Midway through the first half of Saturday’s season opener at Bullis, Bishop O’Connell girls lacrosse coach Meghan Thompson voiced displeasure with the Knights after another errant pass.
"Oh my gosh, Blue!" shouted Thompson while O’Connell trailed, 7-1. "Please make smart decisions!"
As halftime approached and O’Connell’s deficit grew, the Knights continued squandering scoring opportunities with rushed passes.
"Blue, you worked too hard to get it down here!" Thompson yelled. "Take your time!"
O’Connell enters the 2011 campaign with four seniors on a roster of 19 athletes. The team has seven sophomores and a freshman goalkeeper. The youthful Knights could face an uphill battle in the early part of the season, much like the 10-1 halftime deficit they faced against Bullis. But if O’Connell responds they way it did during Saturday’s second half, the Knights could avoid a season of struggle.
Junior attack Courtney Cross scored three consecutive goals in the first five minutes of the second half and the Knights matched the Bulldogs’ output in the final 25 minutes during a 17-8 loss. O’Connell trailed by 10 in the second half but didn’t stop competing. Cross and senior attack Kate Nirschl scored late goals before Bullis’ Jordan Sullivan scored in the closing seconds.
"We just basically told them, have fun and relax," Thompson said of the Knights’ second-half effort. "They were coming off the field with their heads down, not really focused, but this team has a great ability to come back. For whatever reason, we’re a second-half team. We’re going to try to adjust our warm up to fix that for next time. …
"I think this team later in the season will be night and day what they are right now. I wish we could have a rematch with Bullis."
Cross was the catalyst behind O’Connell’s second-half turnaround. Trailing 10-1, Cross scored three straight goals to breathe life into the Knights. She led all scorers with five goals, including the Knights’ lone goal of the first half.
"We kind of got the fire lit under us," Cross said. "Defense started coming out, we didn’t play timid anymore. Our offense started making shots; everything kind of just fell together. We’re a second-half team, so I’m kind of used to it, but we’re going to fix that. …
"I like to [get] everyone going, [whether] it’s setting picks, getting ground balls. Once one person starts getting everything going, everyone else is like, ‘Oh, I want to help," so everyone starts helping out."
Cross is a returning all-Washington Catholic Athletic Conference athlete and O’Connell’s top offensive threat.
"Courtney Cross is really the anchor of this team," Thompson said. "All of the girls look to her, whether it’s in season or in the offseason. She’s really, attack-wise, the girl they look to if they need a goal or they need a pass. She’s really directing the offense and really our playmaker on attack."
Cross’ sister, sophomore midfielder Ashley Cross, was also all-WCAC last season. She scored one goal on Saturday and figures to be a key contributor throughout the season.
"Ashley Cross is a solid midfielder," Thompson said. "She leads the team in draw controls by a longshot. She controls her position for us. Her and Courtney, obviously they’re sisters, but the two of them have a good connection on the field, as well. She does look for her sister, and it’s almost the sister connection that they see each other before everyone else does."
Big things are expected from freshman goalkeeper Tara Ulepic, who Thompson said could become one of the top goalies in the Washington, D.C. metro area.
"She’s a freshman, so this was her first varsity game and it was a good game for her to have," Thompson said. "There were a lot of shots on her up top. She, as a freshman, doesn’t act like a freshman, so I really see a lot of potential in her for the future."
Senior attack Sarah Kolodzy is a team captain and provides strong leadership, Thompson said. Courtney Cross and Nirschl, who scored two goals on Saturday, are also captains.
Sophomore midfielders Devin Nihill and Taylor Chamness are also expected to be key contributors.
O’Connell will compete in the Annandale Invitational on March 19, starting at 9:30 a.m. The Knights are scheduled to play three games.
O’Connell’s first home game is March 25 against Bishop McNamara.
"We have a lot of work and learning to do, but I’m expecting to be in that top half of the WCAC by the end of the season," Thompson said. "They can do it. They’re learning fast. We’ve only had two weeks to work with them, but they’re really catching onto stuff quicker this year than our team last year did."