There's nothing quite like winning a WPIAL championship. Especially the way the Pine-Richland Rams girls lacrosse team outlasted non-section rival Fox Chapel in a 12-11 decision in the championship game that wasn't decided until overtime.
For coach Brittany Adams and her Rams, the victory rewarded the hard work the team had exhibited in a season that started out with four successive wins and yielded several multiple-game winning streaks. The last started following a 15-12 regular-season loss to Fox Chapel and lasted seven games with the overtime victory over Fox Chapel continuing the streak.
Then came a first-round game with Manheim Township in the PIAA tournament. Manheim Townhip plays in District 3, and the Blue Streaks were that alignment's runner-up. They earned a 16-9 victory over the Rams, ending Pine-Richland's season at 17-5.
Of the 12 players starting for Pine-Richland in the WPIAL final, five were seniors. Marina Miller, who scored three goals in the WPIAL 3A championship game, returns.
Fox Chapel loses key players, retains several others: Fox Chapel, meanwhile, fought through the disappointment of the loss in the WPIAL final, and the Foxes went on to edge State College, 10-9, in an overtime game that was played in a driving rainstorm at Cumberland Valley High School. Their reward for that victory was a match-up with Downingtown East, one of seven teams from District 1 that advanced to the 16-team tournament.
On a yearly basis, at least one District 1 team is playing for the Class 3A girls championship. Downingtown East wasn't one of those teams, but the No. 6 team from District 1 showed it belonged with a 19-7 victory over the Foxes.
Still, it was a season filled with great accomplishments for the Foxes, who finished 21-2, winning their first 19 games. The Foxes lose standouts Megan McCrady, Mikayla D'Cunha, Ali Wessel, Kirsten Ovick and Caroline Smith.
Everyone else returns. It should be a promising season for Fox Chapel in 2018.
Hampton girls have some solid players returning: While no team likes to lose the final game of its season, there were plenty of accomplishments for the Hampton High girls lacrosse team to look back on from the 2017 season and build upon for 2018, and beyond.
For one thing, this is a team that finished with a sparkling 20-2 record and won its first WPIAL championship in school history.
Following a 10-6 non-section loss to Class 3A stalwart Mt. Lebanon on March 27, Hampton didn't lose again until May 31 when it fell to Hershey, 14-5, in a PIAA Class 2A first round playoff game.
Hampton won 19 games in a row, including the 15-5 triumph over Oakland Catholic in the WPIAL Class 2A championship game at Robert Morris University's Joe Walton Stadium.
That winning streak might well have been sliced in half if it it hadn't been for the epic 13-12 overtime non-section victory over visiting Franklin Regional on April 27.
In that game, Caroline Larkin, Hampton's all-time leader with 256 points [goals and assists] scored with 1:52 left to give the Talbots the victory.
That was certainly a dramatic moment. But it wouldn't have happened if there hadn't been an unusual play in the game's final minute.
With 52.4 seconds left in regulation, Larkin scored a goal to break an 11-11 tie. But Franklin Regional gained possession following the next draw. And on a scramble in front of the Hampton goal, Talbots goalie Mia Commendatore fouled the Panthers' Francesca Giacchino.
Commendatore was issued a yellow card, and she had to go to the sideline. With three seconds left, Giacchino was issued a free position about eight feet from the goal, and she calmly placed the ball in the yawning net.
"I don't think I could have scored on that one," Franklin Regional coach Eric Barnabei said with a chuckle. "There's an open net with three seconds left in the game and one goal to tie it. We had a junior veteran put it in the back of the net."
If Hampton coach Kelsey Viets was upset, she didn't display that emotion to her team. She did remind them of an important lesson as the teams prepared for overtime.
"It was a little nerve-racking," Viets said. "But we were in the same scenario against Blackhawk [in a 7-6 overtime loss in the WPIAL Division 2 semifinal] last year," Viets said. "It was almost deja vu to a tee. Same exact scenario with a penalty and overtime. There was a player who had to leave the field, and it didn't end in our favor. But we learned a lot from that loss from a mental standpoint and where we needed to be."
This time around, Viets said everything stems from gaining possession.
"It starts with the draw," she said. "If you don't win it, you have to earn it back. We needed to hold it, get it to Caroline [Larkin] or [Yelena Kaminski] and get the shot."
Franklin Regional did win the draw, but committed a turnover that Hampton took advantage of to win the game.
Hampton remained successful until that PIAA first-round loss to Hershey. Viets was quite pleased with the effort displayed by her team.
"We knew it wasn't going to be easy, especially at this level," Viets said. "I told my team that every year we get to a new level, it's a learning experience. Sometimes, it's for the worse. Sometimes, it's for the better. This [loss to Hershey] was a tough lesson to learn. We showed up kind of off-kilter which is unusual for us. We were intimidated by that [Eastern Pennsylvania] lacrosse, and it got to hurt. Unfortunately, it becomes a mental game very quickly."
Larkin graduated along with Commendatore along with four other starters. But junior midfielders Jocelyn Coholich and Rachel Mattson, junior attack Rachel Hirst and sophomore midfielder Melinda Maers are among the top returnees.
That gives the team a solid foundation for 2018.