There are worse things in life than a state runner-up finish, but that broken record no doubt is getting old for the Chagrin Falls girls lacrosse program.
The Lady Tigers (13-4) hung with Columbus St. Francis DeSales (21-1) for the majority of the first half, but the game got away from them during an 11-3 loss in the Division II state championship on Saturday morning at Ohio Wesleyan’s Selby Stadium in Delaware.
It was the fifth straight season finishing state runners-up for Chagrin girls, including a 13-10 loss against Cincinnati Mariemont during a 14-8 campaign last season.
“We knew we were the underdog,” said Chagrin Falls second-year head coach Chris Gellin, whose Lady Tigers lost a 13-4 road game against the DeSales Lady Stallions during a regular-season battle on April 27.
“And we knew we would sort of have to run with them goal for goal,” he said. “And it felt like that up to really the first half that we did OK. Then they sort of just blew the lead wide open. They’re an excellent team and they were the better team for sure on Saturday.
“And it’s hard to sort of keep telling yourself that it’s a good season, but it really was. I’m really, really happy with this team. I’m happy with the seniors. I’m happy that everybody contributed to wins along the way. You know, there wasn’t one person who jumped out and rode us trough the whole season. Everybody stepped up in certainly place, so that’s the coolest part for me as a coach.”
DeSales second-team all-state attacker Grace Lensmire scored the first goal four minutes into the game on a free-position tally, but Chagrin Falls senior attacker Kelly Wynveen answered on an 8-meter shot of her own two minutes later.
DeSales first-team all-state attacker Sophia Finotti then buried back-to-back unassisted tallies to provide the Lady Stallions a 3-1 upper hand with 13:02 remaining in the half.
Chagrin Falls junior attacker Creagan Mee cut the deficit, 3-2, on another 8-meter shot with 6:13 before intermission, but DeSales ended the half on a three-goal run to take command of a 6-2 lead at the break.
“We were really just trying to bust their zone, which I feel like we had some opportunities early and got shooting-space calls, which is really what those plays are designed for,” Gellin said. “But we couldn’t make our 8-meters consistently. I think we missed four or five 8-meters in the beginning of the game, and that doesn’t help.”
By the end of the day, the Chagrin Falls girls were three-of-eight on opportunities from the 8-meter arc against DeSales’ all-region honorable mention goalie Carmella Cua, who finished the game with seven saves.
Conversely, DeSales finished three-of-seven on 8-meter shots with Chagrin senior goalie Celeste Bunker collecting 10 saves against 21 shots on goal.
“I think we just didn’t put them where we needed to,” Gellin said of his girls’ 8-meter shots. “I think (Cua) did a fine job. I don’t want to take anything away from her by any means, but I think a couple of them we just missed the cage totally, another we left before the whistle and lost that opportunity entirely.
“I’m not saying that’s why we lost by any means. They’re a good team. But it sure didn’t help.”
Finotti and Lensmire opened the second half with two unassisted tallies to provide DeSales an 8-2 lead with 14:03 to play, before Mee netted her second free-position goal with 11:39 to go.
DeSales scored three unanswered goals between 8:52 to play and 5:41 to play for the eventual 11-3 victory. Finotti and Lensmire combined for nine of the Lady Stallions’ 11 goals and 10 of their 14 draw controls.
“We’ve battled back from four-goal deficits before, and I feel like at halftime we were still in it a little bit,” Gellin said. “I felt like we could battle back, but we just had to win draws, and they were awfully good in the draw circle. So, it’s a possession game.
“You know, Sophia Finotti just did a good job for them in the circle. Defensively, we started out in a little bit of a zone, we face-guarded her, we definitely changed things up as we went along, but they were able to outrun us.”
Overall, DeSales won 14 of 16 draws against the Lady Tigers.
Although Chagrin Falls couldn’t pull off the upset, Gellin said his players’ effort was there all 50 minutes and not one Lady Tiger quit.
“Everybody was grinding it out and fighting until the end,” he said. “That’s what I’m most proud of. They played hard to the end. It just wasn’t our day. One thing we focused more on this year than last year was trying to enjoy the journey and not just worry about what was next, and it was a great group of kids altogether. I couldn’t ask for a better team and I wouldn’t trade them for anybody.
“And there were a lot of teams sitting at home that would love to be in our situation. But it’s impossible (to swallow the loss). I mean, I hate losing more than I like winning. It’ll sit with me for a while, and we’ll start to figure how to get back there again really soon. Nobody wants to go this far and sort of just walk away.”