THE CATS MEOW
Sydney Holman’s scoring and playmaking and goalie Reilly Johnson’s 11 huge saves lifted East Chapel Hill to its first NCHSAA girls’ lacrosse championship at WakeMed Soccer Park Saturday.
The Wildcats (16-2) led most of the all-classifications title game and never trailed by more than one goal, beating Charlotte Catholic 15-13.
East’s road to the title was the most difficult in the tournament field. The Cats had to beat defending champion Cary Green Hope to reach the finals and then had to dispose of last season’s state runner-up Catholic, which beat East early this season 13-10.
But Catholic (17-3) had no answer for Holman this time around. The senior who will play at UNC Chapel Hill next season, had already set the NCHSAA single-season scoring record with 123, and added five more Saturday. She also had a game-high four assists. Holman’s final goal proved to be the deciding one, lifting East to a 14-11 lead with 6:58 to play.
For her efforts, Holman won most valuable player honors.
“It’s the most amazing feeling I’ve ever had,” Holman repeated time and again. “My teammates really stepped up this season. What a great way to go out.”
ECH coach Michelle Michaels said the climb to the top was an epic one, beginning with Holman’s freshman season four years ago — the first season the state high school athletic association sanctioned a girls’ lacrosse championship.
“It was four years of working on our mental toughness ... I can’t be more proud of her (Holman) and her teammates,” Michaels said. “Having Sydney on the team motivates other players to get better.”
East trailed early in the first half, Catholic taking a 3-2 lead with 16:47 to play in the 25-minute period on two of standout sophomore attacker Natalie Wallon’s five first half goals. Wallon, who finished with a game-high seven goals, couldn’t do it all, although she certainly tried, scoring all but one of Catholic’s goals in the half.
Holman who had tied the score at 2-2 at the 16:59 mark, answered not by scoring but by setting up her teammates. She maintained possession always around the goal circle and found first Farrell Guest and then Cassie Watters for a pair of goals. Watters added another and East led 5-3. A pair by Wallon tied it, but Holman again keyed a 3-0 run with a pair of goals. It could have been three goals, but her shot glanced off Guest’s stick and into the net and Guest was credited with the goal. Holman picked up the assist on the play.
Wallon closed out the first half scoring to make it 8-6.
The score probably wasn’t an entirely accurate reflection of what was happening on the field. Johnson had eight saves in the half, including two on straight-on penalty shots, to give East some breathing room as Catholic pressed its attack.
“Reilly’s a solid kid who continues to work on her game, but it helps when she knows she’s ‘on’ — when she makes stops early,” Michaels said. “And when she’s on, that gives the defense confidence and they start making stops, too.”
Catholic’s Natalie Italiano, who scored the game’s opening goal, opened the second half scoring with her second goal, the first of three straight that gave Catholic a 9-8 lead with 18:13 to play. Catholic led 10-9 when Holman fed Elizabeth Jensen to tie it with 13:45 to play, the start of a four-goal run capped by Quinn Cullen’s penalty shot goal with 8:13 left that seemed go put ECH in command, 13-10.
Then out came the yellow cards from the officials. Christine Kolk was sent off for two minutes with 6:13 to play and Holman followed for two minutes with 5:49 left, forcing the Wildcats to play shorthanded, down two players until the 4:13 mark and down one from then until the 3:49 mark. When Kolk and Holman had both returned, Catholic had taken advantage and scored a pair to cut the lead to 14-13.
Kolk’s penalty shot made it a two-goal game with 3:50 to play, but East’s Maddie Futch then picked up her second yellow card of the match — meaning automatic disqualification — and putting the Wildcats back in a shorthanded position for the final 3:11 of play.
Asked to comment on the penalties, ECH’s Michaels said: “You really don’t want to know what I think of that. ... Emotions got the best of us.”
Despite the personnel issues, East’s defenders kept Catholic at bay to the buzzer. Bailey Demuth had a key takeaway down the stretch and Guest won possession by picking up a ground ball with 2:08 left.
The Wildcats’ attackers and midfielders held the ball for the final minute or so, playing keep away until the championship plaque was all theirs.
NOTES — The start of the game was delayed 30 minutes because of rain. It began at 1 p.m. ... Michaels said the joy of winning the championship was tempered by some degree by knowing it was Holman’s last game. Michaels said she’d always look back on this four-year run with a special feeling, because “I was part of her (Holman’s) career.”
East Chapel Hill 15, Charlotte Catholic 13
East Chapel Hill 8 7 — 15
Charlotte Catholic 6 7 — 13
Goals — ECH, Sydney Holman 5, Cassie Watters 2, Farrell Guest 2, Marrissa Creatore 2, Christine Kolk, Quin Cullen, Allison Morsberger, Elizabeth Jensen; Charlotte Catholic, Natalie Wallon 7, Emma Jette 3, Natalie Italiano 2, Peri Strassner. Assists — ECH, Holman 4, Creatore, Guest; Charlotte Catholic, N. Wallon, Jette. Saves — ECH 11 (Reilly Johnson 11), Charlotte Catholic 9 (Michele Holmes 9). Yellow cards/penalty minutes — ECH, Maddie Futch 2 (5:11, ejected with 3:11 to play), Kolk (2:00), Holman (2:00); Charlotte Catholic, N. Wallon (2:00), Erica Batres (2:00).
Records — East Chapel Hill 16-2, Charlotte Catholic 17-3.