The girls lacrosse season for Okemos was a huge question mark when 2011 Lansing State Journal player of the year Bobbie Hall and fellow Dream Team selection Nicki Tague suffered knee injuries during basketball season that would keep them from playing this spring.
“In girls lacrosse, center is everything, and we were down to our third-string center,” Okemos coach Bill Prahler said. “We knew it would be a struggle to get draw control, and we were not very good at ground ball retrieval.
“We also had a lot of defensive inexperience.”
So the last line of defense, the goalie, would need to be good.
Sophomore Katie Johnson was more than just good. She emerged to help the Chiefs repeat as CAAC champions and advance to the Division 2 state championship game.
Williamston/Haslett coach Paul Donley had particularly high praise for the 2012 Lansing State Journal player of the year.
“She was just phenomenal in goal,” he said. “I have coached 13 seasons, and two all-state goalies, and she’s the best goalie I ever saw.”
“I thought to myself that I don’t have these amazing players to help me out as much, and I know I have to be a leader on the team as well,” Johnson said. “But I started seeing people who I really didn’t expect to become amazing players. Every single person on the team stepped up, and it was amazing.”
An early victory over Mattawan convinced Johnson that the Chiefs still could have a winning season, and then beating a team from Wisconsin made her think a deep MHSAA tournament run was definitely possible.
“Arrowhead was a state champion from Wisconsin I think,” she said. “I was expecting a huge game that would be really close, but everybody played really well, the team stepped up and kept the ball on the other side of the field, and we won 12-0.”
Johnson said Prahler developed great confidence in the team.
“Coach realized we were a great team that could make it to the state finals,” she said. “He told us that no one ever thought we could get this far, but get out and show them what Okemos really is.”
The Chiefs beat Saginaw Heritage 16-3 and Williamston/Haslett 12-4 before a memorable, back-and-forth 11-10 regional final win over Flint Powers Catholic decided by a Chloe Zdybel goal with seconds remaining.
“Chloe had one of her best games there, and everyone played amazingly,” Johnson said.
“It was a Friday night game where everyone was hyped up with a lot of nerves.”
The Chiefs then defeated Livonia Ladywood 13-6 in a state semifinal before losing 17-6 to unbeaten East Grand Rapids.
“We knew that East Grand Rapids was an amazing team, and l knew it was going to be a challenge,” Johnson said.
The Chiefs finished the season 16-6-1.
“I don’t think we would have gotten as far without coach (Prahler), because he helped us realize our potential,” Johnson said.
Prahler praised Johnson as well.
“(Katie) makes saves that keep her team in a game, and she makes saves that turn things around,” Prahler said.