Hampton girls lacrosse shows grit as they try to stay atop the WPIAL

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Thursday, May 2, 2019 | 4:22 PM


Great programs always find a way to win, and it never is on talent alone.

After running through the WPIAL the past two seasons, the competition is trying to catch up with Hampton girls lacrosse. But the team’s mental toughness and versatility have it coming out on top more often than not this season, even after losing senior captain Melinda Maers to a season-ending injury before the season started.

“We have a lot of grit,” said coach Kelsey Viets, whose team was 11-3 after a one-point victory over rival Mars on April 29. “It’s hard going into games where people might be tired of seeing Hampton at the top. And we realize that.

“We’ve forged together and said it’s us against the world. We have to grind it out some games, and we know what it takes.”

It starts with a senior class that has led with attitude and versatility. A primary example is senior captain Liz Dolan, who, Viets said, has done “a remarkable job” moving from defender to starting center.

As of Sunday, Dolan had won 44 faceoffs, had 24 takeaways, and scored 13 goals on 27 shots. Dolan thinks the position changes have helped to improve the players’ game-awarenessand made everyone more well-rounded.

“It takes some patience,” she said. “But one of the big things Kelsey stresses is the idea of looking out for each other. If someone misses a pass, make sure you’re there to get the ball. Just always be alert and ready to react.”

The team has reacted the right way more often than not, with the exception of a 13-9 setback against Oakland Catholic, which might cost it the No. 1 seed come playoff time, and two nonsection losses to Class AAA powers Pine-Richland and Mt. Lebanon.

But the win tally also includes tough, close victories against Mars (13-12), Franklin Regional (10-9) and Seton LaSalle (12-9).

But what is true grit? Dolan thinks it is mental, as well as physical. It’s the ability to remain calm when adversity hits.

“You can see it in our aggressiveness,” she said. “Attacking that goal and going for it. But I also think there’s a grit in the way we keep our composure. That takes self control. … We’re a pretty calm team when it comes to the pressure.”

Sophomore midfielder Megan Cook continues her breakout season after starring as a JV call-up in last year’s WPIAL final. She added three goals to her team-high total (32) against Mars. From an experience standpoint, freshman Hannah Acquafondata has helped stabilize the holes left on attack via graduation.

“On attack, I went from having three senior starters and one junior last year to one senior and a mix of underclassmen,” Viets said. “So we’ve asked a lot of them to accelerate their abilities quickly.”

Sophomore goalie Annaliese Winklosky also has had to answer the bell as a first-year starter.

“She’s done an incredible job the second half of the season,” said Viets, who highlighted her 13-save effort against Franklin Regional. “It helps we’ve had a really strong defensive end from our care four defenders.

“This senior class is determined. Once Melinda was out of the lineup, they brought the team together and said, ‘Listen, one team, one goal, we have to stick together and figure this out.’ ”

It’s a class that also boasts four college commitments, showing just how far the program has come under Viets. In addition to Maers signing with Walsh, Dolan and Molly Wojcik will head to Allegheny, and Sarah Rech recently signed with Akron.

“Our first D-I commit, that’s so cool.” Viets said of Rech. “She’s just such a versatile player and phenomenal captain. It’s been a really cool season. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but we’re still in it.”

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