HOSCHTON — One adjustment the West Forsyth girls lacrosse team had to make before its second-round state playoff game on Monday at Mill Creek had to do with the playing surface.
The Wolverines typically play on artificial turf, but the Hawks have a grass field, which causes balls to move slower, calling for adjustments when shooting and chasing ground balls. West practiced on grass beforehand the previous week to get ready, though, and said that the playing surface was only a factor in the opening minutes.
Once the Wolverines were fully adjusted there, though, it was their offense that got bogged down. West led Mill Creek 7-5 at halftime and 8-5 after freshman attack Cami Merkel opened the second half with a goal, but the Hawks responded with four straight to take the lead and send West towards and 11-9 defeat, ending the Wolverines' season.
"They did their best," West head coach Barney Marchand said. "Mill Creek was the better team tonight."
The Wolverines (16-4) had a strong, diverse scoring effort in the first half, during which they also had an advantage on the draw. Dangerous junior attack Ella Madson scored twice, but Merkel, Jillian White, Kate Pulliam and Maddie Houlberg also had goals, and senior goalkeeper Tori Gadsden made multiple close saves towards the end of the period.
But in the second half, the Hawks answered Merkel's opening goal, and then won two straight draws to tie it at 8-8. The Hawks then took the lead, and while Merkel scored again to briefly tie the game with 14:00 to play, Sara Grieco put one in to give Mill Creek the decisive lead.
"We just thought we had a cushion (in the second half), and we obviously didn't, so we needed to keep fighting with the same intensity that we did," Merkel said. "And I think we kind of just dropped off a little bit."
There were tearful goodbyes after the game for West's six seniors, but Marchand and Merkel were confident in that the program would continue to rack up playoff appearances. The Wolverines were particularly young this year, with sophomores and freshmen comprising more than half of the roster.
"They'll compete for a few years from here forward," Marchand said. "I think they'll be in the playoffs for the next five, six years running."
Marchand won't be with the program for that, though, as he's set to start up the boys lacrosse program at Denmark High. He made sure not to take too much credit for the Wolverines' current and future success.
"It's a lot of people," Marchand said. "It's the booster club, it's the other coaches, it's the kids ... As a group, it's been left in good hands."