Third time’s also the charm? - Lady Yellow Jackets look for third straight state championship
It’s hard to overstate how successful and dominant the Woodford County High School girls’ lacrosse team has been the past two seasons. Against other Kentucky teams, the Lady Jackets are 30-0 since their lone loss to open the 2018 season against North Oldham. After Monday’s 21-2 thrashing of Tates Creek, the Jackets have 31 straight wins against Kentucky competition, 35 wins in a row against all competition. The goal differential is second-to-none. Last season, Woodford County outscored its opponents 444-105. Still, according to WCHS senior Brie Gaines, the Jackets refuse to overlook any opponent. “We like to play in the mindset that anyone can beat us,” says Gaines. “Personally, that’s made a huge difference in my playing style. Our number one rule ... is to never underestimate or overestimate a team and always stay humble.” WCHS junior Samantha Stephens echoed those sentiments, saying “We are constantly reminded to be humble ... Coach (Haven Buckner) tells us that every game.” Humility with confidence has been the mindset for Buckner’s teams. Central Kentucky girls’ lacrosse hasn’t quite reached the level of popularity the sport has in Louisville and Northern Kentucky, and the Jackets have taken advantage as the premier team in the region while hoping to serve as a model for other programs. “I think we’ve been so dominant because we all have great respect for each other and for the game,” says Gaines. “We believe in growing the sport and growing as individuals.” Mid-March will likely bring the Jackets’ biggest tests. A March 12 contest at Assumption in Louisville looks to be the toughest in-state hurdle for WCHS girls’ lacrosse not just in 2020, but perhaps in the program’s young history. Two days after that, the Jackets will be in Alabama for four games against area high schools including Hoover High School. Hoover, a football powerhouse once featured on MTV’s “Two-A-Days,” closes out the trip before WCHS returns to Kentucky. March 21 brings more Louisville competition for the Lady Jackets as they take on Atherton and Louisville Collegiate. The noticeably tougher schedule than years past is a welcome challenge as Buckner’s squad looks to evaluate itself against the state’s better competition. “Going out of our league gives us an opportunity to play with different styles of players and keep us out of the ‘we’re the best’ mindset,” says Stephens, who scored eight goals in the season opener. As the Jackets look to live up to their potential and win a third consecutive state title, senior Brittany Sherrod will be looked to for scoring once again. Last season, Sherrod led the nation with 158 goals. After a nine-goal performance Monday, she’s found the back of the net 316 times as a Lady Yellow Jacket, averaging six goals a game. The George Washington University commit excels in the classroom as well — Sherrod made the US Lacrosse Academic All-Americans list for 2019. “Brittany is not only a good player, but a good person off the field and she sets a good example as to what a good sportsman should look like,” says Stephens. “She’s a natural leader, especially on offense, but we lead more as a team,” says Gaines. “It takes a lot of trust and synchonization, but that’s what sets us apart from other teams.” The bond on and off the field has been building for years with out-of-state trips, post-practice hangouts and offseason activities like a team Christmas party. The seniors — Sherrod, Gaines, Amanda Cason and goalkeeper Olivia Olivas — serve as leaders and mentors to the younger and less experienced players. The lineup mostly features upperclassmen, but sophomore Miriam Hickey has impressed teammates with a strong preseason and a two-goal performance against Tates Creek. She’s not alone in providing youthful contributions. “Our freshmen and new players are stepping up and looking good,” says Stephens. The future looks bright thanks to a stable foundation, but the Jackets are “all in” this season with another state championship there for the taking.