campaign, Billand talked with his 11 rising seniors about what kind of team they wanted to be in 2015. He's already seeing a difference early this season with a 5-1 start.
"They said that last year they didn't feel like really a cohesive unit," Billand said, noting this is the most seniors he has ever had. "I said, 'This is your team this year. ... We're going to go how you want to take it.'"
Potential whispered through the program. Billand coached many of the current seniors in middle school. He had told them in eighth grade, as they waited for their parents to pick them up, that they could be a special team one day -- a team far better than the 11-13 mark the Golden Eagles put up last year.
NIKE/LM MIDWEST GIRLS' TOP 10
1. Loyola Academy (Ill.), 1-0
Unranked Guerin Catholic (Ind.) picked up a 10-9 victory at Zionsville (Ind.) to improve to 5-1 and remains a team to watch. It marked a dramatic improvement from last year, when Zionsville won by six at Guerin Catholic. ... New Trier (Ill.) started its season with a pair of impressive blowouts, giving up a combined six goals to Oak Park-River Forest (Ill.) and Evanston Township (Ill.) ... Rockford (Mich.) won the rematch of last year's state title game by nearly the same margin, beating Ann Arbor Pioneer 15-6. The Rams flashed a balanced attack, with four different players recording hat tricks. Alex Vander Molen and Grace Gunneson each notched four goals, while Jess Byer and Brooklyn Neuman each had three.
After scoring 23 goals in their season opener, the Evanston Township (Ill.) Wildkits combined for just seven in lopsided losses to New Trier (Ill.) and Naperville North (Ill.). Nearby Glenbrook North (Ill.) finds itself in similar straits after a lopsided loss to its rival, Glenbrook South, and a tight loss to Lyons Township (Ill.). It won't get any easier for the Spartans with a trip to New Trier (Ill.) before the end of March.
This past offseason, they pursued that potential with a different approach.
In previous offseasons, a motley crew of nine to 10 girls would show up for conditioning and stick work twice a week. This offseason, 30-plus girls, essentially everyone who could, showed up three to five days a week. The team even rented a new indoor space.
The work ethic carried into spring break, when the girls sent Billand workout pictures via e-mail and Twitter just to show they were not slacking off.
"The girls are just all really buying into it this year," Billand said. "I think they're finally starting to see that they're a pretty good team. It's a whole different feeling now. Practices are a lot sharper. They're more focused. The girls are challenging each other."
It has made all the difference.
The Golden Eagles, who started 1-6 last season, have won their last four games after splitting their first two. That's partially due to an easier schedule, but still, they turned a 16-4 defeat to Park Tudor (Ind.) last season into a triple-overtime loss this year. Guerin Catholic also beat Zionsville (Ind.), which won last year's matchup by six.
Lacrosse seasons aren't made in March, of course. There will be many more tests, starting with Brebeuf Jesuit (Ind.) on April 1 and continuing with in-state opponents Bishop Chatard, Noblesville and Center Grove.
The Golden Eagles look ready, though. They seem to have a new leading scorer every night. On Tuesday at Zionesville, it was Sarah Baxter with four goals. Against Evansville North, it was Maggie Rochford with five. Against Warren Central, it was Maddie Hill, Alex Ross and Madeline Stanton coming up with hat tricks. Four players – Ross, Hill, Baxter and Rochford – have topped 10 goals this season.
"I think my top six scorers from last year all returned this year, so that helps," Billand said. "My middies, with Ross, Hill and Baxter, any given night, one of those girls will step up. On my attack, I have Stanton, she's a junior but she's pretty strong there, and I have Rochford, who's really strong. Any one of those five will step up any night for me."
And they have that confidence that can only come from results.
"Playing (Park Tudor) that tight, we felt really, really good about it," Billand said. "I'm sort of happy that happened early in the season because it gives my girls a lot more confidence coming into the meat of our season."
Midwest Girls' Player of the Week
Anna Santulli, Hinsdale Central (Ill.)
Santulli stood out as one of the top freshmen in the nation last year. She avoided any talk of a sophomore slump with a six-goal, three-assist performance in Hinsdale Central's season-opening 12-5 victory over Glenbrook South (Ill.). Santulli needed a mere 2:28 to record a hat trick, as the Red Devils took a 7-0 lead into halftime.
"I'm just really excited to be back playing with my team again," Santulli said. "... Our coaches were very surprised about how we played for this first game. They said they had never seen us play this well together for the first game."
Also notable: Alex Vander Molen, Rockford (Mich.); Grace Gunneson, Rockford (Mich.)
GAMES TO WATCH
Lake Forest (Ill.) at Lyons Township (Ill.), March 24
Fresh off a sub-.500 campaign, the Lions are 3-0 after a road win at Glenbrook North (Ill.). Lyons Township can prove itself as a true state contender with a win over Lake Forest, which has long been one of the top programs in the Land of Lincoln.
Zionsville (Ind.) at Brebeuf Jesuit (Ind.), March 24
Both of these teams need a victory – badly. The host Braves had a difficult five-game road trip, emerging with a single victory, while the visiting Eagles have struggled while giving up 47 goals in four games.
Mason (Ohio) at Kentucky Country Day (Ky.), March 28
The Megan Jones era starts in earnest at Mason, as the Comets take on a quality opponent in Kentucky Country Day (7-2). It's a tough draw given how many more games the Bearcats have played.
NIKE/LM MIDWEST BOYS' TOP 10
Photo: Kevin P. Tucker
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Ethan Walker, Culver Military (Ind.)
The junior sensation did everything he could to ward off an upset, notching four goals and an assist in Culver Military's 8-7 loss to Episcopal Academy (Pa.). Walker wasted no time posting a follow-up to his stellar sophomore season, with 10 of his team's 25 goals in two opening weekend wins.
Also notable: Ben Connelly (New Trier, Ill.), Will Rossi (New Trier, Ill.)
1. Culver Military (Ind.), 3-1
2. Upper Arlington (Ohio), 0-0
3. New Trier (Ill.), 1-0
4. Brother Rice (Mich.), 0-0
5. Dublin Jerome (Ohio), 0-0
6. Carmel (Ind.), 3-1
7. Loyola Academy (Ill.), 0-1
8. Eden Prairie (Minn.), 0-0
9. MICDS (Mo.), 2-0
10. Lake Forest (Ill.), 2-0
Welcome Carmel (Ind.) to the top 10. The Greyhounds lost, but competed well, in their first game against perennial power Culver Military (Ind.), then bounced back with three straight wins, including a sizable win over Zionsville (Ind.) and an overtime triumph over previously undefeated Louisville St. Xavier (Ky.). Keep an eye on 3-0 Brebeuf Jesuit (Ind.) after an impressive overtime win at Park Tudor (Ind.). The Braves have a tough April before them, with in-state trips to Carmel, Cathedral and Bishop Chatard.
Loyola Academy (Ill.) was in for a hard bargain, opening its season against a Calvert Hall (Md.) team already in full swing and hungry after an embarrassing 17-4 loss to Hill Academy (Canada). Still, the Ramblers surely hoped for better than the 18-0 trouncing they received. Fortunately for Loyola Academy, it should be on the opposite side of a few Land of Lincoln routs this week, as it faces winless St. Laurence (0-3), Fenwick (the Ramblers beat the Friars, 9-2, last year) and Brother Rice (the Ramblers beat the Crusaders, 20-2, in 2013).
GAMES TO WATCH
Eureka (Mo.) at St. Louis University Jesuit (Mo.), March 24
The visiting Wildcats jetted off to a hot start with wins over couple of decent Kentucky squads, while the host Junior Billikens took on three Tennessee powerhouses and were shellacked 45-13. So, which approach will pay off? Eureka won last year's contest, a stunning turnaround given St. Louis University High's prior dominance.
Cranbrook (Mich.) at Dublin Jerome (Ohio), March 25
It should be a great opener just outside Ohio's capital city. Dublin Jerome is fresh off a 17-5 season and an appearance in the Buckeye State's Division I championship game. Cranbrook ended 2014 by winning seven of 10, notching 16-plus goals in six of those games. The Cranes are the type of high-scoring juggernaut that could challenge the Celtics' airtight defense.
Lake Forest (Ill.) vs. St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.), March 27 at Gulliver Prep (Fla.)
The Scouts will be heavy underdogs – they barely edged Glenbrook South (Ill.) on Friday while the Raiders are 11-0 – but this matchup marks a rare chance to compare the Midwest and South side-by-side. Calling this a neutral site game wouldn't be fair – St. Thomas Aquinas sits a mere 40 miles from host Gulliver.
Boys' Midwest Notebook
The St. Louis University Jesuit (Mo.) boys have never started like this before, as they sit at 1-4. Last year, the Junior Billikens didn't reach four losses until May, as they won 13 of their first 16 games. This year has been a different story – brutally so. Just take Friday night's 21-1 defeat at the hands of McCallie School (Tenn.). For a proud program used to vying for state titles, that's a tough lump to take. If there's a bright spot to be had, the Billikens did compete far better against undefeated Christian Brothers (Tenn.), falling by only two goals.
Brother Rice (Mich.) grad Sergio Perkovic has played a key part in No. 2 Notre Dame's success, currently sitting in third on the team in goals with 12. He had a goal, two groundballs and two caused turnovers in a recent shutout of Ohio State and had three points in a conference victory over Virginia.
Girls' Midwest Notebook
In 2012, the Maine South (Ill.) girls won a single game all season – and fell by all sorts of embarrassing scores (20-0 to Oak Park-River Forest, 21-5 to Glenbrook North and 19-0 to New Trier to name a few). On April 10, 2013, the Hawks fell 22-0 to state power New Trier in the midst of a 0-4 start to the season. They've been improving ever since, including a winning record last year and an overtime victory over Oak Park-River Forest (Ill.) on Saturday, a far cry from that 20-goal shutout not long ago.
Hudson (Ohio) product Mallory Vehar has become an instrumental part of the Syracuse Orange defense. The senior ranks second on the team with 15 groundballs, including eight in her last three games. She also had a season-high three caused turnovers in a March 14 win over Harvard.
Midwest Region Report Archive
- March 17: Mason's Familiar Face on New Sideline
- February 25: Preseason Top 10 and Players of the Year
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