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Lacrosse: West girls hand Hillgrove first loss of season
Ansley Athey
West Forsyth freshman Ansley Athey, right, bumps sticks with sophomore Mikaela Barbieri Friday during the Wolverines' 11-9 win against Hillgrove. Photo by Jay Rooney Photography

By Steven Watkins

For the Forsyth County News

West Forsyth's girls lacrosse team added another tally to the win column Friday night, this one in the form of an 11-9 victory over Hillgrove that marked the fourth straight win for the Wolverines and the first loss of the season for the Hawks.

Despite a shaky start and a pair of Hillgrove goals in the opening minutes, West settled in quickly, scoring three consecutive goals of its own to take of a lead that they never relinquished.

“I think the girls played really tough,” West coach Chris Kiefer said. “That is one thing that you’re always going to get out of our girls is hustle.”

Hillgrove kept the game within reach, trailing by no more than a pair of goals for the vast majority of the night and threatening to even the score on a number of occasions, even notching a pair of goals 37 seconds apart in the early minutes of the second half. 

Yet the Wolverines consistently found ways to find the net when needed.

“I think sometimes when you play lacrosse the ball just doesn’t bounce your way,” Kiefer said. “I think we just have to become more consistent as a team. We have four or five really high-level girls that are going to play really well, and if they’re missing shots, the game gets a little closer. If we’re making those shots, then we pull away easily. It’s just consistency.”

West outshot Hillgrove 20-13 and forced 11 different free-position plays with six resulting in a goal. 

Senior Cami Merkel led the scoring for the Wolverines with three goals on six shots with two assists, despite leaving the game briefly on a scary play near the end of the first half when an opposing player shoved her from behind into the chain-link fence surrounding the field.

“She’s the toughest kid I know,” Kiefer said of his attacker. “I hope my kids grow up to be that tough.”

Sophomore Noelle Kirley and Junior Jenna Burrow followed with a pair of goals, with Kirley scoring twice on three shots and Burrow netting 2 of 5. Burrow added eight successful draws on the night, helping the Wolverines win the draw percentage at just under 60 percent.

West kept constant pressure on the opposing defense throughout the game, moving the ball fluidly around the fan until an opening presented itself and attacking the empty space with a shot or by forcing a free position.

“They were running a pressured offense, and I think moving the ball we needed to control that a little bit more,” Merkel said. “There were definitely some sloppy passes, but when we did execute there was a girl open in the middle and there was a shot.”

On the other side of the field, the Wolverines' defenders found themselves tasked with both slowing down a Hillgrove attack averaging 16 goals per game, and more specifically, covering leading scorer Lauren Render, a task that fell primarily to Bella Steigerwalt.

“Bella basically covered No. 22 the whole game until she got out of the game, and she did a great job doing it,” Kiefer said. “I think she only had one goal up to that point when she got out of the game. If you can hold that girl to one goal, you’re doing a pretty good job. I’d say Bella Steigerwalt was probably our player of the game.”

Render’s lone goal occurred in the opening minute, and the junior added only one additional shot before leaving midway through the game.

“Our defense played really well tonight,” Kiefer said. “What we did tonight — I’m sure once people get the film they’re going to try to do the same thing. We bodied up their two best players and we tried to keep the ball out of their stick, and that worked really well.”

West will seek to continue its winning streak at home next Saturday with a non-region matchup with IMG Academy (Fl.).