I don’t exactly know what it feels like to be a father, and I’m pretty sure being an objective observer of high school girls’ lacrosse is not that feeling, yet I can’t help but feel a little bit proud of the Pilgrim girls’ lacrosse team.
Also somewhat fatherly, I feel almost connected to the Pats.
When the spring sports season wraps up, I’ll officially put a bow on my third high school season working here in Warwick. I joined the team in July 2010, got my feet wet in the fall and winter of 2010-2011 and then started to feel more comfortable in the spring of 2011.
Of course, the spring of 2011 was the debut season for the Pilgrim girls’ lacrosse program. Started by coaches Tom Flanders and Charlie Benson, a group of inexperienced lacrosse players took the field and started competing without any real clue as to what to expect.
It wasn’t an instant success, but the improvement was evident, albeit gradual. Pilgrim went 0-14 in that first year.
The following year, Pilgrim was still growing, but it found its groove soon enough. It won its first game ever on April 18, and then ran off three wins in a nine-day stretch, including an 18-4 victory over rival Warwick Vets.
As the season wore on, the Pats, in just their second year, looked like contenders.
Also in my second year, I even wrote about the Pats’ chances at a division title in a May column:
“Finally, there is the Pilgrim girls’ lacrosse team. At 5-7 in Division II, and in only its second year of existence as a program, it doesn’t look on the surface like the Pats should be title contenders.
In fact, they’ll actually need some help to even qualify for the playoffs. They have two games remaining – against winless Warwick Vets and 6-5 Middletown – and they’ll likely have to win both of them just to get in.
But if they do get in? Watch out, because Pilgrim has jelled all of a sudden and would be the one team that the top teams in the division would hate to play in the early rounds of the playoffs.
The Pats have won four of their last six games, with the only losses during that stretch coming in nail-biting fashion to the top two teams in D-II-South. They lost to one-loss Narragansett 12-11 on April 30, then lost to two-loss Tiverton 19-17 on May 12.
Considering that the Pats lost to those two teams by a combined 17 goals earlier in the season, Pilgrim’s improvement – and sudden contender status – is evident.”
As it turns out, Narragansett would lose just two games that whole season, and Tiverton also lost only two and ended as the D-II-runner up.
Unfortunately for Pilgrim, a tough start to the season doomed them, and they ended up at 7-7 – the ninth-team in a division that only takes eight into the postseason. They missed the playoffs, and despite suddenly finding themselves, the Pats would have to wait another season to truly become contenders.
It looks like it was worth the wait.
Pilgrim moved down to a newly-formed Division III this season and has had the best season in its program’s history.
The Pats went 8-3 in the regular season, and when they beat Mount St. Charles 15-6 on Tuesday they advanced to the Division III title game.
In three years, Pilgrim has gone from 0-14 to potential champions, literally right before our eyes. I’ve seen the growth firsthand, coming into town just as the Pats did.
“We’re going to the finals,” Flanders said after the Mount St. Charles win. “We can’t believe it. Three years in existence for a program and now we’re going to Brown University. It’s kind of surreal right now for these kids. It’s amazing, but it’s hard work, dedication, all the things that we preach to them.”
The program is not only good, it’s stable. It features a mix of seniors, juniors and sophomores, and there are no shortage of kids interested in the sport.
One look at the players having fun – and winning games – and it’s easy to see why the Pats have gone from worst to (potentially) first in such a short span of time.
“It feels amazing, being part of the backbone of the team,” senior goalie Kayleen Murphy said. “It just feels great because we’ve had three years on this team, all of us together. Knowing that we’re going somewhere with this program is a great feeling.”
Everybody on the team feels the same way. They feel like they’re a part of something special.
“We started from nothing and now all the puzzle pieces work,” senior Betsy Heidel said. “We have great coaches, they do everything for us. We have great teammates, everyone loves everyone. We love the sport, it’s a great sport. And our heart is in to it. Every single one of us has passion.”
When Pilgrim takes the Brown University field on Saturday to play Narragansett for the championship, it will undoubtedly be an emotional moment for everybody involved with the team.
And it should be. In three seasons, the Pats are all grown up. It’s been fun watch them grow.
“We play as a team, we win as a team, we lose as a team,” Murphy said. “We do everything as a team.”
Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.