Most of the early questions about McDonogh’s chances to keep its national-record girls lacrosse winning streak alive zeroed in on the defense.
With a handful of significant losses to graduation, could the No. 1 Eagles continue the well-synchronized, high-pressure defense that opponents have struggled with for years?
After six games, the answer is a resounding yes.
Monday, the Eagles won their 183rd straight game, easily handling their toughest challenge of the young season as they defeated a resurgent No. 9 Maryvale, 14-4, in an Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference game.
First-year coach Kim Dubansky has the Lions (3-2, 2-2) off to their best conference start since 2013. They had won only one conference game each of the previous two years and only four over the previous four years.
Still against McDonogh, winning half the draws, playing strong transition and holding many long possessions wasn’t nearly enough to put much past the defense anchored by goalie Julia Cooper.
Returning starters Ava Class and Hannah Rothe, together with new starters Sam Thacker and Abbie Wilhelm, have quickly developed into an stingy unit allowing just an average of 3.88 goals per game. Joined by midfielders Blair Pearre, Emma Schettig, Kayla Abernathy and Emma Tilson, they’ve helped the Eagles get off to a 6-0 start, 3-0 in the A Conference.
“I think our team chemistry is something that makes us so close and makes us so strong on defense because we can all lean on each other have each other’s backs,” said Thacker, who missed last season with a torn ACL.
Maryvale first-year coach Kim Dubansky, who played at McDonogh and was an assistant coach there for four years, wasn’t surprised by the Eagles’ defensive prowess despite the loss of most of their vocal leadership.
“That’s what they’ve been doing for years,” she said. “It’s kind of a machine. They replace the parts and have the same result. They really force the tempo so the other team can’t play their normal game, but you have to respond to that.”
To prepare her team for the Eagles, Dubansky practiced with nine defenders against seven attackers, but she said McDonogh’s pressure is difficult to replicate.
“They apply pressure unlike any other team and they’re used to it. … They pressure out really hard, and they’re ready to slide on adjacents and you can tell they practice it a lot.”
The Lions had two long possessions early in the game, but two saves from Cooper and a caused turnover by Thacker helped the Eagles to a 3-0 lead with 11:26 left in the half.
Maryvale cut it to 3-1 on Lizzie deGuzman’s goal a minute and a half later, but the Eagles responded with four straight goals to take a 7-1 lead when Julia Hoffmann fed Maddie Jenner with 2:49 to go in the half.
The game stayed as close as it did with a solid defensive effort from the Lions, especially goalie Sophie Shucosky, who finished with 13 saves.
Cooper finished with eight saves for the Eagles, and first-year coach Nancy Love said she helped set the defensive tone with her early stops.
“We wound up playing a lot of defense today,” Love said. “In some ways, it was great that we were able to see our defense tested. We’re still putting in players and playing a lot of different people.”
A lot of the groundwork for the new defense came during the Eagles’ spring break trip to Florida, where they learned a lot in three wins. They worked on developing chemistry and trust something that showed in their final win of the trip, 14-6 win over Novato (Calif.) and attacker Charlie Rudy, who scored 160 goals last season.
“We held her to two goals and I was like, ‘OK,’ ” Love said. “Ava played [on Rudy] and the nice thing about Ava is she’s a quiet, quiet player. She just does her job and I think that’s the nice thing about this team, everybody goes out there and does their job.”
Goals: MCD—Jenner 4, Marsh 2, Hoffman 2, Schettig, Abernathy, Tilson, Pearre, A.Robinson, Mix; MV—White 2, deGuzman, Antonopoulos. Assists: MCD—Hoffman 3, Marsh 2. MV—Antonopoulos, deGuzman, White. Saves: MCD—Cooper 8; MV—Schucosky 13. Half: MCD, 8-2.