Girls lacrosse goal: staying on top

By Matt Phelps' email='

The Mercer Island High School girls lacrosse team's season in 2004 was one of the biggest stories of the year. Coming off a no-win season in 2002 and just three victories in 2003, the team exploded with a balanced attack and stifling defense, making it all the way to the state championship game.

But the seniors that led that squad, like all-American consideration goalkeeper Kelly Nakata and Tara McTavish, are gone. They leave big holes for this season's squad to fill.

"We need to just have a strong defense overall," said Mercer Island girls lacrosse head coach Sarah Milo. "It will make the transition easier for whoever is in goal. We can't replace Kelly physically, but she managed to pass on her leadership skills to the other girls."

Two seniors that will be a big key for the team's success are Dani Zorn and Kate Elston.

"We have wonderful captains this year," said Milo. "They have held practices and they just have a lot of confidence."

Confidence was something that the team lacked up until last season.

"We were shocked that we were even winning last year," said Zorn. "Going all the way to the title game was something we never really thought could happen. That experience can be dangerous because we don't want to get overconfident."

"Last year was a magical experience and I think it gives them a lot of incentive," said Milo.

Scoring will not be a problem for the team as most of the offensive players from last year will return this season. Both Zorn and Elston will give the Islanders a one-two-punch that many teams could not handle last season.

"We have a strong group of offensive senior players, but we lost a lot of seniors on defense," said Milo.

That defense will be critical for the team's success, with Nakata playing at the University of Washington. Milo said that the team is small and lacks size but has the advantage of having players that are strong with both hands. "Our strength is definitely going to be our speed and we have to utilize that," said Milo. The size of the girls program is growing as well, thanks to a big middle school program. "It says that girls love this sport," said Milo. "We have teams for girls that are great players and girls that are still learning. We have room for everyone."

The influx of players in the freshman class is something that is exciting for Milo. It will be the first class with three to four years experience at the middle school level. Milo said that the experience already shows in the practices. "We have got a great freshman class," said Milo. "Tiffany Louie and Sara Stern are doing really well, among others."

Louie said that her goal is to make it onto the varsity A squad this season, but she is also trying to keep things in perspective.

"It was kind of intimidating, the strength and speed of the older players,"

said Louie. "There are so many girls with more experience. You really have to step it up to be someone on this team."

That statement is a far cry from McTavish, who suggested last year during preseason workouts that the team set the goal of playing for the state title and was laughed at. But it goes to show that anything can happen in girls lacrosse. "It used to be the girls would tell their friends they play lacrosse and there reaction was, Oh that's too bad,'" said Milo. "But I think the community is starting to believe."

Milo said that it will be different having team's gunning for them.

"We just have to step up and accept the role we earned last year," said Milo.

Info Box Head coach: Sarah Milo (fourth year)

Assistant coaches: Craig van der Horn, Julie Jordan, Marika Bonnema, Pat Mack and Meghan Elston.

Last year's record: 13-3-0 (second in state)

Key athletes: Sr. Dani Zorn, Sr. Kate Elston, Sr. Luarel Benz, Sr. Allie Jurkovich, Sr. Kelsey Mescher, Jr. Carlyn Peterson and Jr. Tanya Swarts.

Key newcomers: Freshman class (Sara Stern and Tiffany Louie).

Key losses: Jamie Webster, Kelly Nakata and Tara McTavish.

Key games: Lakeside, Seattle Prep, Bainbridge Island, Overlake.

First league game: 8 p.m., Tuesday, March 22 vs. Forest Ridge.

Key to a good season: Take new role in the league seriously.

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