That a 6-3 season-opening loss to New Albany was the DeSales High School girls lacrosse team's only setback of the season through five games did not change the opinion of coach Joe Finotti and some of his defenders that it was their best defensive effort to date.
The Stallions held the Eagles, who were Division I state semifinalists each of the past two seasons, to less than half of the 13.7 goals they went on to average through their first nine games.
The groundwork for such efforts is laid much earlier, however, as Finotti devotes the first week of every preseason exclusively to defense.
"We don't even shoot goals. We concentrate on the fundamentals of defense, positioning, footwork and just going up against attackers with the ball," Finotti said. "I wanted to set the tone that this is what we're going to be known for, that we're an aggressive, fast defensive team that can create turnovers and get the ball down the field and make stops. It's done well for us having that philosophy."
DeSales allowed an average of 7.8 goals through six games and was 5-1 overall and 2-0 in both the CCL and Central Independent League before playing Hartley on April 17.
The defense is anchored by a pair of third-year starters in juniors Greta Cargin and Leah Richards. Seniors Emma Burns, a 1,000-point scorer in basketball who returned to lacrosse this season for the first time since middle school, and Sydney Rikk also start.
Senior Ayana Boston and junior Izzy Arbona are the top reserves, although Arbona is expected to be out until May because of hairline fractures in her shins.
Finotti also emphasized the defensive contributions of midfielders Abbey Dop, Sophia Finotti and Liz Renken, saying the unit as a whole is the fastest and most athletic he has coached since taking over the program in 2012.
"We are a much more athletic team this year. Being able to build off our athleticism has really helped us out. We've been playing as a team really well," said Rikk, who started a few games last year while 2017 graduate Maddie Giersz was injured. "We are playing a new style this year ... we're doing a lot more one-on-one work because we're so athletic. We're able to take more risks with being more athletic and building off that.
"Speed is helping us get those ground balls. The little things help the most."
Cargin said she is more impressed with the defense as a whole given that they lost goalkeeper Emily Kraker to graduation. Freshman Carmela Cua began the season in goal, and junior Annie Hazelton returned from injury last week.
Cua and Hazelton each played one half in a 14-7 win at Columbus School for Girls on April 10. Hazelton made seven saves in a 15-11 win over Cincinnati Mariemont on April 13.
"All the new players we've pulled up have picked things up and fit right in. I didn't think it would be as good as it is. Carmela has done an awesome job," Cargin said. "We know what to do without necessarily speaking it. We can rely on each other. It's a nice unit and we work together really well."
The game against Hartley began a stretch of three CIL contests in four games. The other game in that stretch is Saturday, April 20, at home against Cincinnati Sycamore, which has won three Division I state championships, been state runner-up three times since 2007 and lost in regional finals each of the past two years.
"If we don't have a strong defense, we can't play off that on offense," Rikk said. "We have games where offense will be better and then where defense will be better, but committing that first week to defense sets the tone for everything."
Changes helping boys lacrosse team
Boys lacrosse coach Matt Triplet isn't sure the Stallions would have brought a five-game winning streak into an April 17 game at Granville had they not lost their season opener.
A 15-4 loss to Cincinnati St. Xavier on March 17 in the Ohio Machine High School Showcase at Fortress Obetz prompted Triplet to make some personnel changes he says paid off over the next few weeks. DeSales outscored its next five opponents 59-25, including lopsided wins on a spring break trip, 14-4 against Fort Mill (South Carolina) Nation Ford on April 6 and 15-7 over Fort Mill (South Carolina) the next day.
"That (loss to St. Xavier) was a lot of humble pie, honestly, and that might have been the best thing that could have happened to us," Triplet said. "We came in knowing what we wanted to do in terms of winning a state title, and that was a great way to hit the reset button. We found out a lot about ourselves. We made a few personnel changes; we changed some things defensively and some of our approach. We looked at everything."
Among the personnel changes Triplet made were moving Dylan Fuller from defender to attacker and Connor O'Brien from attacker to midfielder. Marco Susi is concentrating on faceoffs.
"We thought we knew who our first line of midfielders would be, then we found guys who jell together a little better," Triplet said. "We won't be afraid to tinker with things if we need to."
DeSales' game against Granville was its first since playing Fort Hill, as well as the first of six contests in a 12-day span.
The Stallions' games in South Carolina also came after a nine-day layoff that followed a 10-9 win at Dublin Coffman on March 27.
DeSales' originally scheduled game Saturday, April 21, at Columbus Academy was canceled by the Vikings, but the Stallions picked up a road game at Springboro the same day.
Softball team flashing potent offense
The softball team tried for its first CCL win of the season April 18 when it visited Watterson.
After being held to one hit in a 7-3 loss to Ready in its league opener April 11, DeSales fell just short in a 15-14 slugfest against Hartley the next day. The Stallions were outhit 16-13 in the game, their second high-scoring contest of the week.
DeSales routed Licking Heights 13-0 on April 10 as Jacqui Barber threw a one- hitter and Kyla Payne hit a solo home run. The Stallions scored eight runs in the first inning.
DeSales was 4-6 overall before playing Watterson, a game which concluded the first half of CCL play. The Stallions lost two games at Marysville on April 14, falling 11-1 in six innings to the host Monarchs and 11-10 to Olentangy Orange.
Below are the coming schedules for the DeSales baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis, track & field and boys volleyball teams:
April 19 -- Home vs. Gahanna
April 20 -- Home vs. Sparta Highland
April 21 -- At Hilliard Bradley
*April 23 -- Home vs. Watterson. The Stallions defeated the Eagles 9-2 on April 11.
April 24 -- At Dublin Coffman
*April 25 -- Home vs. Ready. The Stallions defeated the Silver Knights 25-1 in five innings April 13.
April 20 -- Home vs. Upper St. Clair (Pa.)
April 21 -- At Springboro
*April 19 -- At Wellington
April 20 -- Home vs. Cincinnati Sycamore
*April 25 -- At Columbus Academy
April 20 -- At Hilliard Darby
April 21 -- Cardington and Teays Valley at Lancaster Battle for the Cure
*April 23 -- At Hartley. The Stallions lost to the Hawks 15-14 on April 12.
*April 25 -- Home vs. Ready. The Stallions lost to the Silver Knights 7-3 on April 11.
April 20 -- At Lancaster in makeup from April 9
April 21 -- Reynoldsburg Doubles Tournament
April 23 -- At Hamilton Township
*April 24 -- Hartley at Wolfe Park
April 25 -- At Dublin Scioto
TRACK & FIELD
April 20 -- Wildcat Invitational at Westerville South
*April 20 -- At Watterson. The Stallions lost to the Eagles 21-25, 25-16, 25-16, 25-11 on April 10.
April 21 -- At Olentangy Orange
*April 24 -- Home vs. St. Charles. The Stallions lost to the Cardinals 25-11, 25-13, 25-17 on April 11.
April 25 -- Home vs. Northland