In an era when sports dynasties have grown scarce, the dominance of the McDonogh School girls’ lacrosse team, over the past decade, has been the stuff of legends.
The data is staggering – nine consecutive Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland (IAAM) A Conference championships and a national record 198 consecutive victories, dating back to April 11, 2009, a span of 3,317 days.
Along the way there were a few close calls, but mostly utter domination in what is well known to be America’s strongest and deepest girls’ high school lacrosse league.
Earlier this month on Tierney Field at the U.S. Lacrosse National Headquarters in Sparks, MD, the seemingly invincibly Eagles were finally stopped, falling to Notre Dame Prep, 10-8, in the 2018 IAAM A title game.
NDP had been the one team tracking McDonogh most closely in recent years. The Blazers had a shot in last year’s championship game and, in the final game of this year’s regular season, NDP took the Eagles into sudden death overtime before finally falling.
One May, 11th, it was far from flawless, but Notre Dame Prep stared down the mighty Eagles and did not blink.
“All these girls had been beaten by McDonogh by a number of goals….We had an opportunity in sudden death overtime and just didn’t make a play,” said Notre Dame Prep coach Mac Ford. “After that game, they just believed. We’re going to see them again and they made sure they were here.”
The Blazers dictated immediately, getting the opening draw against McDonogh All-American Maddie Jenner and going on top with Liza Regan dropping a strike. Hannah Mardiney, who was face-guarded in the prior meeting, beat her defender with an inside spin move and scored for a 2-0 advantage, a little over six minutes in.
McDonogh answered with goals from Blaire Pearre and Julia Hoffman, but Notre Dame Prep defender Sarah Cooper intercepted Eagle goalie Julia Cooper’s clear and scored. Ellie Curry got a Regan ricochet and converted, and Mossman finished a pass from senior Colleen Keefe, giving the Blazers a 5-2 advantage midway through the opening half.
The Hampton Lane school led 6-3 late when Mardiney drew a yellow card, giving McDonogh an extra-man advantage. Blazers senior goalie Vanessa Stamas made two stops, including a point blank attempt. Stamas wasn’t able to stop Jenner, who converted before the horn sounded, giving Eagles momentum going into halftime.
“We made a lot of mistakes, but we were still up,” said Mardiney. “We had to forget about that half and act like we’re down.”
“Mac said that we needed to believe in ourselves and push through the next 25 minutes,” said Stamas.
McDonogh drew to within 6-5 after Emma Tilson’s free position goal, set up by Sydney Rosa’s yellow card. The Blazers took advantage of another extra man opportunity with Caitlynn Mossman converting off a free position. Mardiney found freshman Nancy Halleron for a score, giving the Blazers an 8-5 advantage with 18 minutes left in regulation.
The Eagles climbed within 8-7 off a Jenner free position score, but junior Brooke Barger answered for Notre Dame Prep. Hoffman brought McDonogh back within a goal off a free position with 6:49 left in regulation, only to see the Blazers respond, this time Mossman, from behind the goal, finding Barger for a quick strike with 5:21 to play.
The Blazers got the ball back with about four minutes left and ran out the remaining time, setting off a celebration 15 years in the making. It was the Hampton Road school’s first league title since 2003.
For the first time since the 2008 IAAM A final against John Carroll School at Gerstell Academy in Carroll County, McDonogh’s seniors walked off for the final time with a loss. The Owings Mills school, the nation’s consensus No. 1 team the last nine years, never got into a rhythm in the title game, making numerous turnovers, missing several free position chances and drew three yellow cards (all in second half).
The McDonogh seniors, despite not wanting to be part of the team that saw the streak end, handled the setback with tremendous class.
“We definitely didn’t play our best, but you have to give it to NDP, they played amazing tonight,” said Hoffman of an opponent the Eagles had defeated 17 times during their historic run. “They have an amazing senior class. We made a lot of silly mistakes and didn’t capitalize when we should, but we gave it our all. We played all 50 minutes, but they were stronger. A lot of our best friends are on that team and we’re happy for them.
“We had an amazing couple of seasons together. I think what matters more is the bond we’ve made with all the girls. Those relationships mean more than the wins or losses.”
With students on campus for only four years, change is a constant in any high school program, but McDonogh experienced a major change late in the off-season when long-time head coach Chris Robinson stepped down suddenly to focus on building his lacrosse foundation and club programs. Robinson was the architect of the dynasty and had served head coach for the nine championship teams.
The reigns were turned over on a interim basis to long-time assistant Nancy Love, who helped the Eagles start the season at 20-0. McDonogh was one win away from a 10th straight crown and creating the opportunity to win 200 consecutive wins at the start of next season.
However, that was not to be. Since the season ended, Love has announced that she will not return and Taylor Cummings, one of the best girls’ high school lacrosse players ever, who went on to an All-American career at the University of Maryland after helping McDonogh establish its historic run, will be the Eagles new head coach.
The streak has been ended and McDonogh’s dynasty has been interrupted, but the Eagles will be back and challenging for the title again in 2019.