Few girls lacrosse teams in Section 1 have been a better model of consistency than Lakeland/Panas.
Winning 10 sectional titles, including five straight from 2007-11, will earn that right.
This season has taken on a different tone for one of the most successful programs in the area. The Rebels return only three starters from last season’s Class A sectional finalist.
Despite the new faces, Lakeland/Panas was able to defeat Byram Hills 11-8 its season opener.
“They’re young and they’re hungry and they work hard,” Rebels coach Sharon Sarsen said. “They’ve got a great attitude, so we’ll see what happens.”
Lakeland/Panas sophomore midfielder Molly Fitzpatrick, one of the three returning starters, led the Rebels with four goals in the win over the Bobcats, who made it to the Class C sectional final in 2012.
Lakeland/Panas got out to a shaky start, falling behind 4-1. Sarsen said not having senior captain Gianna Bensaia, who tore her ACL on Saturday, factored into the slow start.
“(Bensaia) does so much for us,” Sarsen said. “It’s going to take us some time to adjust to her not being on the field.”
Fitzpatrick told the younger girls about her experience playing on varsity for the first time as an eighth-grader to help calm nerves.
“I told them they shouldn’t be nervous and just go out there and play,” Fitzpatrick said. “If you make a mistake keep your head up and keep playing. People make mistakes in every game, so just keep your head up and don’t stop playing.”
The pep talk worked. Freshman attacker Kate Bradbury scored two goals to help the Rebels go on a 4-1 run to tie the game at 5-5 at the half. Bradbury finished with three goals.
More youngsters would step up down the stretch. Freshman midfielder Dana Bozek scored two goals as part of a 4-0 run that gave the Rebels the lead for good in the middle of the second half.
Bozek’s older sister Emma was one of two all-Americans, along with Chyna Hill, that graduated after last season.
“It’s nerve-wracking, definitely, to know who you have to step up from,” said Bozek, who finished with three goals in her first varsity game. “I think that the seniors this year have been doing a great job keeping the intensity up during the whole game.”
Byram Hills graduated nine seniors, including its three top scorers. Emily Byrne, Alyssa Ponzo and Noelle Love each had two goals for the Bobcats.
“To play against Lakeland-Panas, and to hold our own the whole game, is amazing,” said Bobcats’ coach Gail Lozado. “Sharon has a phenomenal team, so that was a great start for us.”