A year on the road to another state championship
By Brittany Llorente
VERO BEACH - The Vero Beach High School Indians girls lacrosse team labeled this year "Stairway to Seven."
On May 5, the Indians made a run for the state title against Bishop Moore at South County Stadium in Port St. Lucie.
When the night was over, the Indians had won their seventh state championship 22-6.
The Indian seniors on the team took possession of their fourth state championship. Each of them have been on the team since their freshman year.
"The feeling of winning a state championship never goes away," said Olivia Long.
The six graduating seniors: Mackenzie Smith, attacker, Long, defense, Lucy Sexton, midfield, Megan Kroh, defense, Caitlyn Miller, goalie and Gracee Hendrix, defense, will leave with big shoes to fill.
Smith was the second highest scorer for the season for the Indians with 66 goals and the highest in assists with 64.
Smith was also named an All-American, alongside her senior teammates, Miller and Long, with an honorable mention for Sexton.
Miller received 268 shots on goal and 139 saves averaging 52 percent.
Miller, Long, Sexton and Smith were named to the All-League South Florida first team. Hendrix was named to the second team.
Long, Smith, Sexton, Hendrix and Miller were all named to the All-District 18 first team and Kroh was named to the second team.
Hendrix and Long had leading numbers in draw control, the ability to gain control of the ball at the start of the play, Hendrix with 20 and Long with 70.
Sexton had 41 goals with 20 assists.
To say they had an impact in leading the team to the state championship would be an understatement.
From juniors to seniors at the beginning of the year, the girls had more than playing to do.
"The seniors really do lead the team," Smith said. "When we got to the bigger games, like the championship or against McDonough, that's when the younger girls looked to us on leadership and (Coach Shannon) Dean looked at us for leadership, too."
The road to the championship was a bumpier ride than in past years.
The team had a tough schedule, playing against the No. 1 ranked team in the U.S., McDonough High School that ended their 69- game winning streak. The school is located in Maryland.
"I would never take back playing that game," said Long.
In agreement, Smith pointed out it was a learning experience.
"We saw the best of the best and every team we played we knew they weren't going to be as good as them."
After their winning streak was broken, the girls came out a little heartbroken, but for the most part, determined.
"We couldn't sit around we had to move on," Coach Dean said.
All of the girls said it was one game at a time, with the state championship in the future, but that each game needed to be a win and the championship would come later.
The second loss of the season came at the hands of Sacred Cross.
"That was a hardest game to recover from because it was so close," said Smith. "Watching the film we were like, 'why did we do that?'"
But the loss came with its gain. The girls came together during a year that saw such age diversity Coach Dean knew it would be a tough thing to overcome.
When talking to the girls about their coach, they showed their respect and instant admiration for someone who was not only their coach, but their mentor.
"He's a great role model and he puts everything into lacrosse," said Sexton. "How he structured it and how much he put into it is how he has gained so much success. By seeing him and his success in what he did, I know I can take that in my life and know I'll be successful when I go out to get a job one day."
Each of the girls chimed in relaying how much he had been an impact on their lives on field and off.
"He told us to set our goals high and reach for them," said Kroh.
Five of the girls will be playing varsity lacrosse in college. Smith will play at Vanderbilt College, Long at Johns Hopkins University, Sexton at Davidson College, Hendrix at Virginia Tech University and Miller at Lawnwood University.
Kroh will play at Auburn University at club level.
"I told them to use lacrosse as a means to open doors," said Dean. "There isn't a professional lacrosse team and each of them used it to get ahead. It's always about academics."
Dean is getting ready for next season and selecting the freshmen and those who will be in leadership roles as seniors.
"Every year we sit down in a room and we identify our goals for the season," Coach Dean said. "Every year it is to win a state championship. Once we agree, we talk about how we're going to do it and what it is going to take. Not everyone can be a state champion, but we've done it here enough that we know what it is going to take."
In the offseason, Dean will let the players he has fill the roles of those leaving, but he has no worries about the 2013 season.
"Every player I have this season is committed to another state championship," said Dean. "This program will move on."