Together, Garnet Valley repeats as state champ

HERSHEY — The public address announcer at Hersheypark Stadium read the starting lineups for Conestoga and Garnet Valley, the finalists for the 2015 PIAA girls lacrosse title.

A few Jaguars shared a hearty laugh when they heard their won-loss record over the sound system. Seventeen wins sounded good, but the nine losses? That’s funny.

So, how in the world did the Jags get here, a win away from repeating as state champions? After an uneven regular season and a fifth-place finish in the District One tournament, nobody expected Garnet Valley to be in a position to capture the program’s fourth championship in five seasons.

All along, though, the Jags have lived by the motto “play together, win together.’ When they were teetering on the edge, they found a way to balance things out. They scratched to make states, needing a thrilling one-goal win to knock off Springfield in the district’s fifth-place game to qualify. They had to travel far, to places such as Exeter Township and Cumberland Valley, but they overcame the odds and got the job done.

Saturday afternoon, Garnet Valley completed its journey by defeating favorite Conestoga, 14-10, to claim its second straight PIAA championship.

Junior All-America Emily Mathewson led the way with five goals and two assists as the Jaguars (18-9) rebounded from an early 4-0 deficit to down the favored Pioneers (23-4).

“It’s an exact example of what our whole season was like,’ Mathewson said. “We were down 4-0 and we kept fighting. It’s exactly what we did all season.’

When Liz Scott, Monica Borzillo, Maggie Stetson and Sondra Dockey tallied four in a row to give the Pioneers a sizable first-half advantage, coach Jenny Purvis’ team kept its cool. Instead of hanging their heads, the Jaguars seized an opportunity when the Pioneers found themselves in foul trouble.

“We kept playing the way we knew how to play,’ junior Kara Nakrasius said. “I think we had confidence that we weren’t going to give up. Purvis has taught us well. If we played Garnet Valley lacrosse, we knew we were going to win.’

Garnet Valley got its first wind the moment Scottie Growney was whistled for her second card less than 10 minutes into regulation. The infraction cost Conestoga one of its best two-way threats for the remainder of the game. A mere 27 seconds later, Garnet Valley scored its first goal.

“She’s one of their top players, a phenomenal player, and it’s really a shame that she got those two cards,’ Mathewson said. “We had to use that as motivation and we did. We knew that their offense would be a little shaky, so we knew that with our defense we could take a couple more risks and go after that ball a little more. It was a confidence boost.’

While the Jaguars would trail, 7-6, at intermission, they had registered six of the final nine goals before halftime. And with Growney out of the picture, the Jags clearly had gained a psychological edge on the Pioneers.

“I can’t imagine it didn’t affect them playing,’ Purvis said. “She’s an unbelievably talented player, and I think when you take one of your best players out of the game, even if you do have a good person to replace her with, it’s still tough to get that flow back.’

Maddie Mansi tallied off a free-position shot to give the Jags a 6-5 lead. Though Hannah Ashton found the back of the net on back-to-back possessions to put the Pioneers ahead at halftime, the Jaguars felt they had righted the ship and were prepared to take ownership.

“We were smarter with the ball,’ Purvis said. “In the state championship game, at first you’re going to have some errors, you’re going to be a little tight. It takes you a couple minutes to get your feet underneath of you, remember what the game plan is. I told them that nobody is going to win this game by themselves, we’ve gotta have all 12 of you working. Our big thing is play together, win together. I’m glad to see we kind of did that today and it made a big difference.’

Mathewson was awesome after the break, and she wasted no time displaying her game-changing ability. She won the opening draw, raced down the field and fired a shot past Conestoga goalie Laney Stetson, who was eventually replaced by Jules Horning.

After the Pioneers regained the lead, the Jaguars ran off a streak of four consecutive tallies. Mathewson, Nakrasius, Madi O’Brien and Kamryn McNeal put the Jaguars in control, 11-8, their largest lead of the afternoon. Scott scored one more time, but the Jags never let the Pioneers pull any closer. Mathewson made sure of it.

“Emily was unstoppable for us today,’ Purvis said. “We know we’re going to have a good win if she’s on … and she was on.’

Michelle Koscinski, who was just as important to Garnet Valley’s second-half surge as Mathewson, netted her team’s final two goals. The defense, buoyed by Koscinski, Rachel Glenn, Rachel Warden and Kylie Young, forced several turnovers down the stretch to help the Jags pull away. Freshman goalie Makenna Mink made three saves and improved as the game progressed.

“Our defensive unit is always very positive, we never get into a rut,’ Warden said. “After every goal against us, we come together and talk about it, figure out how to fix it and let it go. It’s about restarting the game. We kept looking forward and never looked back.’

Koscinski and O’Brien added hat tricks for the Jags.

The Jaguars found a way to get past their struggles during the season and were scary in May and June. The dynasty of excellence continues.

“We definitely went through a lot,’ Warden said. “Going through the ups and downs really shaped us as a team and made us a better team as the year went on. We definitely peaked at the right time.’

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