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Young Eagles in FHSAA State Semifinals
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Young Eagles in FHSAA State Semifinals

The grades: Freshman, sophomore, freshman, freshman, eighth grade…

Based on a quick scan of the roster at the beginning of the season, Episcopal girls lacrosse might have looked like a team a year from now.

Now they’re sending a message: they’re done now.

With young talent, an aggressive view of the net and boundless energy, a young Episcopal squad is on the rise heading into Friday’s Florida High School Athletic Association Class 1A semifinal against No. 1 seed Delray Beach American Heritage.

Winners of their last five, an Eagles team with just one senior finds itself in the last four for just the second time in program history, all with just one senior in the lineup.

Maybe they didn’t expect to get this far. But if you win Friday’s 2 p.m. start at Paradise Coast Sports Complex in Naples, they’ll be playing for a championship on Saturday.

“Honestly, we’re a really young team, and it’s been really great to see everyone step up,” said Hannah Bittner, the Eagles’ lone senior. “There is something very special.”

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YOUNG COMBINATION DOMINATES TREK

Dominating the draw is king in girls lacrosse, and Episcopal has already found a winning combination.

That means sophomore Lilly Melograna takes the draw with support from midfield pair Brooke McCoy and Georgia Tuttle to lead the chase for the ball.

“She always puts it right where I’m going, which is great,” said McCoy, who has won 149 possessions this season after the draw.

Their draw control success tipped the balance against Ponte Vedra in the regional final last week, as the Eagles erased a three-goal deficit to win on McCoy’s late goal in their first ever win against the Sharks.

But their connection in the middle of the field is just one way the Eagles have quickly grown into a formidable force.

Although younger than most of the competition’s players, many of Episcopal’s players have been together for years.

“These girls have been working together since they were so young, and they’re such a young team, but they play together,” Episcopal coach Krista Crittenden said. “So they have each other’s little movements and things they do and the nuances.”

EPISCOPAL BUILDS AGAINST THE BEST

Early in the season, Episcopal’s youth showed themselves. By mid-March, the Eagles had fallen to 4-5, albeit against quality opponents from both inside and outside Florida.

“At the beginning of the year we lost a lot of games that we should have won,” McCoy said. “We’ve had some rough patches, but I think we’ve really stuck together as a team and our coaches have been the most supportive people.”

McCoy leads the Eagles with 62 goals, while the offense also gets big numbers from junior and USA Lacrosse North Florida All-American Maeve O’Neil (56 goals), freshman Payten Cree (40 goals) and junior Bella Vitulli (35 goals).

Since a March 26 loss to Ponte Vedra, Episcopal is undefeated against opponents from Florida. They also earned a 13-9 win over two-time defending Class 2A champion Bartram Trail in February.

“We’ve played some of the toughest teams, we’ve gone to Virginia and played some national powerhouses,” Crittenden said. “I wanted them to get that exposure so that if we got into the playoffs, they knew they could join the best.”

They will face one of the best again when they take on American Heritage (20-1). The reigning state champions, ranked No. 18 in the nation by USA Lacrosse, have hammered their opponents by a combined 332-96.

Not an easy feat. But the Eagles are willing to take on the challenge.

“We’re going to come up with a game plan and we’re going to fight as hard as we can,” Crittenden said.

CLASS 1A GIRLS LACROSSE SEMIFINALS

WHO: Episcopal (13-7) vs. Delray Beach American Heritage (20-1).

When: 2:30 PM Friday.

Where: Paradise Coast Sports Complex, Naples.

Winner faces: St. Stephen’s Episcopal of Lake Highland Prep, Saturday, time TBD.