Fellowship Christian girls winning through adversity

No. 1 Paladins without top 2 players

For the Fellowship Christian School Paladins, this week’s spring break was much needed. Undefeated and ranked No. 1 in Class A-4A, the Paladins (12-0, 1-0 Area 5) have been running on fumes lately, persevering through season-ending ACL injuries to who coach Tracy Morgan characterizes as their top two players, junior midfielder Carson Ray, and sophomore midfielder Ella Upchurch.

Ray, the Paladins’ draw specialist, was injured in the Paladins’ 17-11 win over Denmark on Feb. 29. Upchurch was injured March 21 in a 10-5 win over Harrison and is still the team’s leading scorer. Further, a third player, junior attack Olivia Brackley, is out indefinitely after suffering a concussion a month ago while away from the team. Those injuries have led to the Paladins fielding a team with just one player available off the bench.

The Paladins are 2-0 playing shorthanded since Upchurch’s injury, beating Lovett 13-9 on March 23, and No. 9 Pace Academy 15-7 on March 26.

“I’m so massively proud of them,” said Morgan, who has coached the program since its 2017 founding. “We are playing and winning, and we’re doing it with one sub. We’re playing straight on for all four quarters, like dogs, and we’re so tired. We needed spring break so bad.

“Those injuries rocked our world. For them to have three of their best friends go down like that, we all cried. It was tough. After that sadness and grief for our teammates, and for ourselves, it was, either we live here in this, or we get up and move forward. We moved forward, and we have happily worn ourselves out. This spring break is necessary, and we’ll come back recovered for these final (regular season) games. I’m excited about the rest of the season.”

The Paladins are playing one senior, attack/midfielder Hollis Tate, nine sophomores and five freshman. This season, it’s all hands on deck.

“There’s no time for junior varsity and figuring out what it’s all about,” Morgan said. “Your feet are in the fire. You’re in it, and you have to step up, and everyone is aware of that. No one rests on their laurels and it’s very powerful.”

The Paladins have earned their undefeated record. They’re 4-0 so far against ranked teams. Their season opener in early February was also their Area 5 opener, against East Forsyth, currently No. 6. The Paladins won 15-3. Later that month, they beat 5A-6A’s No. 2 Wesleyan, currently No. 2, by a score of 13-7. This month they beat A-4A’s No. 10 Mount Paran and Pace by the same score.

“Those were great challenges,” Morgan said. “Pace always has a good team. Wesleyan is always good, and that was a team we knew we’d have to fight hard against early in the season, and we did, so I’m really proud of the girls for that. We always talk about state. We’re not pretending it’s about anything else, or taking one game at a time. I really think we have the talent and the desire to make state, and that’s who we walk into every game. It’s a really driven, focused and cohesive effort.”

The Paladins have two area games left. They play at King’s Ridge (5-5, 0-2) April 9, and host Mount Pisgah (5-9, 1-1) April 11.

They close the regular season with a pair of top five teams from 5A-6A, No. 1 Blessed Trinity (10-1) on April 12, and No. 4 Kell (10-3) April 18.

“I always want our strength of schedule up there,” Morgan said. “It’s not, ‘Oh, we’re a little school that plays little teams.’ We consider ourselves a lacrosse school, so we want to play other lacrosse schools, and usually that means playing a bigger school. We have to be challenged, so we schedule dog fights.”

The Paladins reached the semifinals last season, the second time they’ve been that far, the other in 2019. They’re looking to win Area 5 for the second year in a row, and best last year’s finish.

“We want to win our area and make state, and to do so we’ll need to learn the lesson of adversity,” Morgan said. “It’s tough to play with one sub. It’s an extremely physical game, and one that involves speed. We have been working in stressful situations, but we’ve done it together and we’ve achieved success. It’s a great sports lesson, but it’s a great life lesson they can carry with them. It will give them confidence in who they are as people.”