“You can only look at it as being the most incredible thing in the world.”
McDonogh goalie Julia Cooper fought off tears to say that when asked to reflect — way too soon — on the Eagles’ national-record girls lacrosse winning streak just minutes after it ended at 198 games with a 10-8 loss to Notre Dame Prep on Friday night.
To someone who has covered high school sports in Baltimore for more than 30 years, it was the most incredible thing I’ve seen a program accomplish.
Just think about how hard it is to sustain the highest level of competition for one season, much less nine seasons. Every athlete has a bad day. Every team struggles at times.
The Eagles had bad days. The team struggled sometimes. Still for years, they found ways to win. They had a presence that defeated some opponents before they even stepped on the field.
But not all were intimidated. Some were determined to be the team to break the streak. Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference teams came at the Eagles with their best efforts time and again, only to fall short against a program that seemed built on nerves of steel.
On Friday night, the pressure seemed to finally get to the Eagles.
NDP’s confidence and energy certainly had something to do with that, but as the streak grew, so did the weight the Eagles carried. No one wanted to be on the team that couldn’t extend the streak.
This year’s team faced more pressure than any in the nine-year history of the streak. A lot of people wrote them off before the season started, especially after the departure of Chris Robinson, the coach who built the program.
Through uncertainty, youth and injury, this Eagles team overachieved under interim coach Nancy Love. They had the talent, but not the depth of years past. Offensive production was down. The scores were closer. Still they rolled on through 21 games.
They just couldn’t sustain it for 22. While no one begrudged NDP the victory — even the Eagles said they deserved it — there was still something sad about the end of the streak.
“We acknowledged that it’s OK to be sad,” Cooper said. “It’s a loss and it’s something that we can feel for 10 seconds but realize and look back on the fact that we’ve been part of a program that has done incredible things. … Our coaches were like, ‘We’ve been through it all since day one and we couldn’t have asked for a better run.’ We’d love to have the win tonight, but they’re proud of everything we’ve done and we’re proud of everything we’ve accomplished.”
While you felt bad for the Eagles, especially the seniors who wanted just one more win to complete a perfect career, you were happy for the Blazers who had come so close before and almost seemed destined to break the streak.
Notre Dame Prep lost 17 times to the Eagles during the streak before finally breaking through after falling in last year’s title game and in overtime two weeks ago.
Blazers senior Hannah Mardiney had talked to the media so many times after losses, always with a smile on her face, always gracious in defeat. On Friday night, she was bouncing with joy, talking about how excited she had been all day. She couldn’t concentrate in math class, she said.
With 21 seniors on the roster, Mardiney said, the Blazers felt the urgency. From the moment they took the field Friday, they played as if they knew they could win.
“The majority of the people on the field [Friday night] and the majority of people on our sidelines are seniors,” Mardiney said, “and I think it was really big for us. [Thursday night] we were talking and we were like, ‘Guys, this is our last ride tomorrow. We probably have the most talented team NDP’s every had.’ We knew this is our time to do it. We had to win this game.”
With all the pressure on McDonogh, the Blazers added even more with the first two goals and then never trailed. In the standing-room-only crowd at US Lacrosse headquarters in Sparks, they had more fans than McDonogh and thrived on the boisterous support.
As the Blazers celebrate their victory, the Eagles should celebrate their streak. It ended, but 198 games in a row is one of the most remarkable accomplishments in all of Baltimore sports – high school, college or professional. That’s 95 games more than the previous winning streak set by Loch Raven and tied by Mount Hebron.
This year’s team didn’t let anyone down. These girls ran the streak to 20 additional games against greater odds than any previous team faced.
A couple of years ago, Megan Whittle, who contributed to 80 of those wins and is now a Tewaaraton Award finalist at Maryland, said no former player would ever place blame when the streak ended.
“Sometimes I wish I could go back to the McDonogh girls and say, ‘It’s OK. It’s not the end of the world and it will be OK if you lose.’ Life goes on. The sun will come up and the world will go on,” Whittle said.
The loss will sting for a while, but the streak will live on forever for the Eagles who played in it and for those of us fortunate enough to have witnessed it. We might never see anything like it again.