Howard girls catching on quickly to undefeated ways

April 04, 1994|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Sun Staff Writer

Undefeated.

Howard's girls lacrosse team never expected to hear that word this season. After all, the Lions did not win a single game last year, and this team starts seven underclassmen and has a new coach.

But the Lions are 2-0. Undefeated. And just a little amazed.

"In our first game going into overtime, somebody said if we win this we'll be undefeated," said sophomore attack wing Erica Hensley. "I thought that was so neat to be undefeated. We've never been undefeated before."

The thrill of winning hasn't blinded the Lions to the tough schedule ahead, but last week's spring break gave them a chance to bask in the excitement for a while.

Home openers don't come much more rewarding than the Lions' 15-14 sudden-death victory over Westminster two weeks ago.

With no visible scoreboard, some of the Lions thought the worst at the end of regulation. "I thought we had lost, because nobody [on the bench] was cheering," said Hensley, who soon discovered the game was tied at 13.

Each team scored a goal in the six-minute overtime, sending the game into sudden death. The Lions controlled the draw and sophomore attack wing Catherine Ampagoomian hit the game-winner.

A huge celebration erupted complete with players jumping all over each other. "After going through a whole season and never winning a game, you kind of forget what it feels like to be on the other side," said senior point Karla DeGraft, team co-captain.

Even for the Lions and coach Pat Becker, the win came surprisingly quickly. With so many young players and a new coaching system, those adjustments alone could have kept the Lions off balance for quite a while.

Instead, the Lions worked hard on Becker's new drills and adopted a nothing-to-lose attitude. As they bounced back from a three-goal halftime deficit, the Lions began to think maybe they could beat Westminster and their confidence grew.

"The Westminster win was really significant," said Becker. "It showed them they could win, they could win against a good team and when the score was tied, they could come up with the winning goal. I'm proud of that mental toughness as well as the way they played."

For Becker, who has coached only at private schools, where the players often reach varsity with four or five years of experience, the Lions' attitude makes up for what many of them lack in long-term experience.

"After the first week, I knew they would get a lot better, because they were willing to take risks," said Becker. "They play smarter every day, and they respect themselves so much more as players."

Becker has a good foundation in veterans like DeGraft, Amy Shourds and Laura Foerster, who have at least three years of varsity experience. All of her underclassmen, including freshman attackers Amanda Eldridge and Kelly Krantz, have played at least a year.

The greatest improvements have come in the midfield anchored by junior center Foerster, surrounded by sophomores Hensley, Ampagoomian and defense wings Karen Krupka and Kai Parabout. All have speed, skill and scrappy determination, but unlike last year's midfield, they focus on possession rather than forcing passes just to keep the ball moving.

The senior line defense of DeGraft, Nicole Parker and Tammi Daniels led a strong double-teaming effort that proved the key to the Westminster victory. Their solid play has helped sophomore keeper Shelly Ross add confidence.

On attack, co-captain Shourds is the leading scorer with seven goals and an assist, and Krantz (seven goals), Eldridge (six goals) and Foerster (six goals) are close behind.

The Lions picked up their second victory with a 19-1 romp over Palotti last week. Despite the lopsided score, Becker stifled the Lions' second-half offense with instructions to pass at least five times before any shot.

For DeGraft, the game brought back memories of last year. "On defense, I know how it feels to be on the other end. At first, I was all happy that we were getting a big lead, but then I was more subdued, because of the people on their offense. I know how that feels and it feels bad."

That reminder has given the Lions' enthusiasm a realistic edge.

"We're not going to have big heads going in [to the county league schedule] like we're going to beat everybody," said Shourds.

But now the Lions believe they at least have a chance to win each game.

"Beating Westminster was such a big win," said Foerster. "We didn't set any limitations on what we can do next. If we keep working hard, who knows what we can do?"

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