Jesuit girls lacrosse wins first state in school history
The objective from the first day of practice was clear-cut and communally agreed upon.
The Jesuit girls lacrosse team was going to play on the final day of the season and unlike the year prior, the Crusaders would be the squad holding up Class 6A state championship trophy.
There was no plan B. Second place wasn't an option, even against a dynasty like Lake Oswego.
It was a confidence that carried the Crusaders as they played some of their best collective lacrosse of the season in the 6A title game and buoyed them as they weathered a last-gasp swell from the Lakers in the latter parts of the second half.
But ultimately Jesuit's destiny wouldn't be denied as goalie Nina Mahler, goal-scoring phenom Grace Lee and the rest of the hell-bent Crusaders beat Lake Oswego 13-12 to win their first state title in school history on May 23 at Lake Oswego High School.
"It's absolutely unreal, I'm still in shock," Jesuit senior Bella Sobol said. "All through today we kept saying 'When we win, when we win' and we really believed it this year. That was the difference. Last year we came in saying (Lake Oswego) was going to beat us. But this year we knew we were going to win. We put in the hard work to get there. It's insane to be here, I just have so much joy."
"It was the trust in each other and the willingness to work on and off the field," Mahler said. "Whether it was in the gym, at home, in school, we put in the work to do whatever it took."
Lake Oswego wouldn't let its reign end without a fight and nearly pushed the state title match to overtime in miraculous fashion. With Jesuit nursing a 13-12 lead with 16 seconds left in the second half, the Lakers forced a turnover down around the Crusader cage, 100 yards away from their own goal. But Lake Oswego picked up the ball as the clocked ticked away and quickly relayed it down the field in three long passes with Jesuit in full retreat. The Lakers somehow sprinted behind the Crusader defense and unloaded a shot that screamed past Mahler into the net for the apparent tying goal with the clock sitting at quadruple zeroes.
The huge crowd on hand went berserk as the Laker student section spilled onto the track in celebration, believing the game was headed toward overtime. However, the officials huddled together near midfield and ruled Lake Oswego got the look off after the buzzer sounded and wiped away the goal, clinching the Crusader championship.
"I was praying," Jesuit sophomore defender Sydney Landauer said with a smile. "I was really hoping it wasn't a goal. I didn't want overtime. I'm just glad it wasn't. Everyone in the back of their minds knew we had it. We were all really confident and knew we could pull it off."
The Jesuit faithful, who came in full force, rushed the field, racing past the huddled circle of beleaguered, unbelieving Lakers to celebrate with the victors.
Mahler was named the game's most valuable player and justifiably so. The senior goalie bagged seven saves, some of which she took an unimpeded Laker attack straight on and either caught the ball with her stick or deflected it away. Additionally, five of her saves were converted into Crusader goals on the other side of the field as Jesuit cashed in the momentum-stopping stops into scores. Mahler commended every single contributor to the title game triumph, but even the meek star was a bit impressed with her personal exploits.
"Not to sound selfish, but I knew I kicked ass and came through for my team," Mahler said with a smile. "I'm very humbled and grateful. Everyone on my team deserves an MVP award. And it wasn't all me, it was a team effort It was my defense, my midfield, offense, coaches, everyone on the sidelines and our fans."
Lake Oswego went on a 5-0 run in the first half to claim a 5-2 lead, but Jesuit countered with a 5-0 spurt of its own to go into the dressing room ahead 7-5 at the half. Mahler didn't allow a goal over the final six minutes of play as Lee, Kiana Santiago and Ella Smith all scored.
"We connected really well," Landauer said. "We have relationships on and off the field and that really played a big part in us playing really well together."
Sobol said Jesuit's offense isn't a structured scheme, but more a freelance style based on feel and instincts. There are concepts and themes coached, yet the Crusaders are not confined by rigged play design. In the second half, the ball moved beautifully around the cage and out to the perimeter. When Jesuit maintained possession, it could essentially get any shot it wanted offensively. Sobol snatched a missed penalty shot off the post and slammed it back through the net to extend Jesuit's lead to 8-5. Then Lee scored the Crusaders' next five goals in a row to get out to a 13-8 lead with 5:41 to play in the second half. Lake Oswego's heads were spinning as Lee, Santiago, Elizabeth Daigle, Brooke Oleson and Amanda Kerr ran circles around the net, searching, prodding, picking and choosing passing lanes to exploit for open shots.
"We're so proud because this was the best game we played all season," Landauer said. "We trust each other a lot, so we're willing to pass the ball to anyone and know they can handle it."
They go off what the defense gives them and make sure every player gets a touch of the ball. It's a very altruistic, Golden State Warrior-like system that's fun to watch with passing, instinctive cutting and free-flowing motion. It didn't matter who was open or who cut to open space in front of the net. The uncovered teammate was rewarded every time.
"We played super unselfishly," Sobol said. "We constantly want the best for others and you can see that through our stats. We made sure everyone was a key player and everyone was a threat. That's how we see the offense being. Everyone just kind of clicks and knows how each other plays."
In head coach Mackenzie Coulson's curtain call as Jesuit's skipper, the Crusaders sent her out on top. To boot, Jesuit exacted its vengeance on Lake Oswego, who beat the Crusaders a year ago to the day on the same field in the state title game to run its title streak to eight. Then, Jesuit was a team just happy to be in the state championship and was overrun by a Laker accustomed to the bright lights. Now, there's a new sheriff in town, one that dons the green and gold.
"(Lake Oswego) is an amazing team, don't get me wrong, but we just wanted this so bad," Sobol said.
"That self-belief came from within," Mahler said. "We had the fire and knew we were going to win it. It was meant to be."