Grace Bruce didn't hold back her emotions after Century captured its fifth state championship in nine seasons at Stevenson University on Wednesday.
Bruce, a starting freshman midfielder for the Knights, knew it would be the last time she would play a game with the current senior class. After losing a fair share of starters last season, the Knights were in need of fresh talent this year.
That talent, combined with a veteran senior class and a starting goalie who only had a year of lacrosse experience, worked together to beat Fallston 13-5 in the Class 2A-1A final. Bruce scored a game-high five goals and added an assist, while senior attacker Michaela Connolly notched three goals and three assists.
"I came into the season only knowing freshmen," Bruce said, between tears. "This is literally the best team I have ever been a part of, I've never been closer with any upperclassmen like I am with them."
The Knights picked up a 3-1 lead in the first six minutes with goals from Connolly and freshman attacker Christina Haspert. Fallston senior midfielder Isabelle Dallam found senior attacker Emily Solak for a second Cougars goal to trim the deficit 3-2.
Dallam was handed a yellow card with 15:38 left in the first half and Bruce scored her first tally of the game off the free position to put the Knights up 4-2. Connolly quickly slipped a pass to senior attacker Julia Hatmaker in the center to give the Knights a 6-3 lead with 4:16 to go.
Hannah Basso, the Knights' senior goalie, made eight saves — five of which were from free-position shots. One of those saves came in the final seconds of the first half when Basso stopped junior midfielder Sam DeCarlo.
"[Assistant coach Bryan Trumbo] does a lot of free-position shots with me so I'm used to being shot at anywhere," Basso said. "During the season, the really good shooters would come in really close to shoot. Fallston gave me more time to react and I took advantage of it."
The Knights scored four straight goals to open the second half, but Cougars senior attacker Zoe Hurlburt found senior defender Kelly Emge for a goal to bring them within seven of the Knights with 14:53 remaining. It would be the Cougars' lone goal of the second frame as Bruce and sophomore attacker Abby Bloomer netted the final two tallies to secure the Knights' victory.
Century held its opponents to just 19 goals in this postseason and coach Becky Groves said it's a testament to the Knights' defensive leadership — and it starts with senior Caroline Glenn.
"Caroline does a great job leading our defense," Groves said. "We had several defenses that we played this year and Fallston did a good job forcing us out of our normal backer defense. They spread the field very well and really moved the ball so it made us switch. Caroline does a great job leading the slides, she knows she's a backer in that defense and she really steps up in clearing ground balls.
"If you noticed, every time Hannah makes a save, Caroline makes the clear out because she has that leadership and can draw the double or reverse it if she needs to."
Fallston made its third appearance in the state championship game in four years and were last year's 2A-1A runners up to three-time state champion Manchester Valley. Coach Mike McTeague, in his 11th season with the Cougars, said he's proud of what his team has accomplished this season, despite the end result.
"It's a tough loss," McTeague said. "We were hoping to come in with a better performance, not to take any credit from them, they had excellent ball handling, they were very patient and had an active offense, we knew that coming in. We struggled with possession, we gave them too many possessions and didn't really take care of the ball as well as we were able to. We're proud of what we've accomplished this season with a great group of girls and wonderful seniors."
Groves, in her seventh year at the helm of the Knights, made her fifth appearance in a state championship game and garnered a third title win with the program.
"I think a lot of hard work and dedication paid off," Groves said. "Things haven't really gone our way this season and we started out with a lot of injuries — we lost eight starters with injuries combined. People have asked me, what are my thoughts? And I said it's going to depend on our hard work, dedication and how we jell as a team. I think we really, truly did that this year, we had great team chemistry."
Goals: F-Zoe Hurlburt, Sarah Dudick, Jesse Brennan, Emily Solak, Kelly Emge; C- Grace Bruce 5, Michaela Connolly 3, Christina Haspert 2, Julia Hatmaker 2, Abby Bloomer.
Assists: F-Sam DeCarlo 2, Dallam, Hurlburt; C-Connolly 3, Bruce.
Saves: F-7 (Lexi Roberts); C-8 (Hannah Basso).
Halftime: Century, 7-4.