At Mt. Hebron, winning so much it hurts

Girls lacrosse: The Vikings' seniors went 74-0 in their high school careers, but keeping the streak intact took an emotional toll.

High Schools

August 21, 2005|By Kate Crandall | Kate Crandall,SUN STAFF

Arriving intentionally late to their senior class dance in May, the members of Mount Hebron's undefeated girls lacrosse team braced for cheers from their classmates.

That afternoon, the Vikings had claimed their ninth consecutive state championship and, for the seniors on the team, their 74th victory without a loss.

The cheers never came.

No one even clapped.

Even when the disc jockey shouted, "Here they are, your girls lacrosse state champions!" the beat went on.

The 11 seniors on the team noted the nonchalance and laughed it off.

"Surprise, surprise," said Meg Taylor, who turned to her teammates and started feeling the beat.

Standing there, on the noisy dance floor in the ballroom at Savage Mill, the players said they understood their classmates' indifference.

"Our school is like, `Whatever, you won another game. Who cares?' " said Ginna Lance, one of the team's five senior co-captains.

For those five girls, all college-bound, lacrosse was their life in high school, superceding all else. From eighth grade, all they dreamed about was making the Mount Hebron varsity, winning games, upholding tradition.

In doing so, however, they had to deal with two byproducts of success - the burden and boredom of always winning.

As the players prepare to pack for college, they find themselves on strange turf - no longer part of Mount Hebron yet still not aligned with a new team. They're looking back on those four years with a new perspective.

"It's sad that it's over," Taylor said. "But it's a relief because it was a lot of pressure. It overtook my mind for four years. It was all I could think about."

It's said that winning isn't everything; it's the only thing. But what happens when that clichM-i reflects reality?

Contrary to popular belief, at least one senior on last season's Mount Hebron team didn't cradle in the cradle.

When Merissa Eide's family moved from Catonsville to Ellicott City in the fifth grade, she didn't know what lacrosse was or its significance at Mount Hebron, but she soon learned from her older sister, Kara.

When Kara Eide tried out for the team, she got cut.

"She bought her stick the week before tryouts," Marissa said. "It wasn't until later that she realized what a big deal [Hebron lacrosse] was. That was when she told me to get started early."

Mount Hebron hasn't lost a game in more than four years. In addition to the Vikings' nine straight state titles, they've won 13 of the past 16 championships.

When last season's senior class arrived as freshmen, Mount Hebron had a five-game winning streak. They extended it to 79, second only in state history to Loch Raven's 104 consecutive wins between 1973 and 1982.

Everyone wanted in

Heeding her sister's experience, Eide started playing lacrosse as a sixth-grader with the goal of making the high school team - junior varsity or varsity - as a freshman. She wasn't alone.

"Other [girls] grew up in the community memorizing the Hebron plays," she said.

The five of them who would go on to become senior co-captains last season all came together in middle school, linked by their lacrosse sticks.

Their passion for the game roused them early on lazy Saturdays, calling them outdoors to play catch or to pepper the side of a house with shots. As if by fate, four of the girls lived within a shout of each other, the fifth just a mile away.

They played lacrosse year-round, indoors and out, on club teams and school teams and in pickup games.

"We never want to take a break," Lance said. "Getting up to play on a random day, just because there's nothing else to do - it's what we do."

In high school, they fell in step with the upperclassmen who shared the formula for success.

Step 1: Banish distractions.

Sacrifices were made for love of the game, the girls said. Forget typical high school talk of classes and music and boys.

"We tried to stay away from gossip," Eide said. "And we set a ground rule not to talk about the [junior-senior] prom, because it would bring up issues and keep us from focusing."

That tunnel vision spilled over into their private lives. Trips to visit college friends were postponed during the season, Taylor said.

"My parents sometimes didn't want me to do things in the spring because they didn't want me to get tired and lose a game," she said. "They just knew that if we lost, we'd be so upset."

The co-captains - Lance, Eide, Taylor, Cassie Krause and Mary Clare Taylor (Meg's twin) - all shared the obsession.

Sports talk

In physics lab, they spent time doodling game plans and scribbling tentative lineups. At lunch, their endless lacrosse chatter chased others away.

And when Lance, a first-team All-Metro midfielder, awoke from surgery for melanoma in March, her first words were, "How were tryouts?"

Step 2: Bury all hatchets. Not an easy thing to do for a group of 24 teenage girls.

"I happen to know two [Mount Hebron] defenders who didn't like each other before the season started," Eide said. "Once they started playing together and relying on each other, they ended up being really good friends.

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