Motivated by last season’s playoff defeat, Fox Chapel girls lacrosse chasing WPIAL title

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Thursday, May 2, 2019 | 8:03 PM


A regular-season victory can’t fully erase the sting of a playoff loss, but Fox Chapel’s girls lacrosse team still felt plenty of satisfaction after a two-goal win over Sewickley Academy last week.

The result kept the Foxes unbeaten in Section 2-AAA with the regular season winding down, and it came against the team that eliminated them in the WPIAL quarterfinals last season, their playoff opener after a first-round bye.

“I think today we had the upper hand in a way because we were stemming off of that loss from last year, and so we wanted to go out there and win and take that home,” senior Makenna Blazer said.

Fox Chapel (9-3, 9-0) is channeling its disappointment from how 2018 ended into motivation for making a deeper run this season. With 10 seniors on board and all but two starters back from last season, the Foxes believe they have the experience and depth to contend for their first WPIAL championship.

“Our expectations for this year are that we want to definitely go as far as we went last year and definitely even farther,” senior midfielder Marissa Hardiman said. “We almost feel like we got cheated a little bit last year.”

Plenty of experience returned on the field for Fox Chapel, but the team is playing under a new coach this season in Rebecca Hartrum, who made scheme changes.

The biggest change came defensively, where Hartrum instituted a zone defense to replace the previous man-to-man. The four defenders each guard a specific quadrant, with midfielders backing them up.

“Definitely at the beginning we had some struggles, but we worked it out in the first game and before the season even started,” senior defender Rebecca Klaas said. “It’s a very different type of play. It’s more of concentrating on your side of the crease, and each defender has their own section.”

The Foxes lost two of their first four games, to nonsection opponents Mt. Lebanon and Mars, before ripping off victories in seven of their past eight contests.

They’re outscoring teams 148-87 heading into a nonsection game Friday at Peters Township, with the final section test — a big one — coming Monday against Shady Side Academy.

“To be undefeated in the section, that’s a really big thing for us this year,” Hardiman said. “I think the couple of games that we have lost, if we see those teams again I feel really confident that we’ll be able to come back and beat them if we see them again because we have a little more experience now. But overall, I just think this season’s been getting better as far as experience and personnel.”

It helps Fox Chapel that its personnel has so much experience together. Klaas said many of the players grew up together through the elementary ranks of the lacrosse program, and now they have multiple years of varsity competition with each other.

“I think we all have kind of this standard that we hold onto each other,” junior defender Mary Ellis said.

“We put a lot of trust into every other player, especially the upperclassmen because we’ve played together for so long. So it’s really reassuring to have some moments when I get down on myself, (and) they’ll just pick me up real quick.”

The only potential drawback, Blazer said, is focus: The senior said sometimes the team will “goof off” during practice, and attributed some of the losses to not getting excited enough for the games.

But when the Foxes are locked in, the results speak for themselves, as Sewickley Academy found out. A victory over Shady Side Academy would give Fox Chapel its third section title and second in three years.

The Foxes lost in overtime of the WPIAL championship game in 2017, their closest chance yet at a title.

“As a team, we all work together harder in practice and keep each other focused more, and that definitely shows in games,” Klaas said. “If we have a really good practice the day before, we have a really good game the next day.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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