Lacrosse: Defending champion Blessed Trinity girls eye repeat

ajc.com

Top-ranked Titans have 18 next-level commits

Defending a state championship is one of the hardest goals to accomplish in team sports, right next to winning the first title. If there was ever a team in position to repeat, perhaps it’s the Blessed Trinity Titans, who won 1A-5A last season, their first since winning three in a row from 2016-18.

The Titans (14-1) are ranked No. 1 in 1A-5A the AJC polls. In the MaxPreps computer rankings, they’re No. 3 overall in Georgia and No. 9 in the nation. They feature 10 seniors and 11 juniors and among them, 18 are committed to a college to play lacrosse at the next level.

“Our juniors and seniors are part of the most talented groups to come through the state in a really long time,” said coach Elizabeth McFarland, who is in her 11th season leading the Titans. “They’ve been playing together since 4th and 5th grade.”

Out of the gate, the Titans won their first 14 games, which includes wins over 6A-7A’s No. 2 Walton, No. 10 Roswell, and North Carolina’s Charlotte Country Day and Charlotte Catholic, ranked Nos. 2 and 4 overall in the state, respectively. On Tuesday, they suffered their first loss at the hands of Hillgrove, ranked No. 4 in 6A-7A, by a score of 9-8.

The non-region loss aside, they’re 4-0 against Area 5 competition, with their final area game Thursday at home against Fellowship Christian (2-4). They’ll be in the driver’s seat for a No. 1 seed, followed by championship expectations.

“Our main goal is to get to state,” McFarland said. “We want that experience again. It (would have been) nice to go undefeated, but that (was) a secondary goal because we’ve never had one.”

Despite a roster full of upperclassmen, it’s sophomore Clark Hamilton who leads the team in scoring with 36 goals. She’s one of nine double-digit scorers, with the others being juniors and seniors. Marisa Inoa, a senior, is second on the team with 30 goals.

“Clark is a very confident player,” McFarland said. “All of (the upperclassmen), from Marisa on down, see opportunities to feed her the ball, and they know she’s dependable. At the same time, the competition knows about Clark, so they make it difficult to feed her. We have others who can score as well.”

The system in which the Titans’ operate on the field is one built on trust and selflessness. McFarland mentions Delaney Hudson’s performance thus far, totaling nearly as many assists (16) as goals (21), as an example.

McFarland and her staff have trained their players to man multiple positions, which particularly came in handy this season with the volume of depth they have to manage. Last year, Carly Cooper played midfielder and had 14 goals and 12 assists. This year as a junior, she has one goal and no assists, but that’s because she’s now one of the Titans’ best defenders.

“I like that capability,” McFarland said of versatile players. “We’ve never had this much depth before. Everyone from the seniors down to the goalie can play anywhere, and we encourage them to have a secondary position. If you’re a low attack, learn midfield. If you’re a midfielder, learn defense. Last year with Covid and various quarantines, we had to do a ton of shuffling. You hope you never have another Covid year again, but I was confident last year because everyone can play every position and they understand — and they’re fast.

“We do stick tests and other quantifiable measurements in order to make the program fast, and a lot of it is cardio and running. That’s why we’ve been successful this year.”

Further, the program takes pride in having an all-female staff, with all but one playing in college. The staff consists of McFarland, Dr. Carlie Black and Haley Harris. That the team is led by women who played is no coincidence — McFarland said it’s an important part of her coaching philosophy.

“There’s something to be said for a female coach that played the sport,” McFarland said. “The women’s game in different than the men’s. And we’re not just teaching these girls lacrosse, but how to conduct themselves in society and be a good team member. Coaching girls is different than boys because there’s more of an emotional aspect. It’s easier to relate to them as a coach if you’re female, because you’ve been through the teen years, which are hard, and they’re even harder now with all the outside influences and technology.

“Being able to have empathy and sympathy to understand what they’re goin through is important. We’re not their friend, we’re their coaches, and we help guide them in making good decisions and learning about themselves.”

In addition to Fellowship Christian, the Titans play two more regular season games against 6A-7A schools — No. 8 Chattahoochee on April 13, and unranked North Gwinnett on April 22. Between now and the playoffs, McFarland wants her team to work on being present-minded as it defends its title.

“I want them to embrace these final games and be in the moment,” she said. “It’s so much fun to get into the playoffs and move closer to our ultimate goal of bringing home the trophy, and I want them to enjoy being with one another, playing this beautiful game. Sometimes, we get so focused on the end goal that we forget the journey to get there, and the journey is a lot of fun.”