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Lacrosse: West girls fall to Milton in state championship
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West Forsyth senior Madison Houlberg, right, tracks Milton senior Caroline Griffin Saturday during the Wolverines' 13-8 loss to the Eagles in the Class 6A-7A state championship game. - photo by David Roberts

By McClain Baxley

For the Forsyth County News

After last season’s abrupt ending in March amidst an undefeated season, the West Forsyth girls lacrosse team set several goals for the 2021 season.

They wanted a region championship, to make the GHSA playoffs, to play for a state championship and to win a state championship.

The Wolverines finished 16-2 on the regular season, 8-0 in region play and outscored their four playoff opponents 63-17 to clinch a spot in the state championship against unbeaten Milton.

The final goal wasn’t accomplished this season, as the speed and skill of the Eagles proved to be too much to overcome for the Wolverines, who fell 13-8 on Saturday.

Ten years ago, these girls began playing with each other at 7 years old and we were competing against Milton, getting our butts kicked,” West head coach John Kiefer said. “Ten years later, we’re in the state championship against them. Nothing goes fast and nothing goes easy.”

The Wolverines matched Milton’s opening goal as junior Jenna Burrow hit senior Cami Merkel, who scored West’s first goal of the championship. Then Milton went on a three-goal run, shooting from all over the field and forcing West to call a timeout.

Breaking up the Milton run, senior Maggie Bruce assisted junior Mikaela Barbieri to make it a 4-2 game. 

With a two-goal advantage, the Eagles started to bear down on the Wolverines. Skylar Carrasquillo, Haly Hawks and Emily Simkin each scored unassisted goals to give Milton an 8-3 lead with halftime looming.

The game clock read three seconds until halftime as Barbieri headed to the shooting arch. She shot and it landed in Merkel’s cross on the goal line as she volleyed it in before time expired.

“If I had to pinpoint one thing that made the difference, it was the shots made,” Kiefer said. “Our shot percentage wasn’t great. Our turnovers got us. You can’t make those kinds of errors against a team like Milton.”

As the second half winded on, Milton went on another two-goal run before starting to stall the game clock. Merkel scored from the shooting arch with 45 seconds remaining, but it was all too late.

With the 13-8 victory, Milton earned their 14th state championship in 16 tries. In West’s second state championship appearance, Kiefer saw just how far this program has come since the team’s last appearance in 2010.

“They deserved this,” Kiefer said of his team’s effort. “They have no reason to hang their heads. They played with one of the best teams in the country.”

West’s Emma Anderson finished with six saves and Milton’s Tori Mellinger had 10. Merkel led all scorers with five goals, while Milton’s Brie Catts, Carasquillo and Haly Hawks each had three goals. 

West played with six seniors — Bruce, Merkel, Madison Houlberg, Tayler Evangelista, Bella Steigerwalt and Morgan Tate — and will return the rest of a team that’s “only gotten better each year.” 

In 2022, West will return a bulk of the roster that has lost just three games since 2019, and they’ll be expected to fulfill the same goals they set out to meet this season.

“This senior class is the one that started it all,” Kiefer said. “You saw today the fruition of all those years of hard work. The seniors were the ones that led it all year. We’re going to miss them.”