From a technical standpoint, the Eastern girls’ lacrosse team had started taking better care of the ball. The Vikings were winning draws, and the execution was a bit more crisp.
But that alone doesn’t do justice to the final three minutes of Saturday’s game against Lenape.
“Our team always has a little bit of fire,” Eastern coach Katie Lee said. “And once it really sparks, we kick it up.”
Five players combined to score five unanswered goals in the final 3:41 to help Eastern (4-0) escape with a 9-6 win on a chilly, windy morning on the Vikings’ home turf.
The final burst underscored Eastern’s athleticism. The Vikings returned the majority of a team that won last year’s South Jersey Group 4 title in a game against Lenape.
Saturday, despite a shaky and somewhat flat start, the Vikings proved every bit as seasoned as advertised.
“We knew we had to step it up,” said Savanah Slack, a Virginia Commonwealth recruit and senior leader, who generated a game-high five goals and an assist. “I give all the credit to my teammates. It’s amazing that all of our attackers can score. When everyone on your team is dangerous, defenders don’t know who to mark, and it just leads to all of us having success.”
It was the first full game back for sophomore attack Kara Heck, after she spent a week in Uruguay with the U-17 national field hockey team.
“The end of the game, we just started playing as a team,” said Heck, who netted the go-ahead goal with 2:32 left. “It’s just fun to be out here with these girls.”
Lenape lost leading scorer Lauren Figura early in the second half with an ankle injury. Figura had scored two goals, and her team was ahead by one when she went down just three minutes into the half.
Junior Allison Cowan scored her second goal after Figura’s exit to give the Indians a 5-3 lead.
The cushion, combined with strong play from goalie Gillian Cortese — who recorded nine 9 saves — put Lenape firmly in the driver’s seat for most of the second half.
“I’m actually proud of how we’ve been playing this year,” said Lenape coach Jill McCarthy, whose team fell to 0-4. Despite the record, McCarthy sees reasons for optimism. Lenape is working to replace a strong senior class from last year, and its losses have all been close games to some of the area’s best teams, including a 14-13 loss to the Vikings on April 3.
“We’ve made some mistakes, and they’re the kind of mistakes that good teams capitalize on,” McCarthy said. “But we’re talented; we’re starting to play better. And our goal is to peak in May.”
Lenape’s rocky stretch came in that final 3:41. A goal by Dani Mlkvy started Eastern’s spurt and brought the score to 6-5. Lenape called a timeout after the goal.
“During that timeout, we just pumped each other up and told each other we had to work better as a team,” Slack said. “And that’s what we were able to do.”
Lenape 3 3 — 6
Eastern 3 6 — 9
Goals: L- Allison Cowan 2, Tara Donoghue, Lauren Figura 2, Megan McKenna; E- Savannah Slack 5, Kara Heck, Tori Accardo, Dani Mlkvy, Jenna Casole.
Saves: L- Gillian Cortese 9; Kelli McGroarty 4.