Lady Tigers head to final four this Friday
Last year was supposed to be the year for the Cleveland Heights Tigers Girls Lacrosse Team. Ahead of eventual state champion Medina, with five minutes to go in the district final in May 2011, the Tigers lost and the season ended. Eight seniors graduated, and two went on to NCAA Division 1 programs.
As the 2012 season began it was hard to know how the Tigers would do. Yes, they had Terry Saylor, the top coach in Ohio girl’s lacrosse. Saylor has coached the Cleveland Heights team since 1994. The Tigers won a state championship in 2006, and he had coached many a high school All-American team.
Yes, they had senior co-captain Meg Lentz, who was considered the best player in the Midwest, and has committed to playing next year for Stanford University. Yes, they had two more talented senior co-captains, Ellie Austin and Margeaux Apple, who had played varsity for four years. Yes, they had outstanding juniors Kyra Schoonover (committed to Marquette University) and Isabel Collins. Junior Kelly Dawson showed promise. Yes, there were a couple of sophomores who would fit well into the program.
But, a girl’s lacrosse team has 11 field players and a goalie. The Heights Tigers didn't have many experienced players, and the team would have a very short bench.
After losing four of the first six games against some of the strongest teams from Chicago and New York, plus a heartbreaking loss to Hudson, Ohio, on April 16, it didn't look like 2012 would be a championship year. In fact, Meg Lentz admitted her fear that this could be the first year that Heights "had a losing record" since the 1990s.
Then, something amazing happened. Heights defeated perennial power Hathaway Brown 11-10, drew against state rival Sycamore 6-6, and then upset state number one Upper Arlington 9-6. First-year goalie Maddi Kohr made the big save. Sophomore Meredith Mattia stepped up her game. Sophomore Kayla Saunders, a soccer star who had never played lacrosse before, started showing off her athleticism. Juniors Allie Sharon, Prisca Ngolo and Sara Friedberg filled their roles, and freshman Sarah Lentz grew in confidence. Emily Lang got some playing time off the bench. Gabby Arnold, the presumed starting goalie who suffered a serious concussion last year, returned between the pipes for important back up support.
The Tigers finished the year 9-2, and when they defeated Hudson in overtime in the district finals, 8-7, they found themselves in the state final four. On Friday evening, June 1, the Lady Tigers will play a rematch against Upper Arlington in the Division I semifinal. The game is scheduled to start at 7:15 p.m. If they can pull off another upset, they will then play the winner of the Medina vs. Sycamore game for the championship on Saturday, June 2, at 3:30 p.m.
Objective observers would rate Heights as the underdog; but when the Tigers won the state crown in 2006, the championship game was played at Mason High School, northeast of Cincinnati. Mason hosts this year's championship game, too.
Who knows? What a difference a year makes.
There will be having a pep rally and send-off for the Heights Girls Lacrosse Team at 3:20 p.m. on Thursday, May 31, in the high school auditorium. The rally will last about 15 minutes, and the school is encouraging parents and fans to attend to show their support.
John Lentz is the proud parent of two Cleveland Heights Tigers Girls Lacrosse Team members.