The two strongest teams in Area 2AAAAA, their April 17 meeting at Lassiter may be the turning point for both sides. Unless another area opponent steps up this season, whoever wins that game should win the area title and sit on the other side of the bracket from perennial state champion Milton.
The loser would have to play Milton a little earlier.
Milton has dominated girls lacrosse over the last seven years, producing six state titles. The Lady Eagles went undefeated against in state opponents last season, winning each game by double-digit margins.
Milton is showing no signs of slowing down. Five of its players are expected to play on the Division I level and two are ranked in the top 100 by ESPN.
That explains the importance of Lassiter and Walton’s meeting with each other. Both teams prefer the easier road, and a win would guarantee it.
“In our area, Lassiter is the biggest hurdle,” said Walton coach Mandy Ryan, who has lost to Milton in the semifinal round two straight times. “Beating them, we can avoid Milton until the very end.”
Lassiter has been winning its meetings with Walton as of late. The Lady Trojans’ 14-11 win last year helped guarantee their undefeated area record, and they were favored to meet Milton in the state finals for the second straight year before losing a 12-11 upset to Roswell in the quarterfinals.
With a lot of returning players coming back this season, Lassiter is looking to avoid another pitfall.
“We’re on the right track,” coach Faith Harmeyer said. “We’re fast. We have a lot of speed and have upperclassmen with experience.”
Lassiter does have field experience. Junior Johnna Fusco returns to anchor the midfield. Aubrey Adams and Brooke Wilson are senior attackers and twins Molly and Mallory Zimmerman are returning senior defenders.
One thing Lassiter doesn’t have at the moment is a reliable goalkeeper after Allison Senft graduated. Harmeyer said a replacement is still in the works.
Walton has been stuck in the state semifinals the last couple of years after lingering in the quarterfinals for some time. The Lady Raiders obviously want to take that extra step and prefer not to have Milton in their way.
Walton has its share of returning players as well. Like Lassiter, the Lady Raiders also possess speed, and they will be heading to Orlando during spring break to experience a variety of competition, Ryan said.
Senior attackers Hannah Single and Rachel Joseph and senior midfielders Maddie Seiloff and Tali Brennan provide the bulk of the experience for Walton. While the Lady Raiders are young at spots, they’re confident in sophomore goalkeeper Emily James.
Harrison is bound to have a breakthrough season in Area 1AAAAA with a senior-laden team led by attacker Kelly Morgan, who set a school record for 71 goals in a season.
In Class A-AAAA, Pope, Sprayberry and Kell will fight teams will likely battle Westminster and Riverwood for a playoff spot out of Area 2.
Kell is expecting to be a stronger team this season after being the odd one out of the three-team race. Junior midfielder Emily Swift is returning after scoring 62 goals last year.
Sprayberry appears to be the strongest of the three to place high in the area with a talented midfield led by Gaby Lohner, who scored 39 goals last season.
Pope may have a tougher time with a younger team after graduating 12 seniors from last season.