PITTSBORO — Mother Nature brought the lightning, but Northwood unleashed the thunder.
The Chargers women’s lacrosse team won its first-ever state playoff game last Tuesday, May 3, in a sensational, come-from-behind 11-10 win against the Laney Buccaneers of Wilmington in a double-overtime game halted for about 45 minutes in the first half due to lightning.
And they did it while competing one player down.
Junior attacker Mia Collins’ hat trick to end the game was the first time Northwood held the lead all night.
The No. 14 Chargers (12-4) may have eventually fallen to the No. 3 Holly Springs Golden Hawks (18-2) in a 22-10 drubbing in the second round of the NCHSAA state playoffs last Friday, but the high of the program’s first playoff win will live on forever.
“This is going to be one of the best moments of your life,” Northwood Head Coach Larry Fritsche told his team in an exuberant post-game victory huddle after Tuesday’s win. The historic moment was shared by alumni from Northwood’s first team in 2018-19 and founding coach Amanda Huegerich, who drove down from Richmond, Virginia, for the game.
“That was a heart attack,” Fritsche said in a subsequent interview about the edge-of-your-seat game. The comeback win became all the more improbable when junior midfielder Grazi Costa picked up her second yellow card and was removed from the game, leaving Northwood one player short about midway through the second half. Costa had scored two goals prior to ejection.
“I just told the team I’m not going to live long” with such nail-biting wins, Fritsche said. “But this is a happy way to live.”
“It feels amazing. I really feel like we’re putting our mark down,” Collins said. “It’s not like we just got lucky to get in the playoffs. We earned our spot and now we’re making it past this” milestone of a state playoffs debut.
Collins leads the team in goals (45) and shots on goal (78), but the significance of her third goal on Tuesday didn’t immediately register.
“It just hit me a few seconds later that we won,” she said.
She also felt a personal obligation, having drawn one of the team’s four yellow cards, to atone for the penalty. “I didn’t want this to be the last game I had with these girls,” she said. But first, she had to get through scoring purgatory in the second half and the scoreless first overtime period.
Collins put Northwood on the board at 19:45 of the first half to tie the game, 1-1, with a shot from in front of the net. She notched her second goal at 5:22 in the first half, coming from behind the net to outhustle Laney goalie Ava Kunza, who was unable to reset. Collins fired a shot through a gaping hole on the left side of the net to slice Laney’s lead to 5-3.
With 2:29 showing on the board in the second overtime, nearly 34 minutes after scoring her second goal, Collins ended the lull and got her redemption.
“I saw that the lane was open, the girl’s back was turned to me, so I was like, ‘It’s time to put the show on the road and score the goal,’” Collins said. Yet, in the back of her mind was a nagging worry about one of her biggest challenges this year — hitting the goalie or firing high.
“I was like, this is going in. I’ve got an open shot and I better not miss,” Collins said. “I was really making sure I was going to get that low shot.”
“I’m so proud of this team,” Fritsche said. It has gone from 0-11 in 2019 to the second round of the state playoffs this season. He credits the players’ hard work, willingness to improve, toughness, coachability and the effort by assistant coaches Jess Boone and Katy Gilliam.
He said Laney (11-7) was tough. Its offense, which repeatedly piled up 2- and 3-goal leads for most of the game, was led by freshman attack Avery Hoey, who had a hat trick. But its swarming defense was especially strong, and its goalie was remarkable.
“One of the hardest things we had to overcome was how well they were on the ride, preventing us to clear. So we made some adjustments and then our players just bumped it up another level when we were a player down,” Fritsche said.
That was no easy task with the skillful Kunza in the opposing net.
“We would have scored 10 more goals on most other teams,” Fritsche said.
Chargers goalie Silcov Hopp was no slouch either. The freshman weathered 23 shots on goal including a pair of huge game-saving grabs off close-distance shots in the first overtime period.
“She’s just been great, putting in the extra effort. … Tonight she just made program history,” Fritsche said. “This is when people rise above and beyond.”
Northwood sophomore attack Ryan Tinervin, sophomore defender Ella Boecke and junior midfielder Sophia Cremeans each scored two goals for the Chargers.
“We have a wide range of attackers, and on defense. We’re not just like one or two superstars. We spread it out,” Fritsche said.
Tinervin made a nifty play sucking the Buccaneers goalie out of the net, then rocketing the ball in for a score to bring the Chargers to within 3-2 with 10 minutes remaining in the first half.
Costa narrowed the score to 5-4 when she ran full bore towards the net and unleashed a tremendous shot from her left side at 4:53 of the first half.
Boecke found her groove in the second half on two similar plays, barreling forward towards the net, putting on a little move to gain space, and firing her shots past the goalie.
Cremeans scored the last two goals in regulation, circling from behind the net at 5:37, then rifling in the tie with 57 seconds remaining.
“Sophie’s tie got our momentum up a lot,” Collins said. “We worked so hard for this and we were not going to throw it all away.”
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