Despite breezing by with a 10-goal margin in the teams' last meeting, Downingtown East coach Caitlin Barbakoff still expects her Cougars to be nervous when they take the field Saturday against Garnet Valley for the PIAA girls' lacrosse state title.
The teams will play at 1 p.m. at HersheyPark Stadium after playing for the District 1 title two weeks ago.
Barbakoff said she is trying to keep preparations for Saturday's game as normal as possible. The Cougars had one of their strongest performances of the season in their 22-12 victory over Garnet Valley, and the coach said the girls feel the pressure of having to match that. They've worked to address their weaknesses from their 9-8, semifinal win over Great Valley and are looking to match the strengths of Garnet Valley.
"We don't want to let bad habits creep in," Barbakoff said. "We know we need to bring our 'A' game."
The Cougars defense is supported by star goalie Allie Murray, a Notre Dame recruit. The senior is allowing fewer than eight goals a game through both the state and district tournaments. Earlier this season, Murray was named to represent the United States in the Under-19 World Cup in Germany.
Murray plays an unorthodox style in net, as she is quick to the ground and can often resemble a boys' goalie. Barbakoff said she hasn't seen a goalie in recent memory with the athleticism that Murray has, and she noted Murray's ability to make a split while turning away a shot.
The team also relies on Murray's leadership. She has stayed focused throughout the playoffs and is constantly working with assistant coaches on adjusting game plans.
"She's been phenomenal," Barbakoff said. "She's done so well using her intelligence."
After stumbling in the district final, the Jaguars are on a roll in the state tournament, having outscored opponents by an average of 8.3 goals. In the quarterfinals, they knocked off District 12 powerhouse Archbishop Carroll, 15-8, before overpowering Penn Manor, 16-6.
With just one senior in the starting lineup, the Jaguars have relied on junior attack Halley Barnes.
The Rutgers recruit is scoring almost six goals per game in the state playoffs, including a tournament-high seven in the semifinal win over Penn Manor.
The Jaguars (23-3) are led by second-year coach Kate Henwood, a 2001 graduate of the school and former assistant coach at Villanova. A standout player at La Salle University, Henwood was named all-Atlantic Ten and ranks second all-time in goals, assists, and points for the Explorers.
Barbakoff has led the Cougars to a 25-1 record and their first district title. Their lone loss came in April at home against Radnor and triggered 23 straight wins.
In last season's state tournament, the Cougars fell in the second round to eventual champion Radnor. Garnet Valley was not able to secure a state-playoff berth.