ROCKFORD – With a clear home-field advantage and winners of a 14-7 head-to-head matchup late in the season against Birmingham Marian, a third straight Division 1 lacrosse title looked like a sure bet for Rockford (21-3).
Despite scoring only one goal in the second half and none in the final 21 minutes, the Rams managed to hang on for their third straight title, 10-9, behind the heroics of goalie Katie Elwell.
The senior was credited with 11 saves, many after the Mustangs (21-4) had trimmed the deficit to 10-8 and appeared on their way to tying or winning the game.
“They really stopped us, and I knew I had to step up and help my team,” Elwell said. “I don’t credit myself. Everyone stepped up to help, especially at the end. We couldn’t have done it without every single girl on that field.”
“The two best teams in Division 1 went at it today, and we were fortunate to come out state champions,” coach Mike Emery said. “Katie, we talked to her about it before the game. ‘Let’s be the difference-maker today.’ She definitely was.”
Marian scored first on a goal by Claire Fisher at 24:08, but Rockford dominated the next 11 minutes, with Grace Gunneson scoring two goals and MeKenzie Vandermolen and Maggie Hammer one each to give the home team a 4-1 lead.
Marian star Caroline Forester was cooling her heels on the sideline with a tripping penalty and had a tough day. It appeared with 36.7 seconds left she had tied the game, but offside was called.
“We had a period in the first half when we got two men down, and they got a good jump on us with five (goals) in a row,” Marian coach Jamie Francek said. “It’s tough. We were down 8-1 at one point. We made a game out of it until the end. … I’d love to play them again if we could. I thought we were the better team most of the game.”
Gunneson scored her third goal to give Rockford a 5-1 lead, and Emily Byers joined the scoring parade to make it 6-1.
Alexandra Vandermolen made it 8-1 as the Rams’ defense was stout while the offense controlled the possessions.
Maria Becharas stopped Marian’s scoring drought with a goal, and 12 seconds later Colleen Grombala made it two in a row to trim the deficit to 8-3.
Seizing momentum, Michaella Renaud scored for the Mustangs to make it 8-4 before Alexandra Vandermolen responded for Rockford.
Despite Forester being shut out in the first half, the Mustangs were in the Rams’ rearview mirror.
Forester finally got on the board with 22:40 left to make it 9-5.
Renaud scored her second goal 37 seconds later, and the deficit shrank to 9-6.
Claire Kelly swooped in for her first goal to make it 9-7 with 21:10 left.
Alexandra Vandermolen stopped the Mustangs’ momentum with a sprint to the goal and a 10-7 lead.
Marian used Kelly’s second goal to make it 10-8 with 12:51 left.
Forester scored with 2:48 left for the final margin.