After four girls lacrosse teams from Cherokee County advanced to the state playoffs last season, the other two are hoping to join in this spring.
Creekview (1-0) was the only team to advance past the first round of the Class 6A/7A playoffs in 2019, but it will begin this season with a new coach.
Mike DiGennaro has taken over for Rachel Aiken and will have a large group of seniors at his disposal. Rachel Wahlbom and Lizette Van der Walt return and will likely lead the attack for the Lady Grizzlies, who are hoping to return to the state playoffs and remain the premier girls lacrosse team in Cherokee County.
The gap may be closing, however, as several other teams have high hopes after years of youth development have begun to make their way into the high school ranks.
Cherokee (3-0), which has outscored its opponents 43-19 so far this season, is coming off the first winning season in program history, and fifth-year coach Jamie Hunt has talent up and down her roster.
Senior Kylie Dunlap, who had 42 goals and 28 assists last year, should once again lead the attack, while fellow senior Maddie McEuen should lead the defense. Freshman goalkeeper Hailey Darko was named to the Under Armour 150 roster for 2020, while fellow freshman Lilly Stock could also contribute right away with what Hunt called her “natural talent and game awareness.”
Also within Area 5, Etowah (0-1) and Woodstock (2-1-1) should also factor into the push for top-four finishes and a state playoff berth.
Woodstock, led by third-year coach Case Clouse, returns a large senior class and should be one of the more experienced teams in the county, but sophomore Reece Morrish is the one who opposing teams will need to attempt to contain.
Morrish was named all-state and all-area as a freshman last year, scoring 65 goals. Senior Devon Gamble and Kayleigh Kump are both Reinhardt commits, and the Lady Wolverines should contend with the top teams in the area.
Etowah is coming off a down year, but a 13-10 loss to North Paulding could prove a positive sign as the Lady Wolfpack have been the dominant program in the area for the past few seasons. Andy Osborn returns for his seventh season as coach and will likely rely on juniors Amanda Buchheit and Greta Pirkl, along with seniors Megan Stephan and Jasmine Strymecki.
River Ridge (1-1) and Sequoyah (2-1) both made the playoffs last year, and both seem to be trending upwards.
River Ridge will be led by second-year coach Cecil Phillips, who will need to replace a number of seniors from last year’s team. A mix of juniors and sophomores will likely lead the Lady Knights this year, with juniors Hannah Vecsey and Ellie Howard leading the way along with sophomores Jordan Pruitt and Grace Hamrick.
Zach Lawson, who returns for this seventh season coaching Sequoyah, said this year’s team may have the most depth of any during his tenure. The Lady Chiefs beat River Ridge 14-10 to open the season and was led by junior Elizabeth Cooley, who scored five goals and added three assists. Seniors Zoe Carnes and Audrey Dodge will also likely play key roles for the Lady Chiefs this season.
Coach: Jamie Hunt, fifth season
Last year: 11-7, 2-4 in Area 5
Key returners: Kylie Dunlap (senior, midfield), Maddie McEuen (senior, defender), Lexi Bowen (sophomore, defender/attack), Stella Starosciak (sophomore, midfield)
Key newcomers: Hailey Darko (freshman, goalkeeper), Lilly Stock (freshman),
From the box: “Being a part of this program has been an incredible experience,” Hunt said. “I am excited for this season because we have a group of athletes who are coming to 6 a.m. practices, 7:30 p.m. practices, Saturday practices and early morning film sessions. Whatever it is I ask of them, they are there and they are there to get better. Our seniors have stepped up and the team is closer than ever. Our motto this year is ‘Be here. Work here. Win here.’ We have personal goals and team goals set for the season, and if they keep working as hard as they are, I have no doubt we will reach our goals.”
Coach: Mike DiGennaro, first season
Last year: 12-7, 5-1 in Area 6; eliminated in the second round of the state playoffs.
Key returners: Rachel Wahlbom (senior), Lizette Van der Walt (senior), Sara Thompson (senior), Lily Schubert (senior), Karina Van der Walt (sophomore), Ava Shipley (sophomore) and Maya Maldonado (sophomore)
Key newcomers: Miranda Richards (sophomore), Midi’s Virginia Blanton (freshman) and Ansley Walters (freshman).
From the box: “We lost two key ladies to graduation but we are going to fill those holes with some talented underclassmen,” DeGennaro said. “We are going to rely heavily on all of our seniors but they are leading as expected already. We have 4 great classes here at Creekview and are going to put in the work to make us a success.”
Coach: Andy Osborn, seventh season
Last year: 3-11, 3-4 in Area 5
Key returners: Amanda Buchheit (junior, midfield), Greta Pirkl (junior, midfield), Megan Stephan (senior, goalkeeper), Jasmine Strymecki (senior, defense)
Key newcomers: Lauren Crane (freshman), Lily Mahaffey (freshman)
From the box: “Last year was a program transition and this year the Eagles are set to return to challenging the region,” Osborn said. “With a great mix of experience and new talent, the program is still young but ready to soar to greater heights.”
Coach: Cecil Phillips, second season
Last year: 8-7, 4-3 in Area 5; eliminated in first round of state playoffs.
Key returners: Hannah Vecsey (junior), Jordan Pruitt (sophomore), Grace Hamrick (sophomore), Ellie Howard (junior), Kyle Anderson (senior)
Key newcomers: Zoe Nehrboss (sophomore), Nora Mansell (sophomore), Maggie Gallion (sophomore)
From the box: “We graduated five seniors off of last year’s team who will be hard to replace, however, our philosophy here has always been, next young lady up,” Phillips said. “Our young ladies have put in a great deal of work throughout the off-season to prepare themselves for the upcoming season. They got a taste of the state playoffs last year and are determined to start making qualifying for them a common practice.”
Coach: Zach Lawson, sixth season
Last year: 7-11, 3-3 in Area 6; eliminated in the first round of state playoffs.
Key returners: Zoe Carnes (senior, midfield), Audrey Dodge (junior, goalkeeper), Elizabeth Cooley (junior, attack), Jordyn Hardaway (junior, midfield)
Key newcomers: Peyton Harper (freshman)
From the box: “I have high expectations for our team,” Lawson said. “We return every starter from last season. This is easily the most depth and most talented team that I’ve ever had. We’re 2-1 so far, but I am very pleased with what I’ve seen to this point.”
Coach: Casey Clouse, third season
Last year: 11-8, 4-3 in Area 5; eliminated in the first round of the state playoffs.
Key returners: Reece Morrish (sophomore), Jessica Watson (senior), Devon Gamble (senior), Mia Bosah (junior), Kayleigh Kump (senior), Caroline Hayes (senior), Mackenzie Rich (senior), Haley Graves (senior), Kim Barrett (senior)
From the box: “Our program is coming off a successful 2019 season with a state playoff appearance,” Clouse said. “I am excited to see the leadership that a veteran team will provide this season. We fully expect to compete for another state playoff appearance this year.”