When Liberty girls lacrosse coach Tom Brandel got the idea to have an elite public school tournament, he decided to invite all four of last year’s state champions. Three of the four accepted the invitation, but he still had one open slot. He wanted a team that he knew would be competitive, so he invited his neighboring school, Century, to fill the void.
The Knights proved to be a wise choice.
Seventh-ranked Century beat No. 3 Broadneck in the semifinals, 9-7, then Liberty in the championship, 11-9, to win Saturday’s 4 Causes 4 Champions tournament title at Troy Park in Elkridge.
The tournament featured defending Class 1A state champion Liberty, Class 2A state champion Queen Anne’s, Class 4A state champion Broadneck and Carroll County champion Century. Each team adopted one of four causes, representing suicide prevention, mental health awareness, down syndrome awareness and Happy Crafts.
“I wanted to teach the girls life skills,” Brandel said. “There are some things that are bigger than the game of lacrosse. At the same time, I wanted four competitive teams. We may not win every game, but at least everyone will get some quality competition and get better.”
The Knights (8-0) were paced by senior attacker Lauren Hackett, who scored five goals in the championship game.
Century looked on its way to a romp in the title game, but Liberty (6-3) proved to be a tough opponent. The Knights rushed out to a 4-0 lead, but Liberty gradually clawed back. The Lions finally got on the board on a free-position goal with 11:55 left in the first half. After Century used a Hackett goal to run the margin to 5-1 with 9:54 left, the Knights turned into their own worst enemy.
Liberty’s Emily Spampinato scored to cut the margin to 5-2 with 7:12 left in the half. After that, the Knights had an errant clearing attempt that ended up in the back of their own net for an own goal to cut the margin to 5-3 with 6:54 left. Just over a minute later, Riley Matthiesen scored on a wrap-around shot from behind the goal to cut the lead to 5-4 with 5:52 left.
The Knights responded quickly. Hackett used a nifty bounce shot to beat Liberty goalie Emily Pond less than a minute later, and freshman attacker Natalie Opatovsky scored with 3:30 left in the half to push the lead to 7-4.
After Century got goals from Caroline Little and Jasmine Stanton to take a 9-4 lead at the break, Liberty came back with a vengeance in the second half. Goals by Spampinato, Val Thompson and Ally Pond cut the deficit to 7-5 with 20:26 remaining. Unfortunately, the Lions could get no closer.
“It feels great to come in here and win this,” Stanton said. “We played up to the level of our competition today. Liberty is a great team, and they gave us a great game. It got a little scary, but we stepped up in the end and grew as a team.”
Little said winning the tournament is a big accomplishment for the Knights.
“We looked at the lineup, and it said state champion, state champion, state champion, and us, Carroll County champions. It’s great that we could come in with that level of competition and play with the intensity we did and win this tournament,” she said. “It puts us in a great place.”
Although she was happy with the result, Century coach Becky Groves said the Knights are not where they need to be yet.
“We made a lot of mistakes,” Groves said. “The first game was like a Division I college game with the intensity. I think we got a little tired in the second game, and we came out a little flat [in the second half]. Our offense needs a little work. Still, I think it says a lot that we can compete with teams of this caliber. We just need to keep getting better.”
In the first semifinal, Liberty defeated Queen Anne’s, 14-11.
4 Causes 4 Champions
(at Troy Park, Elkridge)
Century 11, Liberty 9
Goals: C – L. Hackett 5, Little 2, Stanton 2, Fleishell, Opatovsky; L – Spampinato 3, Thompson 2, Matthiesen 2, A. Pond, (Own goal). Assists: C - Little; L – Matthiesen, A. Pond. Saves: C – Balchune 3, Mullinix 2; L – E. Pond 5, Feaga 2. Halftime: C, 9-4.