Since becoming sanctioned seven years ago, Chatfield’s girls lacrosse program has slowly been trying to evolve into a state powerhouse.
The road hasn’t always been a smooth one. The Chargers have fallen in the second round of the state playoffs in each of the past three seasons, but a core group of seniors has third-ranked Chatfield believing that 2014 could be the year big things happen.
Look no further than March 21, the team’s final game before spring break. The Chargers came into the Stutler Bowl to face defending state champion Cherry Creek on its home field, and left with an impressive 14-9 victory.
“Going into the Stutler Bowl was definitely a big game. The girls were ready,” Chatfield coach Adam Everett said. “I could tell from their responses and their body language that they were ready for a big test. It was a fun game.
“Going into the Stutler Bowl to play Creek is a big deal for just about anyone. I’m glad everything turned out in our favor.”
Chatfield (3-0) has been waiting a while to hear those words. Even after capturing its first Jeffco League title in 2013, the team was stunned by a 20-9 defeat to Arapahoe in the playoffs.
“The wheels came off. I think that’s the ghost that kind of haunts us,” Everett said. “Do we have the mentality to win the big game when the pressure is on and to get us over some of the hurdles we’ve encountered over the past couple years? That’s where I have to rely on this group of seniors.”
Those seniors have been the foundation and helped to put the school on the lacrosse map. Most of them have played together since grade school and made the varsity squad their freshman year.
Five Chargers have signed to play at the collegiate level. Rachael Walker (Oregon), Emily McMinimee (Duquesne) and Allie Sale (American) are the program’s first Division I signees; Savannah Mellberg is headed to Scripps College and Shelby Piper to Allegheny College, both D-III programs.
Junior Kendra Lanuza has verbally committed to the University of Denver.
“Coming in was not easy. We had to work really hard to get onto the team,” McMinimee said of the group’s freshman year. “But I think we’ve made a difference. It made it a lot easier to have those others with me.”
McMinimee has started at goalie over the past four seasons. Walker and Piper have made for a formidable attacking duo, with Sale and Mellberg helping to anchor the defense.
In her three-plus years with the program, Walker has 134 goals and 123 assists; Piper has notched 172 goals to go along with 69 assists. Lanuza leads the team this season with 15 goals.
“I think it’s extraordinarily important to have so many options on the attack. So many girls can handle the ball and score and also look for the assist as well,” Everett said. “It’s really important, and something I think that is underrated on our team.”
Chatfield opened 2014 with victories over ThunderRidge and St. Mary’s Academy by a combined 36-9 margin. It was the victory over Cherry Creek, though, that really showed the squad it can compete with the state’s elite.
Walker scored six goals in the victory, with Piper and Lanuza adding three each. McMinimee recorded nine saves.
“I’ve never had a moment where we’ve been so happy,” Walker said. “We’ve never worked as a team as much as we did that game. We pulled it together from the beginning.”
The players will be the first to say though that one victory doesn’t make a whole season. There are still plenty of tests over the next several weeks, and opponents in Jeffco will be eagerly awaiting to try and dethrone the defending league champs.
“We can’t go into any game thinking we’ll beat everybody just because we beat Creek,” McMinimee said. “We still have to work really hard and prepare for every game.”
The players have their eyes on making a postseason run, but before that can happen the Chargers have to get through an April gauntlet first. The Jeffco League opener is Thursday against Wheat Ridge. Chatfield will play 12 games in April, including a 2013 playoff rematch against Arapahoe on April 26.
Everett said defending the league title could be even tougher because of the target on the team’s back and the possibility of falling prey to overconfidence.
“We always go into every game prepared and taking it one game at a time,” he said. “I think that’s really essential for Jeffco. This year it’s essential the girls are prepared for every single challenge that comes up.”