For many teams, even a brief lapse in focus at this point in the season is enough for momentum to shift and an opponent to take over a game. Fortunately for the Madison Warhawks, they are not one of those teams.
Katie Kerrigan scored three of her game-high five goals during the opening two minutes of the second half and Madison turned its Northern Region girls lacrosse quarterfinal matchup with Lake Braddock into a 19-8 rout on Thursday night. The win sets up one of the region's premiere rivalries, as the Warhawks will take on Oakton next Wednesday with a berth in the regional championship game and the Virginia state tournament on the line.
After the Bruins used a late rally to pull within three at halftime, Madison head coach Amanda Counts said she reminded her team of what it takes to win in the playoffs. For a team coming off an undefeated run to the state title in 2011, it may not have been too hard to remember.
"We weren't quite focused where we needed to be on how significant championship games are, and letting up at any point is really risky from here on out," Counts said. "We tried to emphasize that at halftime and thankfully the girls responded and came out strong."
Kerrigan scored her fifth goal on a behind the back shot to push the lead to double digits with about 13 minutes to go, but it was clear long before that that Lake Braddock wouldn't be able to recover.
Sam Babbitt had a goal and six assists and freshman Kiera Sweeny added three goals and two assists in helping fill the Warhawks' stat sheet. Sweeny has been a pleasant surprise for Madison this year. Her 29 goals are good for third on the team, and the pace on her shot surely caused problems for many of the boys teams she competed with in youth leagues. Counts admits that she can't take credit for what Sweeny has done so far this season.
"She is [also] a really, really competitive ice hockey player, and I think she carries a lot of her approach to that sport on the field here," Counts said of Sweeny. "I don't know anything about ice hockey but I know that a lot of what she does in unconventional. It's fun to watch, but I had nothing to do with that."
While Sigourney Heerink only had to make four saves and Melissa Kellan anchored the defense and much of the play around midfield, ball movement in the offensive zone was uncharacteristically sloppy for the Warhawks. There were several dropped passes during two stretches during the first half, including the one in the final minutes, that made Madison look mortal and allowed the Bruins to chip away.
"Some of our passes and some balls we should of caught, weren't, and I think they made some adjustments," Counts said. "At some point they were challenging themselves, so I get where the mistakes were coming from, but some of them were just silly errors, not focusing on the little things, and that will come back to bite you in the long run."
If there was ever a time for the Warhawks to get those silly errors out of their system, it's now. An unfortunate arbitrary draw has ensured that Madison and Oakton cannot both reach the state tournament, where they met in the championship game last year. Even unluckier for the Warhawks is that instead of a neutral site hosting the semifinals and final as had been the case in previous years, the school randomly written higher on the bracket now earns a home game if the two teams have the same seed. Madison is on the lowest line. Between last season's meetings and the documented of Amanda and her sister-in-law Jean Counts, Oakton's head coach, a game in just the semifinals may be a bit anticlimactic for some. Regardless, Counts knows she has to forget who's at the other end of the sideline and focus on advancing.
"I would say I'm the most competitive person I know, and unfortunately Jean is not someone I have that same drive against," she said. "I just have to erase who the opponent is and approach it like anybody else. I'm here to get my team where they're capable of going and that's what I'm going to set out to do."