The girls lacrosse team, a program now 15 years old, made a strong statement this season, winning the county tournament and making it to the state sectional championship final before finally losing to Ridgewood.
During a terrific season that achieved a 18-4 record, coach Barbara Erickson said the Ridge girls lost only to (twice), Hillsborough and, ultimately, to Ridgewood for in the finals championship.
"Having to play Hillsborough four times this season, Pingry, three times, and then beating them for the county final, the kids felt we only lost to one team this year,' Erickson said.
The girls finally took Pingry the third time the rivals met on the field, with the 15-14 victory reversing an earlier loss to Big Blue.
"The key to our success this year was balance," said Erickson, who herself was chosen as The Star-Ledger's girls lacrosse coach of the year. "We didn't have a team of super stars. When it came down to a pressure situation, a one or two goal game, somebody different stepped up. We had a seven or eight-game streak where we had a different high scorer every game. If another team shut down one or even two of our players, the rest of the team to get it done."
"They had a great deal of confidence in one another," Erickson added of her lineup. "The defensive unit was so solid, our midfielders were great working in transition working from defense to offense and back again, they were just so balanced. And they liked each other on and off the field. They were unselfish players and that really works in terms of winning."
Besides the this year.
Many of those players expected back for next year's season
And what makes the team's successes even more amazing is that the majority of the students playing aren't seniors — and Erickson is expecting many of them back for next year's girls lacrosse season. In fact, some of the players are barely older than the program itself.
Later in May, after the season had ended, Erickson said graduating seniors this year include (midfield) Kaitlin Lorio, (defense) and Kristen Power (defense).
"Most of the team will be returning," Erickson said in late May. "I am looking forward to next season [as] these girls had a fantastic year and grew so much skill-wise as well as a team," she said. "They really showed character in the [final] Ridgewood game fighting back in the second half, getting it to 13-11 at one point.
"I could not have asked for a better group of girls or a better season," Erickson said. "I am so proud of them."
The team, young by all standards, was made up only four seniors and a strong group of underclass students, she said. "Sometimes I think having young players that don't know any better works in your favor," said the coach. "They are too naive and don't know enough to get nervous — the freshman and sophomores didn't get frazzled in close games. Playing these big games this year, they didn't let it get to them. The rawness can go in your favor."
"There were times when things happened and we knew it was a freshman mistake, but fortunately they didn't cost us a game," Erickson reflected a few weeks after the season wrapped up.
Noting the large number of successful players in the younger ranks, Erickson felt the influx of new talen runs in cycles. "This freshman group was phenomenal."
Meanwhile only a handful of the girls lacrosse players are single sport players, and most are spreading their wings in multiple athletic programs. "Everyone plays another sport; a lot a field hockey players, soccer players, basketball and tennis players," said Erickson.
Erickson's philosophy is different than some other coaches these days. "I am a proponent of playing another sport. think it is bad for the body and bad for the mind to play only one sport. They use different muscles and they are in shape." She said she feels, "They [student athletes] burn out if they only play one sport."
"Our goal this year was to win the state tournament," said Erickson, and the team came that close.
"That is our ultimate goal for next year," she said. "Our program is capable of doing that. The level of talent is here and they should want to win a state championship."