By Tyler Waldrep
Lacrosse is slowly but surely establishing itself in Alabama, and a few dominant programs are starting to corner the market on state championships.
The Oak Mountain varsity girls’ team beat Mountain Brook 11-6 to claim back-to-back state titles. The Spain Park varsity boys’ team beat Vestavia 14-12 to earn the school’s third championship in the last five years. Both schools figure to add additional trophies in the near future.
When Spain Park coach Dan Jordan watched his team take the field in the championship game, he noticed something different, he said: The sun was finally shining again.
“Our kids had to play a majority of the games in cold, wet, miserable weather all the time, but they just found a way to overcome all that,” Jordan said.
Storm clouds were not the only thing hanging over the team this past season. Senior midfielder Trent Harper said the team had something to prove after it failed to reach the championship game last season. Spain Park’s loss in the 2014 semifinals ended a streak of three straight appearances in the championship game.
“We played in revenge of the loss of the semis,” Harper said. “That’s been our whole mindset all season.”
Harper said he worried more about this year’s semifinal match than the championship itself. Once the team won the semifinal game, his confidence soared, he said.
“I was expecting to come out with a win and nothing less,” Harper said.
Jordan said the team’s confidence stemmed from its regular season performances. Spain Park boasted an 18-1 record when the final playoff game began.
That was nothing new for Spain Park. Seniors who have played on the team all four years finished with a 54-8 record and two state championships.
Jordan said that despite the close score, he felt like his team controlled the game the entire time. This was largely due to the fact that he has three of the best players in the state in seniors Trent Harper, Benji Lapinski and Colton Nall, he said.
“Those three players, they draw a lot of attention from the other team,” Jordan said. “(It’s) an opportunity for other players on my team to step up when they are covered.”
Harper said his team dominated the game, but an inability to shut down Vestavia’s offense prevented Spain Park from pulling away.
“Having the ball on offense was a good form of defense for us just by controlling possession,” Harper said.
Winning was “honestly just a relief more than anything,” he said.
Jordan said the future of the Spain Park program looks bright. He said the average varsity player is learning the sport at a younger age. He said this year’s junior varsity team showed incredible promise, losing only once in four overtimes.
“I think we can still make another run at it next year,” Jordan said.
While Spain Park is reclaiming its dominance, the Oak Mountain girls’ team is finally taking its own spot in the sun.
This was the Oak Mountain varsity girls’ sixth straight championship game appearance. Coach David Klementz said the team never doubted its ability to win back-to-back state titles but that keeping the girls from overlooking games was difficult.
“Back to back (titles) is harder, I think,” Klementz said. “The struggle all year is to keep the girls focused. I mean, you are getting everyone’s best shot.”
Everyone’s best shot didn’t come close to being good enough. The defense stifled instate opponents throughout the season, shutting out its opponents five times.
The team came to the championship game with an 18-game winning streak over instate schools. Junior Maddie Everhardt said the team expected to beat Mountain Brook soundly after winning the regular season matchup 16-3, but at the half both teams were tied with three points apiece.
“I feel like our team got really bored,” Everhardt said. “(Mountain Brook) definitely came with their A-game on. They played with 120 percent, we came with 95 percent.”
Klementz said sophomore goalie Rachel Robb was one of the few players who played with intensity in the first half. She finished with 22 total saves. Klementz said Robb’s focus was the main reason the game was not out of hand at the half.
Robb said her teammates stepped it up in the second half. She said Klementz and older members on the team reminded everyone that they weren’t champions yet.
“As a team, we weren’t playing our game (in the first half),” Robb said. “Some of the girls would step up and say, do you want this championship, and if you want it, you have to play.”
One of those players who spoke out was Everhardt. She was on the team her freshman year when Oak Mountain lost the state championship game to Mountain Brook. She said she did not want to relive those feelings.
“That’s our biggest rival — that would have been the worst thing,” Everhardt said. “I think that really woke everyone up, that in 25 minutes they didn’t want to be standing on the sidelines watching someone else get handed the trophy.”
Oak Mountain came out energized and ready to play in the second half. The team finished the half outscoring Mountain Brook 8-3 thanks in large part to Everhardt’s four second-half points.
“Our team does its best when we are having fun,” Everhardt said. “After every goal, we were celebrating, which we didn’t do in the first half.”
Klementz said he expects the team’s dominance to continue going forward thanks to the school’s support. He said having the only girls’ junior varsity program in the state is a huge advantage for him.
“We are getting trained players playing on the varsity team, which makes a big difference,” Klementz said. “I think they (the school) are thinking one to three years out when it does become a sanctioned sport. They are going to be in a better position than anybody.”