It doesn’t typically instill much confidence in a team when its opponents clearly think—or know—they should be winning with relative ease. But when the Northwest High School girls’ lacrosse team took a 2-0 lead early in its April 26 game against defending Class 4A/3A state semifinalist Winston Churchill, the Jaguars took the Bulldogs’ seeming disbelief of the score line as a compliment.
“They went in thinking we wouldn’t be able to do anything, that they were going to kill us but for them to feel that pressure at the beginning. … Their coach called a time out and she (was clearly very upset),” first-year Northwest coach Tara Nicholas said. “When my girls saw that, they were like, ‘Oh my God, we can do this.’ And I was like, ‘Exactly.’”
The Jaguars held four-time state semifinalist Churchill scoreless for 10 minutes before ultimately falling, 18-4. Despite the defeat, the game could serve as an important turning point for the program, Nicholas said, as Northwest (6-3) proved to itself that it’s capable of hanging with the county’s best programs.
With this year’s Class 4A/3A West Region tournament set to kick off May 10—the seeding meeting is scheduled for May 8—the Jaguars hope to do some damage this postseason. After losing in the first round a year ago, Northwest would like to at least make it to the Section II semifinals this spring, Nicholas said.
The Jaguars have already defeated three of the teams in their fairly balanced section this season—Gaithersburg (10-7), Clarksburg (9-6) and Watkins Mill (18-9)—and the team was scheduled to face James H. Blake on Wednesday (results were unavailable at press time).
Northwest fell in a tight contest against neighborhood rival Quince Orchard, 6-3, after taking a 2-0 lead and Nicholas said the Jaguars have their sights set on a rematch.
With more than half of this year’s squad new to varsity lacrosse, this season has been a work in progress, Nicholas said. But the Jaguars are finding their stride at just the right time and with only two seniors, they should carry this momentum into next year.
Defense has been a major strength for Northwest this spring. While most teams run a man-to-man scheme, the Jaguars have employed a zone defense, which has thrown many opponents off kilter. Nicholas praised sophomore goalie Katherine Jones for making “some huge saves.” She’s only allowed 66 goals—and made 80 saves—in 300 minutes of play.
Lack of experience early in the season led to rushing on offense, but Nicholas said the team has learned to be more patient in creating opportunities. The next step, she said, is working on shot placement; taking the extra second to see where the goalie is and shoot around her.
While Northwest is able to rely on a versatile attack—10 players have scored at least two goals and five have seven goals or more—junior Julie Brock has emerged as a go-to playmaker in the crease. She scored the first two goals against Churchill and leads the team with 25 goals—she’s converted 64 percent of her 39 shots on goal. Senior Summer Jacobs has also been a reliable scorer, shooting 78 percent, with 14 goals out of 18 shots on goal.
Junior midfielder Lexi Halem’s field vision has been extremely integral, Nicholas said. In addition to 15 goals, Halem has tallied a team-high five assists. Other top scorers include senior Sydney Gabitzer (nine goals) and freshman Maggie Palmore (seven).
“The Churchill game was important for us because now I think we have the confidence going into any other game,” Nicholas said. “For us to stay with them for a little bit and for us to play Quince Orchard so close, the girls see that if we play smart and play well and take good shots (we can compete) with these teams.”