There have been times during the 2016 season when Amy Orcutt has sounded like one of those coaches who wants everybody to get a trophy for participation. It’s been a bit of a departure for the head coach of the Conestoga High School girls’ lacrosse team, who loves developing players’ skills but also thirsts to win every time. “I was telling them that it didn’t matter whether they won every game during the regular season,” says Orcutt. “I told them, ‘You’re playing lacrosse with your best friends. Just go out and play.’”
That approach may have relieved tension over the past couple months, helping propel Stoga to a 16-0 record. But it isn’t going to work this week, as the Pioneers enter the District 1 tournament. It’s possible that they can lose a game in the district semis and still reach the state tourney, since five D-1 schools advanced to states last year.
The goal, however, is to win it all—and any missteps along the way can create an atmosphere of uncertainty. Last year, Conestoga reached the state title game, only to lose to Garnet Valley. It’s an outcome Orcutt doesn’t want to see repeated. “The girls are really motivated, and they really work well together,” she says. “Losing in last year’s championship game made them more focused.”
When the Saint Joseph University men’s hoops team was in the midst of its 27-0 regular-season performance during the 2004-05 season, El Hombre asked coach Phil Martelli whether he believed those who said the Hawks would be better off losing a game. Martelli was emphatic that a loss would create uncertainty and diminish some of the confidence his team had built. Orcutt understands the balance between the pressure of staying perfect and the benefit of having a release valve. “I don’t think the girls think too much about the fact that we haven’t lost,” she says. “I do. In the back of my mind, I keep asking myself if we can go the whole season without losing.”
The Pioneers are ranked first in the state by Laxpower.com and eighth nationally by Nike/Lacrosse Magazine. Last Monday, they prepped for the post-season with a thrilling 8-7, come-from-behind win over No. 2 Archbishop Carroll.
It isn’t easy to get Orcutt to praise individual players—and for good reason: There are so many big contributors to the cause. Five Pioneers have scored at least 35 goals, led by senior Monica Borzillo, who has 48, including the game-winner against Carroll. What impresses Orcutt most about the Cincinnati-bound standout is her 50-plus assists. Middie Sondra Dickey is another key contributor, as is senior goalie Jules Horning, who had a pair of key saves late in the win over the Patriots.
The Carroll game was Conestoga’s biggest challenge of the season, although the 15-10 victory over Garnet Valley wasn’t all that relaxing, since no lead over the defending state champs is particularly comfortable until time runs out. As the Pioneers prepare for the playoffs, Orcutt is still trying to minimize the idea of an unbeaten campaign, focusing instead on the larger aim. “The end goal is to make it to the state tournament,” she says. “If a loss happens in the districts, and we have already qualified for states, it’s a learning experience. I tell the girls that, if we walk off the field and we’ve left everything on it, that’s a win.”
Careful, coach. You don’t want to sound too nice.
EL HOMBRE SEZ: Isn’t it great that Sam Bradford is back in camp and ready to go after a championship? What a competitor! The dumbest work stoppage in Philadelphia sports history created bad feelings and distracted local fans from the most important business at hand: signing Fletcher Cox to a long-term deal. If Howie Roseman and Jeffrey Lurie think he’s expendable, then they should be charged with malpractice.