They didn’t know it at the time, but players on the McDonogh girls lacrosse team were at the brink of history.
With one more win, the Eagles would run their winning streak to 152 games, breaking the record for consecutive wins in a high school team sport set by California football power De La Salle.
All McDonogh needed to do that day in May of 2016 was beat Century, a public school near Baltimore. Do that, and the Maryland lacrosse powerhouse would be alone at the top.
Seemed simple enough. Then the game started.
Chris Robinson, then the coach of McDonogh, admitted he was nervous prior to the game. So much so, in fact, that he didn’t share with his team the fact that they were about to make history.
“Strategically, she (Century coach Becky Groves) knew how to play us,” Robinson said this week. “I wasn’t taking them lightly, but I think our players did. We came out flat, and they came out psyched up.”
That’s an understatement. Century — led by All-Americans Hannah Warther and Kylie Davis — raced to a 6-1 lead. One thing that made McDonogh unbeatable was its ability to win draw controls, thanks to Maddie Jenner, a 6-2 superstar who would go on to win national player of the year honors the following season.
She was a sophomore during the game in 2016, not quite as dominant as she has become, and Century was winning draws and converting. Where Jenner could use her height to snag balls out of the air, Century employed the opposite approach: ground balls.
Early on, Warther was able to keep the ball away from Jenner on the draw, and Century’s Maddie Hart repeatedly scooped up possession.
“I was just being scrappy, which is what winning draws is all about,” Hart remembers. “I think once we got a couple we started feeding off that positive energy.”
As the first half wore on, people McDonogh’s campus began to take notice.
“Literally their whole campus stopped,” Groves said. “People were coming over from the baseball field and people were talking about it all over. It was so much fun to be a part of such a competitive game being played at such a high level.”
Davis, who now plays at Maryland, recalls the intensity of the match. But, she admitted, there were a few moments when her mind wandered in awe of what she and her teammates were doing.
“Throughout the game, I was thinking, ‘How are we doing this?’” Davis said. “I was having a moment of, ‘Holy sh–, we’re actually doing it.’ I kept thinking we had to keep pushing and not play to lose but play to win.”
Groves, who knew coming in her team had a shot, attributed the early lead to a mix of preparedness and good fortune.
“Everything came together for us,” she said. “The stars aligned, and the ball bounced our way. There was nothing that went wrong for us until the very end.”
As everyone expected, however, McDonogh began clawing back, led by its All-Americans Catie May, Savannah Buchanan and Brindi Griffin.
All told, McDonogh went to halftime trailing by two. Certainly not an insurmountable deficit, but the Century lead ballooned to four with under eight minutes to play.
“There was a sense of, ‘This could be it,’” Robinson recalls. “They seemed like they had total control.”
Groves, whose memory of the game remains sharp, allowed herself a moment of reflection.
“When there were seven minutes left and we were up by four, the thought crossed my mind that we might actually do this.”
But the tide turned. First, Warther fired a shot that bounced of the shaft of the McDonogh goalie’s stick. Then Groves chose to stall — a decision that haunts her today.
Century’s best shot, she believed at the time, was to keep the ball out of McDonogh’s possession, since the Eagles could score so quickly and Jenner was dominant on draws. But the decision backfired.
A couple turnovers helped McDonogh, and Catie May’s goal with just over two minutes remaining tied the score, 11-11.
“The ball always tends to find your weakest link in a stall against McDonogh,” Groves said. “And it did. Twice. I remember exactly how it happened, but McDonogh forces you to do that.”
Neither side scored in the final two minutes, and the game headed to overtime. It was the first overtime game McDonogh had played in its 151-game winning streak. The Eagles never led in regulation against Century.
Overtime was quick, with May scoring about a minute in to end it. But, according to Century’s Kylie Davis, it was won when Jenner controlled the draw.
“If we would have gotten that draw there’s no doubt in my mind that we would have won,” she said.
Brindi Griffin, who scored twice for McDonogh, knew just how close they’d come to being the team that blew the streak.
“Century had so many good players and we knew they had the potential to win,” she said. “We were lucky to win.”
Groves was effusive in her praise for McDonogh, and even admitted that she believed earlier Century teams had a better chance to pull the upset than this one.
“We just didn’t finish,” Groves said. “With a team like McDonogh, you can’t let down for a second. That’s what they do: They always come back. That’s why they’re so great. They don’t ever give up.
“They know they’re going to win, and that’s just understood.”
Robinson, however, saw the win in a different light.
“When I walked off the field, my feeling was we had escaped with a win that we didn’t deserve,” he said. “I really thought Century deserved to win. They played better than us for 48 minutes, but those last two minutes our kids did a phenomenal job.”
For her part, Groves saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity squandered.
“If we had to play that over again, there’s no way it would be that close,” Groves said. “Everything went our way and we executed to a T. We couldn’t have done anything better.”