When Katie McMahon took over as Visitation’s girls lacrosse coach over the winter, she inherited a talented team. But the Cubs needed a new direction after a 2016 season that proved disappointing despite sending eight players to play at the college level.
In their season opener against Bishop Ireton — a team that came into the season ranked No. 5 in the nation according to Inside Lacrosse Magazine — the Cubs showed they’ve been quick to adapt to their new coach, stunning the Cardinals 10-6 at Visitation’s McNabb Field on Thursday.
“We really viewed this as the first step of a new program,” said McMahon. “It’s really focused on development, fun and keeping that energy high. When everybody buys in and you keep it about fun and development for the girls, everything else just comes easier. This sets the tone for our season. Everybody was ready for it and excited for it. It was like letting the horses out of the gate just full speed. The talent this team has is unbelievable and so exciting.”
McMahon, who is in her first year coaching the team after serving as a graduate assistant coach at Marymount University, starred at the college level for University of California at Davis, where she owns the school’s career records for goals and points.
“Our style is selfless. It’s all about team, everybody getting a lot of touches. When you do that, space opens up and good things happen,” McMahon said.
The Cubs’ offense was led by senior midfielder Maggie Fowler, who had a hat trick. In addition, junior attacker Sara O’Brien, junior midfielder Jill Gollob and sophomore attacker Lucy Deerin each scored two goals.
From the opening draw, the Cubs played with a high level of energy, something that McMahon has worked on with the team during training.
“We keep a really quick cadence in practice to prepare for these games — running, drill, everything. It’s all a fast pace, so when it comes to the games we are ready to go,” said McMahon. “It’s a level of intensity that we carry through everything we do.”
The Cubs jumped on the Cardinals from the outset and built a 5-2 lead. With 42 seconds to go, Cubs senior goalie Grace Rotondo made a big save — one of her 10 for the game — and kickstarted the offense transition attack. A few seconds later, the Cubs had a commanding 6-2 lead at halftime.
“She is a wall; she’s incredible,” McMahon said. “When you need a big save, she makes it. She’s a senior, and her leadership carries all over the field.”
At the start of the second half, Ireton showed why it has a nationally renowned program and went on a 3-0 scoring run to trim the Cubs’ advantage to 6-5.
Despite the counterattack, Visitation never faltered. McMahon called a timeout to refocus her squad.
“We had energy throughout the entire game,” said Rotondo. “We knew to stay composed and to just stay together and stay tight on defense.”
The Cubs responded with a goal by O’Brien, whose shot rainbowed past the Cardinals’ keeper to push the lead to 7-5 with 8:26 to play.
The game remained close and the Cubs continued to hold a two-goal lead — at 8-6 — with 5:20 to play. That’s when Ireton began to gamble with double-teams on defense.
Instead of stalling and playing the clock, Gollob remembered McMahon’s watchword for the team this season — “one more” — and tore through the Cardinals’ defense to fire in an insurance goal.
“‘One more’ has been our team motto this season. It’s an awesome season — it’s about pushing yourself for that one more in sprints at practice and everything else,” said Gollob. “They came out with really high pressure on that play. I was feeling like I could get one more and get one more for our team. Whenever we score, that brings momentum for us.”
The victory over Bishop Ireton gives the team a confidence boost as it looks to topple St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes in the Independent School League for the first time since 2012.
“St. Stephen’s and BI have been rivals for the past several years, to beat one of the rivals makes us contenders to beat St. Stephen’s,” said Rotundo. “These teams have beat us in the past, so we have nothing to lose — nobody expects anything out of us.”
Last week’s win also creates a standard that McMahon will now expect from her players.
“This sets the bar really high,” said senior attacker Maggie Fowler. “In the first game we beat one of the best teams in the nation. We’re so pumped, but we know we still have to work hard — we have the whole season ahead of us. It sets the tone because we played absolutely out of our minds in that game. That’s the way we have to play the rest of the season. The bar has been set.”
The Cubs will look to continue their strong start to the season when they host Episcopal Academy today at 3:45 p.m.