HERSHEY, Pa. - Their preseason goals were modest, just win a pair of district playoff games and advance to the quarterfinals. After failing to win a district playoff game last season, their sights seemed fair, junior midfielder Halley Barnes said.
The Garnet Valley Jaguars far surpassed their modest expectations, and instead of ending their season exactly three weeks ago, they played on and on. They captured the PIAA state girls' lacrosse title Saturday, holding off a late rally by Downingtown East for a 17-14 victory at HersheyPark Stadium.
The teams had met in the District 1 final, and Downingtown East rolled to an easy 22-10 victory. Second-year Jaguars coach Kate Henwood said her team "absolutely" used that result as motivation for the state title.
Garnet Valley handed the Cougars their first loss since April 1, ending their 23-game winning streak.
"We knew we could beat this team on a different day," Henwood said. "We caught them on a great day, and they caught us on a bad day."
Barnes had four goals and three assists for the streaky Jaguars offense, which put together a 5-0 run in the first half and a 4-0 run in the second half. The junior captain said she was shocked to win the state title, but knew that her team deserved it.
After falling behind, 1-0, 30 seconds into the game, the Jaguars ripped off five straight goals on their way to an 8-3 lead, which chased Downingtown East's All-American goalie, Allie Murray, from the game.
Coach Caitlin Barbakoff put senior Marya Fratoni into the game, but Murray returned midway through the second half.
Senior midfielder Emily Solenberger had three goals and three assists for the Cougars. Senior forward Kelly Devlin gave Downingtown East its only lead of the game on a breakaway goal shortly after the opening draw.
The Jaguars lead never dropped to less than two, as junior Kate Stroup was strong in net with 11 saves. After taking a commanding 17-11 lead with less than six minutes to play in the second half, Downingtown East quickly edged back with three goals. But Garnet Valley wound down the clock, resulting in two on-field celebrations as Jaguars players stormed from the sidelines.
Henwood said that she "absolutely did not" expect a state title in just her second year at the helm, but that "it's a great feeling." Barnes said her coach is a great motivator for the Jaguars.
"She's never satisfied. She expects more out of us," Barnes said.
Garnet Valley's efficient offensive system is built on patient, swift passes and movement without the ball. Henwood said the team adapted this style from watching college basketball games and incorporating certain techniques.
"We've worked on our ball movement, clearing the lanes," said the Jaguars' Anna Elise Morello, who finished with three goals and six assists. "In any sport, that is what's going to work."