In an alarming development at East Grand Rapids, there have been no state titles this school year.
The school with 126 state titles has been stuck on that number since the girls lacrosse team beat Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood in last year’s final.
“We get two chances on Saturday,” East Grand Rapids girls lacrosse coach Rich Axtell said Wednesday. “We beat Okemos to advance to the finals, and our boys team beat Okemos, so we both made it to the state finals.”
Saturday’s girls Division 2 final will be a rematch, but maybe not a repeat of last year’s contest when East Grand Rapids beat Cranbrook-Kingswood, 19-6, for the Pioneers’ fourth straight state title. They’ll be gunning for a fifth, but it won’t be easy because “both teams are different from last year,” Axtell said.
Cranbrook has one of the most prolific scorers in the state in sophomore Isabella Scane. She has 115 goals and 26 assists.
“Isabella Scane is their strongest player, and I think the best player in the state, quite honestly,” Axtell said. “She’s big, she’s strong, and she’s fast. She has great hands. She’s a complete player.
“We’ll have our work cut out. Cranbrook we’ve seen a lot of times, but their coach has only been there two years. They’re very athletic, very fast up and down the field.”
On the East Grand Rapids side, Axtell and his team experienced growing pains this season because of its youth, but relies on defense.
“The teams have different personalities,” Axtell said. “We are different because we lost a couple of first-team All-Americans (Liza Elder and Jane Goodspeed) and graduated seven starters. We’re actually a very young team. I have only two senior starters this year, Kelley Malewitz on defense and Julia Surman on attack.
“We’re juniors, freshmen and sophomores for the most part. We’re a little more balanced. We typically have more scorers. Last year, Liza Elder had 100 goals and 140 points. She was just the best player in the state. We don’t have that superstar anymore, but we have good players who play well together.”
While East Grand Rapids doesn’t have anyone to match the gaudy scoring totals of Scane, Auden Elliott leads the Pioneers with 59 goals, followed by freshman Audrey Whiteside’s 55, Lindsay Duca’s 22 and Surman’s 18.
“Having played with a great player like Liza and having great players in the program, I think we’ll have an idea of how to guard Isy Scane,” Elliott said. “We know she’s a great player, and we’ve heard a lot about her.”
Malewitz said a midseason team meeting helped.
“We weren’t really into it, mentally,” she said. “We needed to increase our attitude and, no matter what happened, to keep encouraging each other. We had to readjust mentally. We lost a decent amount of people last year. Auden and I have been working together to keep a positive attitude and keep us in the game mentally.”
Elliott said Whiteside has great energy and already is a leader on the field.
“We had basically the same team for two years, and with the transition, we knew we’d have a couple of stumbles and some difficulties replacing some of the missing players in our lineup,” Elliott said. “We were able to gain back our focus and concentrate on the things we do well, like moving the ball and defense and having confidence.”
As far as the state title drought, Malewitz said: “The Class of 2016 has to come through.”
Contact Perry A. Farrell: 313-222-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @farrellperry.
Schedule: Div. 1 — Birmingham United (14-6) vs. Rockford (19-2), 2 p.m.; Div. 2 — Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood (17-6) vs. East Grand Rapids (16-4), 4:30 p.m.