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Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Islander girls lacrosse team captains, from left, Carrie McKee, Erin Gibson, Sara Stern and Caroline Gallup are four of 12 seniors on the varsity squad. -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Islander girls lacrosse team captains, from left, Carrie McKee, Erin Gibson, Sara Stern and Caroline Gallup are four of 12 seniors on the varsity squad.
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Girls lacrosse is ready to return to state, senior-dominated lineup

Matt Phelps
Mercer Island Reporter

Last year was nothing short of surprising for the Mercer Island girls lacrosse team that had a rookie head coach and very little experience with varsity play. But the 2007 team which won the league title and made it to the state playoffs is back and ready to take the next step by returning to the playoffs.

“I know our seniors would love to make it to the state finals, and we haven’t been there since 2004,” said Mercer Island coach Meg Elston, who won the coach of the year honors in her first season. “But our goal is to make the state playoffs again.”

The Islanders will have heavy strength in offense and defense along with experience.

“We need to get strong in our transitions,” said Elston. “This team will be fast, but we have to be able to transition better.”

One big advantage for the Islanders is the fact that the defensive starters have played together for three seasons.

“There is a group of us that have been on varsity since our freshman year, and it has always been our goal to make it to the state finals our senior year,” said Caroline Gallop.

Seniors Sara Stern, Carrie McKee and Cristina Neary won’t get all the glory but will give the team a strong backbone in its attempt to recapture the league title.

“We will also have a really strong attack,” said Elston.

That attack will be led by two Carolines: Gallop, a senior, and junior Caroline Mahoney.

“I feel like she is my other half,” said Gallop. “I always know where she is, and it relieves some of that pressure by having a double threat.”

The tandem wreaked havoc on the league last year, and sophomore Lauren Ito will add more game that contributed to the Islanders’ postseason loss to Bainbridge Island.

“We need a full commitment of 50 minutes from every player this year,” said Elston. “We lost it for 10 minutes last year against Bainbridge and never recovered. We have to stay focused throughout games.”

One big lesson that the team learned last year was how to be patient.

“We won seven or eight games last year by one goal — that gave us a lot of confidence,” said Elston. “We also learned how to stay calm under pressure.”

The Islanders will have some major changes to deal with this season. The biggest will be a style change in coaching. Elston said that she will experiment with a male type of lineup change during games. Instead of exchanging one or two players at a time, she will change entire lines. As a result, the team will carry 19 players on varsity instead of 16 like last year.

The players will be able to stay fresh along with having set players with whom to take the field. Another advantage is the ability for Elston’s younger players to get more playing time.

“I want the seniors to get as much playing time as possible — this is their year,” said Elston. “But we need to prepare for the future as well.”

Elston said that one big challenge will be combining players who have played two to four years together with new athletes. Ten of the 19 players are seniors.

“We have to find a good balance in order to be successful,” said Elston. “But our starting lineup is really familiar with each other.”

Elston said the biggest lesson she learned last year was how much there is to do.

“A lot of big decisions can affect the outcomes of games,” said Elston.

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