Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Wildcats grow up, Wootton goes on

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They should have been a little nervous. Walter Johnson’s girls lacrosse team traveled on Saturday to face undefeated and top-seeded Wootton in a 4A-3A West Region quarterfinal, and despite the sloppy field conditions and hostile crowd, played like those nerves were not a factor.

The Wildcats took an early lead, absorbed a surge by the Patriots, and then cut a three-goal deficit to one, before finally succumbing, 9-4, in Potomac. But, the hard-fought game taught both teams a lesson.

‘‘When you are playing for your season, and it could be the last game of the year you have to leave it on the field,” Walter Johnson coach Bill Euler said. ‘‘They did not let up today.”

Wootton (13-0) has been the class of Montgomery County public school lacrosse all season, but now that the playoffs are at hand, the unblemished record is meaningless. A loss would have ended their season, and after goals by Walter Johnson’s Lauren Euler and Abby Bieber cut Wootton’s three-goal halftime lead to a 5-4 advantage, Patriots coach Anne-Marie Ritzell called a timeout to remind her team of that fact.

‘‘We had to get back to our game, which is communicating, and execution,” Ritzell said. ‘‘The field was in bad shape [because of rain on Friday] especially in the middle, but I reminded them that we had a job that needed to be done.”

From that point forward, Wootton kept the pressure on, and its top two scorers, Julie Klatzkin and Liza Kaplan, capped a four-goal run to finish the game. Most impressive was the Patriots’ ability to kill the clock, as they bled more than 10 minutes with controlled passing designed to keep possession, before Kaplan scored her fourth and final goal of the game. The win came as a relief on the Patriots’ sideline.

‘‘The season matters most now,” Kaplan said. ‘‘In a way, being undefeated is a disadvantage because it just gets harder every game, but we know our strengths. We cleared our heads and took care of it. We have never gotten to states, but to get there we are going to have to keep working hard.”

The hard work continued Tuesday, when the Patriots faced off against fifth-seeded Bethesda Chevy-Chase (9-3), a 16-5 winner over Blair on Saturday. The game finished too late for this edition of The Gazette.

Though the season is over for Walter Johnson (8-6), it was a big step forward in the life of the program. Three years ago, the Wildcats advanced to where Wootton hopes to be, winning a regional title and getting to a state semifinal. In the intervening time, though, Euler has had to rebuild his group, taking drastic steps such as throwing a team of predominantly sophomores into the fire a year ago.

Though that resulted in the team winning just five games, it provided them the experience to take a big leap forward this year.

‘‘It really brought the team ahead,” Euler said. ‘‘Putting them on the field last year put us in an upswing.”

That experience came in handy in several close wins this year, including a 10-9 win over Paint Branch in a first-round playoff game on Thursday. Though some seniors graduate, including attacker Lauren Euler, Bieber, who scored twice, will come back, as will midfielder Tess Petesh. Though the Wildcats left the field bitter at the loss, they see brighter days ahead.

‘‘It is tough to lose this game,” Euler said. ‘‘I am not sure what happened after Wootton took the timeout because we did not let up and kept pushing, they just found a way to win. We are playing well, though. We have the potential to come back next year and be a winning team.”