Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Whitman goes down swinging

Churchill ends Vikings’ season in regional opener

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
Whitman’s Jane Hedges goes rampaging down the field against Churchill during Thursday’s 4A-3A West Region opening round. Churchill advanced with a 12-10 victory, then defeated Sherwood in the quarterfinals on Saturday, 12-11. Whitman’s season is over.
In many ways, the final game for Whitman’s girls lacrosse team mirrored its season, save for one key fact. The Vikings started fast and showed promise in the early going against Churchill in last Thursday’s 4A-3A West Region first-round game, they allowed a second-half surge by Churchill to lead to a 12-10 defeat in Bethesda.

But they left the field with a bit more confidence than they felt when the stepped onto it.

‘‘They played better tonight than they had all season,” Whitman coach Mary Pat Veihmeyer said of her team. ‘‘Their throwing and catching was great tonight, and that was a problem for most of this season. We were never able to have possession, but tonight we did.”

Despite playing at home, Whitman (3-10 overall) came into the game as a decided underdog, not just because of its three-win season, but because it had also lost to Churchill in that stretch. Yet the Bulldogs came into the game a little flat — two goals by senior Lauren Plotnick, who finished the game with five, were the only scores they managed for the first 15 minutes — and the Vikings took advantage.

After Alex Berg tied the game with a goal, Whitman used its newfound passing skills to get the ball upfield to an open Emily Patch, who finished the play by flicking the ball into the back of the net. The goal fired up the home crowd, but more importantly gave the Vikings a glimpse of their capabilities.

‘‘Our problem this season was consistency,” Whitman goalie Susan England said. ‘‘We have strong moments, and we can have fabulous passing like that, but then we have not-so-strong moments. I see a lot of potential on this team, though.”

England was a major reason the Vikings were able to keep it close in the first half, and take a lead for a stretch. Under attack from the Bulldogs’ offensive mavens, Plotnick and junior Angela Biciocchi, England stood tall, making six saves over a 10-minute span. England, a senior, will take those skills to Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C., where she hopes to stand between the pipes for the women’s lacrosse team.

‘‘I’ve been really happy with my four years on varsity,” England said. ‘‘They have been successful for me. This game being my last at Whitman is a happy and sad moment. I have loved the people here, but I am excited to go on to college. I think this team is moving up, though, and the players we have coming in the next few years are going to make a difference.”

In fact, the Vikings will graduate just four seniors from this team, and a slew of sophomores and juniors got valuable playing experience Thursday. One thing they may have learned is that the game is not over until the whistle blows. After playing solidly for 20 minutes in the first half, Whitman watched Churchill score four of the final five goals of the period and the first four goals of the second half, as a one-goal deficit turned into a five-goal lead. Awakened, Churchill kept the pressure on until the final whistle.

‘‘I think in the beginning of the game, it took us a little time to get into it,” Churchill coach Louisa Feve said. ‘‘We had beaten them during the regular season, and it was a tough mentality to shake. We stayed with it and focused on the physical aspects of the game, and we got our transition game on target. When we did that, we were good to go.”

So good, Churchill (8-6 overall) kept it going on Saturday, defeating third-seeded Sherwood, 12-11, in Sandy Spring, to advance to the 4A-3A West Region semifinals. After scoring three goals against Whitman, Biciocchi scored five against Sherwood, and the Bulldogs advanced to play Blake Tuesday, in a game that finished too late for this edition of The Gazette.

For Whitman, there are no more games to play this season, but an offseason of summer camps and leagues may make a difference. The Vikings hope that they will be soon be back and contending for a regional crown.

‘‘We need more players playing out of season, but we are excited,” Veihmeyer said. ‘‘We have some younger players who are ready to go, and we have a lot of players coming back, so it is going to be hard to make varsity next season.”