For Liberty’s No. 8 girls lacrosse team, winning a third straight Class 1A state championship was much more emotional than winning the first two.
The Lions’ 14-10 victory over Fallston Tuesday provided a perfect sendoff for eight Liberty seniors and, more importantly, a perfect ending to a season dedicated to coach Tom Brandel’s wife Karyn, who was diagnosed with brain cancer a week after last year’s state final.
“I think we all know we’re playing for a bigger reason,” senior Riley Matthiesen said. “This season’s all been for her and I’m just really proud of us and how far we’ve come and being able to play for coach Brandel and his family.”
The top-seeded Lions (15-1) defeated third-seeded Fallston (15-4) all three years although the Cougars never made it easy.
Tuesday, at Stevenson University, Liberty rallied from two goals down early and led 11-7 after consecutive goals from Taylor Jendrek and Matthiesen with 11:26 left in the game. The Cougars won five of the last seven draws and nearly wiped that lead away.
Lions goalie Halley Feaga stopped two Cougars shots before Sydney Grafton and Alya Galloway cut the lead to two. Ally Schromsky tip-toed by the edge of the crease to finish a pass from Grafton that trimmed the lead to 11-10 with five minutes to go.
Matthiesen won the next draw and Brandel opted to attack rather than stall. Emily Spampinato scored the first of her three goals on a free position with 3:07 left.
“We were up by one, 10-11, at the end there. I really thought it would be good to get another goal,” the junior attacker said. “I trust Jenna (Evans) on our draw to get the ball back and that’s why I kept scoring.”
Instead, Fallston’s Ava Lambros won the next two draws, but the Lions’ defense of Izzy Lucas, Julia Lucas, Mariah Williams and Sydnie Bolger held. Feaga, who finished with seven saves, stopped a shot from Lambros, who scored 96 goals this spring. Spampinato then boosted the lead to 13-10.
The Lions forced a turnover to set up her last goal on a feed from Evans with 1:21 left. Izzy Lucas won the final draw.
Brandel said he also had confidence in his draw team and his defense, so he opted not to stall, because “it was a one-goal game with three or four minutes to go and that’s a lot of time to kill in girls lacrosse.”
The Cougars, who won the last of their two state titles in 2012, got the early lead with goals from Macy Budke and Grafton in a little over two minutes.
Jendrek scored twice to tie before Galloway caused her second turnover of the game and Schromsky converted for a 3-2 Cougars edge.
That lead lasted less than 45 seconds before Evans scored. Jendrek and Sophia Carpenetti boosted the lead to 5-3 and the Lions never again trailed.
Matthiesen along with Evans and Jendrek helped the Lions win 11 of 14 first-half draws. Jendrek scored three of the first five goals and finished with six as well as an assist.
“Draw a shooting space (foul) and you’re good to go. That’s kind of how you keep racking up those points,” said Jendrek, who scored four free-position goals.
Fallston coach Maddie Palko called the senior attacker “a game changer.”
She is a force and we had plans and you prep and you have ideas, but at the end of the day, she was able to get past us and that was a huge deal,” the fifth-year coach said.
Palko couldn’t say enough about her team’s effort.
“The girls played hard,” she said. “I told them today, it’s never really about your opponent as much as, I’ve been trying to tell them this year, ‘It’s about you.’ We have a saying, ‘Empty your bucket. Can you say you left everything out on the field,’ and I wholeheartedly believe that they did that.”
The Lions ended the season with a 13-game win streak as well as a 13-0 playoff record for the seniors.
They lost just one game — to No. 6 Manchester Valley, the only unbeaten team in the state tournament aiming for the 2A title Thursday — and defeated the other three 2022 state champions — Broadneck (4A) and Marriotts Ridge (3A) in Liberty’s 4 Causes 4 Champions Tournament, and Century (2A) in Carroll County league play.
“It’s an amazing feeling for us to finish a season like this,” Brandel said. “Sometimes I’ve heard in the media before, ‘They’re just a 1A,’ but we can compete with the top teams in the state and we’re building a program at Liberty that we’re super proud of…”
Brandel also thanked assistant coaches Kirsten and Todd Matthiesen, Riley’s parents, who helped him prepare the team and filled in when he needed to be with his family.
“I could not have done this this year without the other coaches and without the girls the way they are, taking care of my wife and trying to get to my kids’ games and so on. It takes a whole Liberty village to make this happen, so I’m super proud of our community.”
CLASS 1A STATE GIRLS LACROSSE CHAMPIONSHIP
(At Stevenson University)
NO. 8 LIBERTY 14, FALLSTON 10
Fallston 5 5 — 10
Liberty 8 5 — 14
GOALS: F—Ava Lambros 3, Sydney Grafton 2, Ally Schromsky 2, Ayla Galloway 2, Macy Budke; L—Taylor Jendrek 6, Emily Spampinato 3, Riley Matthiesen 2, Jenna Evans, Sophia Carpenetti.
ASSISTS: F—Sydney Grafton 4; L—Jenna Evans 2, Taylor Jendrek.
SAVES: F—Mary-Erin Roeder 2, Cameron Rohner 2; L—Halley Feaga 7.