CROSS RIVER, N.Y.— During a torrential storm in a game at Somers back in early May, a lightbulb went off for John Jay-Cross River’s girls lacrosse team.
“Our level of play increased where most people would let down,” first-year head coach Stacey Wierl said. “That was a pivotal moment. It was sleeting and raining and snowing. They never even flinched, and it didn’t faze them in the least. They wanted to get better. They wanted to play at the level that we knew they were capable of playing.”
The Indians have been on a mission ever since.
A 10-goal quarterfinal win over Somers. A 14-goal semifinal win over Lakeland/Panas.
Those two statement-making victories led them into a battle with two-time defending section champion Yorktown.
And they didn’t disappoint.
Second-seeded John Jay dethroned top-seeded Yorktown with an 8-6 victory in the Section 1 Class B final on May 24 at Torne Valley Sports Complex in Rockland County.
“All the small wins: the ground balls, the hustle plays, transition passes—it’s all because we have heart and we wanted it so much more today,” John Jay junior Cara O’Reilly said. “We wanted it so bad. I know since I was a freshman, all five or six of us juniors, we’ve been literally blood, sweat and tears for this moment in our lives. I’m just so happy.”
The win gave the Indians their first section title since 2013 when they also defeated the Huskers.
John Jay held a 6-4 halftime lead but it was quickly cut to a goal when Ciara Frawley scored 57 seconds into the final half.
Cameron Crawford had the answer on a feed from Charlotte Wilmoth (2G, 2A) just 31 seconds later.
“This team worked unbelievably hard and I couldn’t be prouder of them,” John Jay junior Jenna Giardina said. “We worked so well on the offense, on the defense, on the middle, on the draw. I don’t know where we could have improved in on the field in this game.”
Both teams went on a scoreless drought but Tyman Cronin (1G, 1A) broke the ice to extend the lead to 8-5 with 9:46 left on the clock.
Husker Kelsey McDonnell brought Yorktown to within two goals a minute later.
But Jay goalie Taylor Rice and the Indian defense thrived down the stretch. Rice stopped multiple 8-meter attempts and came through with a critical save with 3:22 to go on a low, bouncing shot.
“We just did everything for Taylor and Taylor had an amazing game,” said Giardina, who had two goals and an assist. “I’ve never seen her play better, she played amazing.”
Rice said the team’s energy helped her lift up her game.
“It made everyone play better,” said Rice, who finished with six saves. “That’s what was really important—the team spirit.”
John Jay’s defense suffocated and frustrated Yorktown’s offense, particularly in the second half, where it held the Huskers to just two goals and a 15-minute scoreless stretch.
After playing zone in the first half, the Indians made a quick change which confused the Huskers.
“We played a super-tight man (defense) which rattled them because they weren’t expecting that,” Rice said. “I played as an eighth defender which I think flustered them because there was an extra person putting pressure on them which they might not be used to.”
Yorktown is normally a high-scoring offense, but the Indians made them look inept.
“I mean, high pressure against Yorktown, you’d think they’d just sprint by us,” O’Reilly said. “We were so aggressive and so much scarier. They (Yorktown) were the ones that were scared tonight and that was the key. We stayed in the high-pressure man and they kept dropping the ball and we kept going. We just never stopped.”
The Indians forced six turnovers, collected seven ground balls and won nine out of 15 draws. O’Reilly won seven draw controls.
“A big component to the win was forced turnovers,” Wierl said. “When we lost the possession of the ball we didn’t put our heads down and we focused on getting the ball back.”
It was tied 4-4 late in the first half when the Indians went on a pivotal two-goal run.
O’Reilly, who had two goals, started it on an 8-meter shot with 36.4 seconds left in the half. The Husker sideline cried out that she went early but to no avail.
Just 14 seconds later, Wilmoth scooped up a rebound on an O’Reilly shot and scored on a creative backhand to send the Indians into halftime with the 6-4 edge.
John Jay, which only has two seniors on the roster in Ana Belardi and Julia Rossi, fell to Yorktown in last year’s Class B semifinals. The Indians’ talented group of juniors that has been on varsity since they were freshmen, along with a strong group of sophomores and freshman, were determined to take the team to the next level.
“I think we all wanted this ever since I was a freshman,” Giardina said. “Every single player on this team has wanted it ever since we stepped on the field for practice in the preseason.”
In a 19-5 win over third-seeded Lakeland/Panas in the semifinals on May 21, Wilmoth had a game-high six goals and collected nine draw controls with Cronin adding four goals and an assist.
Lily Preis (3G), Crawford (1G, 2A), Giardina (1G, 8 draw controls), O’Reilly (1G, 1A, 4 ground balls), Sydney Phillips (1G), Rossi (1G), Melina O’Connor (1G), Cronin (1A) and Brianna Garofolo (3 saves) all got in on the action.
John Jay (16-3) advanced to the Class B regional semifinals where it was scheduled to face Queensbury of Section 2 on May 30 at Fox Lane High School.
“These players, this program, from the youth program to the athletic department, everybody wanted this for a long time,” said Wierl, whose assistant coaches are Claire Yergeau and Marissa Kluber. “This group has been working so hard in the offseason to get to this place. They’ve put the time and effort in through strength and conditioning, at practice and individually on their own. The mindset from November has been to get to this moment and to win this game.”
With each passing game, the Indians gained more poise and experience.
“I think that we built that confidence right from the start,” O’Reilly said. “We were humble, and the confidence rose. I think that the more we trusted each other our defense built up, we were getting more motion on attack and our transition improved. Everyone wanted it so bad.”