Two programs that are starting to enjoy better days hooked up on a perfect spring afternoon for lacrosse when Rye Country Day traveled across town to take on the up-and-coming Holy Child sticksters at Gryphon Field.
Before the April 26 game, Wildcats coach Georgette Summers was asked what it would take for her young, speedy players to come away with a victory and put last year’s 5-11 record entirely out of their minds. “The key is moving their keeper around – who’s really good – and hope that we’ve got the conditioning in this heat.”
Warming up on the east end of the field, their opponents’ senior goalie, Rachel Vallarelli, was indeed a good one. Vallarelli, who’ll play at UMass next season, represented Hudson Valley in the Empire State Games and has made the U.S. U-19 training team.
The Gryphons were hoping to return to the form that made them NYSAIS semifinalists in 2009. Using last year’s 7-10 record as motivation were midfielder junior Charlotte Elcock and senior attackers Lucy Flanagan and Mary Ferrara. As first-year head coach Charles Slitter put it, “We have the forwards who can shoot. Now it’s up to them to put it in the net.”
Early in the contest, the home team demonstrated the truth of the old adage, “You can’t score if you don’t have the ball.” Holy Child was unable to cross midfield for the first three minutes of the game.
All the pressure in their own end finally took its toll as Rye Country Day juniors Skye Aresty and Meghan McDonough started to alternate scoring on Vallarelli. The scoreboard read 7-0 by the time senior Allie Farber converted on a neat 270-degree move a dozen minutes into the game. It was her second of four goals on the afternoon.
And then the tide turned. Holy Child held onto the ball off the ensuing faceoff long enough for Catherine Ann Gray to get a good look at the net. Her score gave the Gryphons belief in themselves, and they netted three more shots at one-minute intervals to claw back to 7-4, including one amazing play when Vallarelli held the ball for over a minute, looking for a teammate to come free, before zinging a long pass to her attacker.
The Gryphons’ stickhandling mistake in the back, at the 6:42 mark with Vallarelli out of position, might have been the turning point of the game. The lightning goal the Wildcats scored meant that, even though Holy Child pumped in three more tallies before the half (Ferrara wound up with four in all), they left the field at halftime trailing 8-7.
For the Gryphons, however, it was not to be. Three goals ripped past their goalie in the first five minutes of the second half, with McDonough cradling the ball and running straight up the field without hindrance for an 11-7 lead.
Newton’s First Law of Physics says a body in motion tends to stay in motion. With stick-checking limited by the rules, defenders in girls’ lacrosse have only good positioning and the ability to read the play to keep attackers from moving and penetrating, a real edge for the offense.
The restriction on checking also means teams that win face-offs tend to keep the ball until they get off a shot on goal. With Holy Child unable to slow the cutters slicing through their box or win the ball up top, they had to hope their opponents made stickhandling mistakes. There were a few, but not nearly enough.
Though they forced goalkeeper Sammy Stavis to make 14 stops, a two-goal deficit was as close as the Gryphons would get for the rest of the game. When Rye Country Day went into their stall offense midway through the second half, passing the ball back and forth outside for more than two minutes, it was already 16-9.
Afterwards, Summers was asked if she worried about her offense taking its foot off the gas pedal. “Yes, it’s what happened to us last game. We took our time and couldn’t gear back up when we had to. It worked out better today.”
On the other side, Slitter was upbeat. “We haven’t beaten Rye Country Day since 2003. I thought Charlotte Elcock played her head off. We’ll get ‘em next time.”
— Mitch Silver