The state championship turning point for Manchester Valley’s No. 6 girls lacrosse team came early in the second half Thursday night.
With Middletown leading the undefeated Mavericks by three goals, a great save from goalie Zoe Cassell kept the lead from ballooning to four and started the momentum swing. Just over a minute later, the Knights collected their fourth and fifth yellow cards, forcing them to play two players short for the rest of the Class 2A final at Stevenson University.
The Mavericks seized all the energy, scoring the final 11 goals for a 15-7 victory to cap a 19-0 season with their first state title since 2016.
Sophomore midfielder Emma Penczek scored six of the final 11 goals and finished with nine, tying the state record for goals in a state final set by Century’s Katie Schwarzmann in 2009.
Coach Shelly Brezicki’s Mavericks, ranked No. 22 in the Nike/USA Lacrosse High School Girls National Top 25, won their fourth state championship and finished the season as the only undefeated public school team in Maryland.
“It’s an amazing accomplishment to have,” Penczek said. “Every team wants to set their goal to be undefeated and … we didn’t focus on that towards the beginning of the season, middle of the season, but now, we can look back at it and say, ‘Wow, that was a hard season and we fought through it all together.’”
The Carroll County champions went into the title game allowing just 4.5 goals per game. They beat the Knights 15-4 on March 28, but the Knights (15-3) scored four goals in less than six minutes early in Thursday’s first half.
Speedy Penczek scored the first two goals of the game, but after second-seeded Middletown answered with four straight, the top seed didn’t lead again until 16:40 remained in the game.
The Knights, who were seeking their first state title, forced five turnovers early in the half and senior goalie Helen Bartman made four of her seven saves in the half. The attack stayed patient and slowed the pace of the game throughout the half although coach Tyler White said that was just a byproduct of their strategy.
“We knew possession was going to be key,” he said, “and we felt really good about what we were doing. We were getting the looks we wanted and the flow was happening, so I wouldn’t say we slowed it down on purpose. That was just part of the game plan to maintain control.”
Ellery Bowman’s fourth goal of the game, on a free position two and a half minutes into the second half, gave the Knights a 7-4 lead. Cassell then snared a free-position shot to hold the lead at three. Within a minute and a half, the Knights were two players down for the rest of the game.
After Bowman’s goal, Mavericks senior midfielder Casey Meredith told Cassell not to be discouraged and the junior bounced back with her key save.
“It’s one save,” Meredith told her. “You could go 1-for-10, but that one save could be the game changer, could be the one save we needed in the game and I think that was the one save. Then she took it one save at a time and she had a couple more after that.”
With the boost from the save and the six-on-four advantage from the cards, Penczek cut the lead to two and she and Haylee Bittinger each won two of the next four draws. Penczek added another goal, before Meredith scored twice for an 8-7 lead with 16:40 left. Sarah Brisson’s goal on a feed from Natalie Burmeister gave the Mavericks five goals in less than four minutes.
“No matter what happens — man-up, man-down — we’re still going to play hard,” Penczek said. “We’re not going to go easy on them, we’re not going to slow down. We’re going to play our pace and that’s what we ended up doing, capitalizing on that.”
While Penczek finished the season with 93 goals and has 230 career points in just two seasons, the Mavericks had six other players score 24 or more goals — Meredith, Bittinger, Brisson, Erin Herrold, Natalie Burmeister and Addison Meyers. Against the Knights, Meredith scored three goals, Brisson added two and Herrold, one. Burmeister had two assists.
Defensively, the Mavericks unit of Luetta Seipp, Aubrey Chopper, Maya Trump and Cassell held all but one opponent to single digits.
Brezicki also guided the Mavericks to an unbeaten season in 2015, and she said it is tough to finish with a perfect record. Every opponent wants to spoil it.
“You can’t have a bad day as a team,” she said. “Individually, we learned, we can have a bad day because someone’s going to pick it up, but as a team, you couldn’t have a bad day and win. I think that’s something that is important for them to learn in life, that you never have to do anything alone. We row the boat together and someone’s always there to be your lifesaver.”
CLASS 2A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
at Stevenson University
NO. 6 MANCHESTER VALLEY 15, MIDDLETOWN 7
MIDDLETOWN 6 1 — 7
MAN VALLEY 4 11 — 15
GOALS: M—Ellery Bowman 4, Kate Stevenson, Kate Stamper, Vera Winchester Dodman; MV—Emma Penczek 9, Casey Meredith 3, Sarah Brisson 2, Erin Herrold.
ASSISTS: M—Kate Stamper, Mary Grace Bizzell; MV—Natalie Burmeister 2.
SAVES: M—Helen Bartman 7; MV—Zoe Cassell 4.