Mt. Hebron goalkeeper Georgia Ryan talks after the Vikings’ 9-5 regional title win on Wednesday, May 16. (Kyle Stackpole / BSMG)
Thirteen Mt. Hebron girls lacrosse players also play field hockey, so they know all too well what it’s like to travel to Chesapeake with a regional championship on the line.
The Vikings have battled the Cougars the past three seasons and come up short each time, falling 1-0 in 2015, 2-1 in overtime last year and 4-0 in November. Each season-ending defeat brought additional frustration.
Luckily, for many of those players, they did not have to wait until the fall for another chance to possibly knock off their postseason nemesis. That opportunity came Wednesday in the 3A East final, where Mt. Hebron’s multisport athletes would not let another regional title slip out of their grasps.
“We knew that it would be different this time,” goalkeeper Georgia Ryan said after the Vikings’ 9-5 playoff victory. “We knew that we were on our field, that they weren’t going to take that away from us because it was our home field. We were going to beat Chesapeake. No matter what sport it was, we were going to beat them.”
Ryan (10 saves) headlined a stellar defensive effort against a Chesapeake team that controlled the possession battle. Their performance allowed the Mt. Hebron to create quality scoring opportunities in transition, which led to high-percentage shots or free-position chances that Ellie Miller (five goals) had little trouble finishing.
Winners of 15 MPSSAA state championships, including 15 in 16 years from 1992 to 2007, Mt. Hebron has the luxury of being tabbed the most-decorated public school lacrosse program in Maryland. But entering this season, the Vikings had not won a championship since 2007 and last reached the finals in 2009. Their most recent regional title came in 2012.
However, after Wednesday night, this Mt. Hebron team will be looked at as the group that returned this program to the final four.
“It’s just super exciting,” Vikings coach Lindsay Menton said. “Our whole season, we talked about playing together, playing for one another and the people who played here before. And I think Hebron has such a rich tradition of making it to the regional final and what not, so to be back here, I could not be prouder of the girls and the work that they put in.”
Chesapeake, playing in its second straight regional final, dominated possession from the opening draw until about halfway through the first half, yet the Cougars found themselves down, 4-0, about nine minutes before intermission. They could not crack the Vikings’ defense, which hounded the ball and blocked cutters from getting open. On the off chance the Cougars received a decent look at net, Ryan turned their shot away.
After making her second save of the game in the opening minutes, Ryan launched a pass to a streaking Kaitlin Rice, who beat goalkeeper Eryn Beal to get Mt. Hebron on the scoreboard.
The Vikings then doubled their advantage with 12 minutes, 57 seconds left in the first half. They again took advantage of a fast-break opportunity that Miller converted off of an Erin Demek feed, causing Chesapeake to use a timeout.
But the break in the action could not cease the Vikings’ momentum, as the Cougars proceeded to allow two free-position goals that only enlarged their deficit.
“That was the best defense we’ve faced all year,” Cougars coach Sonny Jones said. “And we had a tough time figuring a way around it.”
Chesapeake eventually found its stride near the cage, as it tallied more goals in the opening portion of the second half than the entire first period, when it scored twice and trailed, 5-2, at the break. And by the 12:24 mark, the Cougars were within a goal thanks to a strike from Erin Shifflett, who joined attackers Carson Giordano and Kiersten Blanchard (two goals apiece) in the scoring column.
They could never net the equalizer, but Jones was pleased with his group’s fight after a slow start, and he remains confident the program is on the verge of snapping its region title drought that dates back to 1991.
Meanwhie, the breakthrough moment Wednesday night belonged to Mt. Hebron. It responded to Chesapeake’s scoring spurt with three unanswered goals — the last of which was an empty net conversion from Demek that grew the lead to 9-5 with two minutes to play.
After five seasons, the Vikings were headed back to states.
“It means everything to our team, it means everything to our coaches,” Ryan said. “We knew from get-go that we were going to states and nothing was going to stop us.”