Pirates fall to Mariemont in state lacrosse final

The Rocky River girls lacrosse team’s season of exceeded-expectations ended with a loss in the Division II state final on June 5.

Playing the first of four championship games decided at the venerable Selby Stadium on Ohio Wesleyan University’s campus in Delaware, the Pirates (15-7) briefly held a 4-3 lead in the first half before Cincinnati Mariemont found a gear they couldn’t match. The Warriors (19-3) went on to win convincingly, 16-5, earning their second state title in three seasons.

For the Pirates’ 13 seniors, the road to the final started in the dead of winter, just before 5 a.m. practices got underway, when they put pen to paper.

“We wrote letters to ourselves on the first day of our senior season and we all made goals for lacrosse,” said co-captain Allie Kysela. “In parentheses, next to every goal was ‘if we even get a season.’ We’re all just excited we got to play.”

It wasn’t just the written word or the tough practices that began in February. Each position group – attackers, midfielders, defenders and goalies – were given a different colored band to wear during competition as a way to hype each other up.

When the Pirates took the field at Selby Stadium, they each wore headbands that made up the entire rainbow – coaching staff included. After 15 wins and a mix of ups and downs, they wanted to show their unity, which had started to fortify during those early-morning workouts.

A year after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled an entire season, the Pirates – who only had three players on the 2021 roster that had played in a varsity game – had truly built something from nothing.

“The captains decided for the playoffs, let’s put the bands together to show we’re a team,” Pirates coach Colleen Hile said. “And that mentality really changed our whole run...The seniors taught everyone how to become the best team possible. That made this run all the more meaningful. We didn’t know where we were going to be in February when we started.”

For the Warriors, the win fit the profile for the No. 1-ranked team in the state in Division II, according to the website www.laxnumbers.com. After Olivia Konopka’s free position goal with 6:51 left in the first half gave the Pirates the brief lead in a tight matchup, the Warriors started winning draws and applied waves of pressure to the Pirate defense. They scored seven straight goals in the last four minutes to take a 10-5 halftime lead. Grace Harte’s score with 3.7 seconds left stopped the run, but not the momentum.

“The draw can be so powerful and it can bring so much momentum when you’re constantly coming back to your defensive end of the field,” Hile said. “I think in those last six minutes of the half, that’s what they had, was the draw. Constantly getting put back on defense was hard.

Warriors senior Sophie Toman was the one winning those faceoffs, and also finished with two goals. Marley Megowen led both teams with five goals, and Marah Campbell added four as the Warriors outscored the Pirates 6-1 in the second half.

There was a 15-minute stoppage in play in the second half as a swarm of bees surrounded the Mariemont goal and netminder Olivia Simpson. Warriors coach Kevin Ferry, members of the OWU stadium staff and even a City of Delaware fireman used towels, a can of bug spray and, eventually, a hose to get the bees off the field.

Konopka netted a hat trick in the first half and finished with a team-high four goals for the Pirates. Iris Polly also found the back of the net. Junior goalie Hannah Burgess made seven saves.

The loss, while lopsided, wasn’t going to dampen what had been one of the best weeks in program history. To reach Selby Stadium for the first time since the Ohio High School Athletic Association began sanctioning the state tournament in 2017, the Pirates first had to knock off Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown in the state semifinal at Strongsville High School on June 2. They achieved that feat in come-from-behind-fashion, erasing a two-goal deficit in the final 10 minutes to win, 7-6, thanks to Polly’s go-ahead goal with 1:27 left.

Harte, a senior who scored three goals in that game, was amazed by the team’s results.

“We started off (the season) and didn’t think we’d win one game, so this is awesome,” she said. “We’ve had our bumps in the road, for sure. But having friendships and actually being a family, that’s what it’s all about. We’ve gone from a group of girls who’ve never played together before to being a solid team at the end of the year.”

The biggest bump in the road the team faced came at the end of the regular season in the form of an untimely losing streak. The Pirates dropped their last four games, limping into the tournament as a No. 1 seed that seemed vulnerable.

Able to play the entirety of the Region 5 bracket on their home field, they narrowed their focus and only worried about each game as it happened. The results were four straight wins to win the region, then the dramatic victory in the state semifinal.

“Our overall message this season was to play as many games as we could and that’s exactly what we did,” senior defender Sarah Farling said. “We made it to the last game we could’ve and we pushed through the whole time, so I’m proud of our team.”

As the final seconds ticked off the game clock, the student section, clad in maroon and white, chanted “we still love you” and “Lady Pirates”. They received a standing ovation from their side of the stands when they were presented with the Division II runner-up trophy.

“They had a clap-out at school where the whole school was there cheering them on,” Hile said. “The kids that were here in the student section were phenomenal. The parents did a clap-out when we got on the bus. The parents were at the hotel. All the positivity that’s come from everyone surrounding us has been so meaningful and it’s made it the most memorable experience.”

Before retiring to the locker room and heading home, the message was clear for the 19 players who will return next season. It may even be something worth writing down next year as snow is blanketing Northeast Ohio.

“We’ll be back,” Hile said. “We’ve got something to work towards now. We have something to strive towards.”

Contact this reporter at sports@westlifenews.com or 440-871-5797.

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