Laurie Schultz probably thought of herself as something of a substitute teacher early this year.
Lake Shore girls lacrosse coach Hannah Wawrowski had gone on maternity leave, and Schultz was named the interim coach despite having been away from coaching for quite a while. During the previous half-dozen years, Schultz was busy teaching kindergarten and chasing her own twins around.
The interim plan sounded like it had a chance for disaster, since many students like nothing better than to target substitute teachers for pranks and jokes. Yet Schultz and the Eagles bonded and went on to capture a Section VI Class C championship, giving the temporary coach some thrilling moments.
“I am tremendously grateful that I was there to be a part of it,” Schultz said about the season. “It was a very rewarding experience.”
The road to an 18-1 season had some bumps in it. A wet spring kept the Eagles inside for practice until just before the first game because their field was waterlogged. As the season opener approached, Schultz wondered if she’d be up to the task.
“When I first said I’d do it, I was nervous,” she said. “I never played the game. As they say, if you don’t use it, you lose it. I was lucky and blessed to have a JV coach who was a former player, Lindsay John. She got me back on the swing of things in terms of position and things like that. I give her a lot of credit for the team’s success. She gave me a lot of ideas, information on drills, defensive plays. We got along really well.”
To raise the stakes a few notches, that first game was at Amherst – a traditional powerhouse in the sport locally and the team that kept quite a few Lake Shore teams from winning sectional titles. It was a crash course in rivalries for Schultz.
“Based on what they told me, I figured out that it was a big game, the most competitive team on the schedule,” she said. “I was scared to death. I hadn’t seen it, so I didn’t know what to expect. But that game set the pace for the whole season. When they won that game on Amherst’s turf, I said they were not going to lose for the rest of the season.”
Schultz wasn’t about to reinvent the wheel as the season went along. She did bring a slightly different approach to the game in that she figured the offense would take care of itself.
“We had the mindset this season to be very defensive,” Schultz said. “At the beginning of every game, we said we wanted to keep the other team from scoring. We had Jenna Haring, who was a fantastic goalie. As soon as we turned the ball over, all of the players became defenders.”
The wins came one after another, and the run was capped by a 14-9 win in the Section VI championship against – who else? – Amherst, which had won eight of the previous nine area titles. Then the Eagles were on to the Far West Regionals, the traditional graveyard for area teams with state title hopes. The Eagles lost to Honeoye Falls-Lima, 12-7, in a game where the Section V team got off to a big lead early and Lake Shore couldn’t recover.
When that game ended, Schultz returned to a seat in the stands.
“The girls had so many thrills – beating Amherst three times in one season, beating Frontier for the first time, the first unbeaten season,” she said. “It gave me a lot of satisfaction.”
Lake Shore’s storyline had the same ending as the other two Section VI champions. In Class A, Lancaster took home its fifth straight Class A crown, while Hamburg made it five straight in Class B. Both local teams lost in regionals.
Meanwhile, Mount Mercy had a year to remember. It took its first Msgr. Martin Association championship with an upset win over defending champion Mount St. Mary’s in the title game.
Lake Shore was the only team to be named in the state rankings (No. 23 in Class C).
The Tom Borrelli Award went to McKenna Rushford of Amherst, someone who is used to being honored. She was The News’ Prep Talk Player of the Year in both lacrosse and field hockey. Rushford scored 69 goals and 34 assists for the season.
Rushford fell a game short of winning another Section VI title, but she did head the All-Western New York team. As could be expected, the area champions had plenty of representatives. Haring led a group of four Lake Shore players on the team. At one point, the goalie had the best save percentage of any high school netminder in the nation. Haring was joined on the all-star squad by Jalyn Jimerson, Ivy Santana and Shayla Scanlan.
“Jalyn led in a whole bunch of ways,” Schultz said. “She’s so passionate about the game. … Shayla was very much a caretaker. She had a ton of assists, and was a strong player. Ivy Santana was a little firecracker. She’d go 100 percent all of the time.”
Lancaster had two representatives on the All-WNY team in Anna Orlando and Riley Lucarelli. Hamburg’s Rebecca Izzo and Claire Herrmann also were honored.
The other first-team selections were Lexi Rockey of Frontier, Laura Skrzypczyk of West Seneca East, Sydney Cerza of Clarence, Lindsay Hogan of Nichols, and Grace Ruh of Orchard Park.