Teams always are looking for big challenges to mark their progress. The Pine-Richland High girls lacrosse team received that opportunity last Monday when Peters Township High overcame a three-goal halftime deficit to secure a 13-10 victory in a game that featured the top two teams in Western Pennsylvania in a non-sectional game at the Rams' stadium.
"They are a very difficult team, and we know the talent level they have on their team," said Pine-Richland coach Tori Trombetta. "They are No. 1 for a reason. That being said, we have a quality team and we're starting to peak right now. These girls see each other in the off-season. They play on travel teams together. It is emotional. Everyone wants to win (during the regular season), but you also want to win when it counts. We might see them in the playoffs, and that's when we want to get them.
"Any time you play a team that's not in your section -- especially the No. 1 ranked team -- you want to see where you're going to stack up; especially with the amount of talent on this team," she said. "They are well-coached and are probably the favorites in the WPIAL (Division 1 tournament). But we're not far behind them."
The Rams bounced back from that loss with a 14-12 victory over Sewickley Academy last Thursday. The Rams meet two ranked opponents -- No. 6 Quaker Valley (9-4) and No. 4 Mt. Lebanon (11-4) on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. A game with at archrival North Allegheny (6-6) on Thursday concludes the regular season.
Trombetta believed her team had the opportunity to make a big showing this season based on the talent level returning from a year ago.
"Last year, we had the talent, but we had some injuries that plagued us," she said. "That gave the younger girls the opportunity to get some playing time," she said of a team that finished with a 3-12 record. "The had the experience, and we knew that was going to be a huge bonus for us. We're getting better with every game"
Trombetta said the team's 16-5 victory over No. 5 Seneca Valley on April 26 was a milestone in the team's success this season. The victory gave the Rams a season sweep over the Raiders. In the April 3 game, the Rams eked out a 9-8 decision. A year ago, the Raiders swept the season series with victories of 15-3 and 17-9, respectively.
"We realized that when we play as a team and play how we know how to play, we can beat anyone that's out there," she said.
Trombetta said that 11-goal victory over Seneca Valley featured a convergence of offense and defense that she hadn't seen all season.
"In one game, our offense has a fantastic game and our defense struggles and the opposite occurs in the next game," she said. "In that game, we did everything well."
Trombetta said the five-goal performance by Peters Township's talented junior Caitlin Carey wasn't a big surprise.
"We knew going in that was a team that can pick it up when they are down and flip on that switch and score six goals in six minutes like they did," she said. "Our players seemed content with that 7-4 lead, but you have to be mentally prepared to play for 50 minutes. By the time we realized we were down and woke up, it was too late. But we did come out of that mental funk and put some goals on the board. It's a tough loss, but it's not the end. We'll take it in stride."
Western Pennsylvania teams steadily improving: Trombetta believes it's just a matter of time before a team from Western Pennsylvania will be competing for a state championship. No team from the WPIAL or any of the other regions west of Harrisburg has competed for either a boys or girls state title.
"I think every year you see better teams coming out of this area," she said. "You can tell with the quality of players that we have. A lot of players from this area are going to Division I colleges. Western Pennsylvania is stepping up their game and starting to compete with Eastern teams. You'll see that more and more each year. I think we're getting there; I hope so."