By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Finalists taking the field Saturday to decide this season’s MHSAA girls lacrosse championships shouldn't be surprised by much from their opponents on the other side of the field.
Rockford and Ann Arbor Pioneer face off in Division 1 in a rematch of an April 2 game that the Rams won but by the slimmest of margins – 10-9. Division 2 finalists East Grand Rapids and Okemos didn't play each other during this regular season but met in both the 2013 Semifinals and 2012 championship game – with the Pioneers winning both games.
Both games will be played at Rockford High School; the Division 1 game begins at 2 p.m. and the Division 2 Final starts at 4:30 p.m.
Here's a brief look at the four teams vying for championships (player statistics do not include Semifinals):
ANN ARBOR PIONEER
Record/rank: 15-5, No. 4 at end of regular season
League finish: First in Southeastern Lacrosse Conference
Coach: Zachary Maghes, sixth season (84-36-2)
Championship history: Division 1 runners-up 2011 and 2007.
Best wins: 14-6 and 15-14 (Semifinal) over No. 7 Hartland, 14-11 over No. 6 Birmingham United, 13-12 over No. 5 Bloomfield Hills, 11-10 over Division 2 No. 4 Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood.
Players to watch: Mercedes Reyes, sr. M (59 goals, 25 assists); Juliette Killough, jr. A (42 goals, 22 assists); Caroline Hurd, sr. M (34 goals, 14 assists); Stephanie Terrell, sr. M (32 goals, 13 assists).
Outlook: A team’s losses can sometimes indicate as much as its wins, and Pioneers’ are impressive – three of four in-state losses are to teams playing in this weekend’s championship games. Reyes was an all-state first-team selection last season and qualified for the MHSAA record book this spring – she added another seven goals in the Semifinal to take her total this season to 66. Starting goalie Lauren Chapman, a senior, also has been impressive – she is giving up only 5.6 goals per game.
Record/rank: 16-6-1, No. 1 at end of regular season
League finish: Second in Ottawa-Kent Rainbow Conference
Coach: Mike Emery, seventh season (119-34-6)
Championship history: Division 1 champion in 2013 and 2010.
Best wins: 11-3 over No. 2 Bloomfield Hills Marian, 12-7 and 14-9 (Semifinal) over No. 5 Bloomfield Hills, 10-9 over No. 4 Ann Arbor Pioneer, 22-11 over No. 9 Brighton, 16-3 and 10-7 over Division 2 No. 7 Grand Rapids Catholic Central, 16-15 over Division 2 No. 3 Caledonia, 6-5 over Division 2 No. 2 Okemos.
Players to watch: Meghan Datema, sr. M (58 goals, 16 assists); Alex Vandermolen, soph. M (50 goals, 14 assists); Kyleigh Egnatuk, sr. A/M (36 goals, 29 assists); Izzy Vickers, sr. M (34 goals, 29 assists).
Outlook: All but one player who scored in last season’s MHSAA Final will be back Saturday. Datema and Egnatuk both made the all-state second team last season, and Vandermolen earned an honorable mention. Datema, who added three more goals in the Semifinal, has qualified for the MHSAA record book single-season scoring list, and Vandermolen will do the same with two more goals in the championship game. Senior Kendall Short, who scored twice in last season’s Final, also had 29 goals coming into the week, with four more teammates scoring at least 10.
EAST GRAND RAPIDS
Record/rank: 17-2, No. 1 at end of regular season
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Rainbow Conference
Coach: Rich Axtell, fifth season (95-16)
Championship history: Division 2 champion 2013 and 2012.
Best wins: 10-8, 9-8 and 9-8 (Regional Semifinal) over No. 3 Caledonia; 20-3 over No. 5 Grand Rapids Christian, 10-5, 16-8 and 22-5 (Regional Final) over No. 7 Grand Rapids Catholic Central; 12-10 over No. 4 Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood (Semifinal), 11-9 and 11-10 over Division 1 No. 1 Rockford, 16-5 over Division 1 No. 4 Ann Arbor Pioneer, 15-9 over Division 1 No. 7 Hartland.
Players to watch: Liza Elder, jr. A (76 goals, 46 assists); Meggan Loyd, sr. A (31 goals, eight assists); Lexi Duca, soph. A (25 goals, 14 assists); Lindsay Duca, fr. A (27 goals, 16 assists).
Outlook: Similar to 2013, East Grand Rapids is arguably the top team in either division entering the weekend with a pair of wins over Division 1 No. 1 Rockford and a win as well over No. 4 Ann Arbor Pioneer, Rockford’s opponent in that division’s Final. East Grand Rapids has lost only four games over the last three seasons, and both this spring came to teams from out of state. Elder had two more goals and two more assists in Wednesday’s Semifinal win, and her 126 points rank seventh in MHSAA history for one season. She’s verbally committed to sign next year with collegiate powerhouse Northwestern University.
Record/rank: 20-3, No. 2 at end of regular season
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference
Co-Coaches: Donny Luberto and Charley Lawler, first seasons (20-3)
Championship history: Division 2 champions 2010 and 2009, runners-up 2012 and 2007.
Best wins: 9-7 over No. 3 Caledonia, 15-1 and 18-5 over No. 8 Haslett/Williamston, 15-4 over No. 6 Livonia Ladywood (Semifinal), 5-4 over Division 1 No. 6 Birmingham United, 9-6 over Division 1 No. 2 Bloomfield Hills Marian, 7-6 over Division 1 No. 5 Bloomfield Hills, 9-6 over Division 1 No. 4 Ann Arbor Pioneer.
Players to watch: Bailey Ellsworth, sr. A (55 goals, 16 assists); Kendall Luberto, soph. A (48 goals, 30 assists); Olivia Sherman, sr. A (46 goals, 27 assists); Courtney Humphrey, sr. D; Katie Johnson, sr. G (5.0 GAA, .700 save %); Alex King, sr. M (31 goals, 30 assists).
Outlook: Okemos opened with three wins over ranked Division 1 teams, and its only in-state loss came 6-5 to Division 1 No. 1 Rockford. One of the few top teams the Chieftains haven’t faced is East Grand Rapids, but they’re familiar after falling to the Pioneers 17-6 in the 2012 Final and 13-5 in last season’s Semifinal. Ellsworth added another goal Wednesday and also has qualified for the MHSAA single-season goals list. King was an all-state second-teamer last season and sophomore midfielder Angela Palmer adds another 36 goals – but defense might be what sets Okemos apart. Goalie Katie Johnson made the all-state first team as a junior, and Humphrey in front of her made the second team. No opponent in Michigan scored more than seven goals on Okemos this season.
PHOTO: Rockford senior Kyleigh Egnatuck (8) was a key part of last season’s Division 1 championship winner and will take the field again Saturday as the Rams look to repeat. (Click to see more at HighSchoolsSportsScene.com.)