Last spring, the current seniors on the St. Mark’s girls lacrosse team experienced something new: not winning a share of the Independent School League championship.
They had won the title outright as freshmen and shared the honors with Governor’s Academy in 2016. As juniors, however, they fell just short, finishing with a conference record of 9-2 and looking up at Middlesex (9-1-1).
Despite not achieving the team’s goal in 2017, St. Mark’s coach Channing Warner returned with lofty expectations for the team in 2018.
“My expectations were we would be a really strong team and any loss would be my fault,” she said. “We have good athletes. I owned that from the beginning.”
Warner didn’t have to blame herself too often, as her team went 15-3 and again won a share of the ISL championship, tying Middlesex with league records of 11-1. The seniors on the roster, including Lillian Stout, concluded their prep careers with three championships in four seasons.
“This season might be the most fun season for me overall,” Stout said. “Everyone just loved the team. We all loved and supported one another. It was a fun team to play with. We had our ups and downs, but it was overall a great season for the team in general.
“I’ve had so much support from my athletic director, coaches, trainers, teammates. I’ve had an incredible four seasons. It’s been a great ride here at St. Mark’s.”
Warner said one of the biggest differences from the 2017 to 2018 seasons was the improvement of the roster.
The St. Mark’s defense was made up of three seniors who will be playing other sports in college: Caroline Peterson, who will play ice hockey at Providence College; Grace Sambrook, who will play field hockey at Wake Forest; and Lizzie Provost, who will play field hockey at Trinity.
There also was junior midfielder Bailey Horne, a converted ice hockey player who this year committed to play lacrosse at the University of North Carolina.
“Last year, we had a lot of young players,” Warner said. “Over the course of the season, they got more experience, more confident and more comfortable with the level of play in the ISL.
“Last year, Lillian Stout was one of our only returners,” Warner added. “She was the leading scorer in the ISL. She was surrounded by Bailey Horne, who, at that time, didn’t have a ton of experience. Lilian took the team on her back. We knew this year we’d have a lot more people around her knowing what was going on.”
Stout, who will play lacrosse collegiately at Princeton, said the improvement of her teammates not only helped the team, it also helped her improve her own game.
“I wanted to work a lot more with the players around me and get more assists, and get them going and get their confidence (up),” she said. “The expectations for me were set high, being the leading scorer in the ISL. I felt I needed to meet that same goal and exceed it. After a couple weeks I realized there was a lot more talent on the team and more goal scorers than last year. That goal faded, and it became moreso working with my teammates and the talent I had around me.”
Even though lacrosse wasn’t the No. 1 sport for several of her players, Warner said what they brought from their other sports improved the team.
“The multi-sport athlete has been a huge key to our success, raising the competition, loving to compete and knowing what it takes to make your team as competitive as we are,” she said. “Most years, there’s only one or two going on to play lacrosse. They respect each other for their different sports talent.”
Similar to how she played the sport at Middlebury College (where she was part of an undefeated NCAA champion team in 2004), Warner wanted her team to be well-conditioned and play fast. Having players who already were in shape from the beginning because they played other sports throughout the year made her job easier.
It also helped the team jump out to a 7-0 start against a tough non-conference schedule.
“We want to know if we’re the best in New England. Either you get it or you don’t, but you know where you stand playing those tough teams,” Warner said, pointing out victories against Loomis Chaffee and Williston Northampton, in particular. “It was fun. It was a confidence booster going into league play. It’s nice to start with tough games and know where you stand based on early non-league tough games.”
Stout finished the season with 57 goals, 32 assists and 53 draw controls. She finished her high school career second all-time in both goals (171) and points (250).
As a two-year captain, she also set the tone for her teammates.
“I think the biggest part is that we’re such a fast team and disciplined team, it’s hard for players to defend our attack,” she said. “It’s hard for teams to transition the ball. Our re-defend is so fast and aggressive.
“Everyone on our team pushes themselves to be better, or get that extra step or check, and it shows in games. We are constantly working.”
St. Mark’s lost to Middlesex, 9-7, in the first game of May. When the team lost to Middlesex in 2017, it then lost two of its final three games, hurting its ISL title opportunity. But St. Mark’s rebounded from this Middlesex loss to win its final six games of the season.
One of those wins came against Exeter, where St. Mark’s went down 5-1 with six minutes remaining in the first half, and then had to play a man down for the final 14 minutes of the game. Despite the setbacks, the team came back and won the game, 11-8.
“They embraced the adversity,” Warner said. “It was one of my most proud coaching moments. They were so composed and poised. They turned it into an exciting challenge rather than something to worry about. I was proud of them for that.”
Warner gave a lot of credit to the senior class for its ability to lead the team through tough situations, like the game against Exeter.
“They’ve carried the team on their back, and I admire the way they approach every practice and game with exposure, excitement and competitive edge,” she said. “They love to compete. They love to win. They rise to every occasion. I hope the younger kids carry that with them moving forward.”