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‘Aura of invincibility has been with them for 11 years’: After McDonogh’s fall, IAAM A Conference lacrosse no longer a one-team show

St. Paul's Frannie Hahn, a sophomore, gets a big hug after her three goals helped St. Paul's beat No. 1-ranked McDonogh, 16-9, handing the Eagles their first regular-season loss since 2009. April 21, 2021 p6
St. Paul's Frannie Hahn, a sophomore, gets a big hug after her three goals helped St. Paul's beat No. 1-ranked McDonogh, 16-9, handing the Eagles their first regular-season loss since 2009. April 21, 2021 p6 (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun)

Two years after nearly taking home an Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland lacrosse title, the St. Paul’s School for Girls showed conclusively Wednesday that, at least for the time being, the A Conference no longer belongs to a single team.

With a little more than a week left in the regular season, the Gators’ 16-9 win over longtime front-runner McDonogh was just the latest sign that the upcoming conference tournament may be a wide-open affair, with St. Paul’s, McDonogh and Notre Dame Prep all prime contenders for a championship, and a handful of other teams capable of upsets.

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“I think it’s been building for a while. It didn’t just happen this year,” Gators coach Mary Gagnon said. “I coach club and I see the talent, so I know that it’s very competitive — girls all over just always getting better. McDonogh set the standard … but this has been coming for a while.”

While McDonogh (10-1, 9-1 IAAM A Conference), the top-ranked team in the Nike/US Lacrosse National Girls Top 25, has won 10 of the past 11 A Conference titles, teams like national No. 9 St. Paul’s (8-0, 8-0), No. 18 Notre Dame Prep (6-0, 6-0), Bryn Mawr (7-2, 7-2) and Glenelg Country (6-2, 6-2) have been playing catch-up, building their programs to the point where they can make sustained runs.

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Now, with McDonogh’s first loss in the regular season since 2009 and first regular-season league loss since 2008, some of the teams feel an increased sense of optimism that it might be their turn to shine.

“You see other teams [beat McDonogh], then you’re walking on the field and not feeling like you’re already defeated,” Notre Dame Prep coach Mac Ford said. “The aura of invincibility has been with them for 11 years. You walk on the field and you’re already at a disadvantage because you’re playing McDonogh. Mentally, girls are thinking, ‘How are we going to beat this team?’ So it’s sort of like breaking the 4-minute mile. When that mindset was done, then you had a ton of people do it.”

That’s by no means to say that McDonogh can’t still win it, Ford said, particularly when the Eagles have two of the three highest-rated juniors in the nation, according to Inside Lacrosse, in midfielder Kori Edmondson (Maryland) and attack Caroline Godine (North Carolina), in addition to 13 other Division I signees.

“They’re still a terrific team with very, very good players. They might be a little young this year, but they still have two of the top three players in their class … so they’re going to be a tough out,” Ford said, “Just because they lost one [game], they might’ve just had a bad day.”

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McDonogh's Dakota Uy, right, knocks the ball out of the stick of St. Paul's Josie Hahn during the Gators' 16-9 win over the No. 1 Eagles on Wednesday. McDonogh entered the day having won 229 of its past 230 games. April 21, 2021 p12
McDonogh's Dakota Uy, right, knocks the ball out of the stick of St. Paul's Josie Hahn during the Gators' 16-9 win over the No. 1 Eagles on Wednesday. McDonogh entered the day having won 229 of its past 230 games. April 21, 2021 p12 (Amy Davis)

The underclassmen-dominated Eagles are eager to prove that was the case. Coach Taylor Cummings said she relishes the opportunity to challenge her inexperienced squad, which has been hindered by slow starts in a handful of games this season.

“I think this is a great learning opportunity,” Cummings said following the loss, in which her team found itself down 10-0 in the first half. “It’s a very young team. This was the first really big game that we knew coming into it was going to be a big game. I think we got caught on our heels a little bit, and once we settled in I thought our second half was a much better half of lacrosse and more on-brand for how we play.”

Each of the top contenders will face significant challenges in the final week, with McDonogh facing Glenelg Country on Friday and Notre Dame Prep next Wednesday, and St. Paul’s facing Bryn Mawr on Saturday and Notre Dame Prep next Friday. Those games will go a long way in determining seeding for next month’s tournament, which will culminate with the A Conference final May 15 at US Lacrosse headquarters in Sparks.

“That’s why this is the best league you can play in in the country, because every game is meaningful and difficult,” Gagnon said. “You can’t take anyone for granted.”

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