The Franklin High girls lacrosse team won the Division 1 East Sectional championship for the third time in the last four years, but the Panthers once again were unable to come away victorious in the state semifinals.
Coach Kristin Igoe’s Panthers bowed to Longmeadow, 12-6, and were thwarted for the third time in the last four years in their attempt to win a state crown. Franklin trailed, 4-0, but rallied to tie the contest at halftime, 5-5. The Lancers, however, scored four straight goals for a 9-5 lead, then added three more in the final 12 minutes to eliminate Franklin.
“We’re still a very young team,’’ Igoe said. “We had only four seniors, so we’re hoping to get back to the state tourney and eventually win a semifinal game. There’s a lot to look forward to.’’
Sectional championships, however, are nothing to sneeze at, and Igoe’s crew, which finished the season at 22-2, has elevated Franklin to a lofty perch in the lacrosse community.
The Panthers not only peaked at the right time for their three triumphs in the Sectional, but they also maintained their determined work ethic, their focus and high level of motivation.
Franklin rallied in the second half of its opening-round game against Natick for its first victory, then defeated King Philip, setting up the title clash against second-seeded Concord-Carlisle. The Panthers rolled to a 16-7 victory, which gave them their third Sectional championship in the last four years.
“Winning the Sectional crown was a total team effort,’’ Igoe said. “The attributes our kids relied on were athleticism, stick skills, field awareness and competitive instincts. What also was a plus and prepared us well for tourney play is the league we compete in. The Hockomock League had six teams in the playoffs this year (Foxboro, King Philip, Franklin, North Attleboro, Sharon and Mansfield).’’
Top-notch efforts in the Sectionals were turned in by midfielders Annie and Erin Walsh and Halle Atkinson; goalie Gianna Cameron; and attackers Kendall Reardon and Caroline Lounsbury. Annie Walsh had seven of Franklin’s 16 goals in the Sectional final against Concord-Carlisle.
“Annie and her sister Erin combined for 25 goals in the Sectionals,’’ Igoe said. “They displayed excellent stick skills, and their reflexes were quick. Their teammates passed so effectively to both of them. They caught the ball, controlled it, and scored.’’
Igoe was also impressed with Atkinson, a midfielder whose effort is always all-out. “Halle was really scrappy,’’ Igoe noted. “A hard-nosed player, she won lots of ground balls and draws.’’
Cameron, who is only a freshman, was strong in goal, yielding an average of eight goals per outing in the Sectionals. “Gianna had a 63 percent save percentage during the regular season,’’ Igoe said. She’s very competitive, is solid and has good reflexes and instincts.’’
Reardon and Lounsbury, two of the Panthers captains, enjoyed consistent outings in the Sectionals. “Kendall’s dodging and shooting were a plus and Caroline’s athletic ability and solid leadership were big assets. She scored and assisted in consistent fashion.’’
A trio of defenders — senior captains Dana Lewandowski and Grace McDermott and junior Grace MacCallum — were key cogs who limited the pressure on Cameron.
“Dana passes well and gets to ground balls,’’ Igoe said. “She’s a smart player who’s very quick. Grace (McDermott) is aggressive, instinctive and has good field awareness. She’s also quick. Grace (MacCallum) makes big plays. Able to intercept the ball often, she’s a smart, intelligent player.’’
Two other keys to Franklin’s success were freshman Kelsey MacCallum, who plays midfield and attack; and junior attacker Jordan Jette. “Kelsey works hard and is very coachable,’’ Igoe said. “Jordan has exceptional field vision, has a hard shot, and is very skilled. A good passer, she’s a very instinctive player.’’
The Panthers had only four seniors on their squad, a situation that could translate to more success in the years to come. Having changed her lineup on many occasions, the 27-year-old Igoe emphasized that “our reserves were dependable all year, and everyone fulfilled their roles.’’
Relying on a coaching style that emphasizes hard work and discipline, Igoe has been successful because she’s been a teacher of the sport first. “I never stray from those standards,’’ she said. “But a big reason for our success is our youth program. It’s one of the strongest programs in the state, and the talent we get is fundamentally sound. Winning so often helps to get candidates out for our team, because they want to experience the success. The expectations are high, so our kids enter the program prepared and eager to sharpen their skills. Sometimes, however, a winning team can be intimidating and cause some girls to pass up playing.’’
The girls lacrosse team at Franklin, nevertheless, has been a perennial threat to excel in post-season play. And, it’s very apparent that winning will continue to be the norm for the future.