With her defense decimated by injuries and her team stinging from a lopsided, midseason loss to Glenelg Country School, St. Paul’s School for Girls lacrosse coach Mary Gagnon turned to junior midfielder Anna Regan and asked her to play defense.

Knowing that she’d be sacrificing her own scoring, Regan did so without hesitation or complaint, and the move helped the Gators patch up a unit that was taking on water as the season headed into its most crucial phase.

“I think that’s a perfect example of what makes our team so special,” Regan’s senior teammate, Kendall Steer, said. “It’s that everyone on the team would be willing to give up something for the team. They would put the team ahead of themselves.

“Anna is a perfect example of that. I think it was crucial for our team for her to go back on defense. I think it would be a different [outcome] if she wasn’t there.”

When the teams met roughly a month later in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championship game, a better-equipped, better-prepared St. Paul’s team was able to turn the tables on Glenelg Country for a 15-7 victory and the Gators’ second consecutive IAAM A championship.

That is no small feat in a conference in which Gagnon estimates that three-quarters of the starting players will wind up playing for a Division I college.

“The first one, we believed we could do it. But we still had to go out and get that first one to prove we could,” she said. “This year, it was different. We were the defending champs, and we had to learn how to play as the defending champions when everyone else was coming to take you down. That was a unique challenge.”

The challenge became more formidable when the Gators lost two defensive starters — senior Olivia Rose, a Stanford recruit, and sophomore Kira Balis — to significant injuries in the season opener.

Rose tore her ACL, while Balis suffered a torn labrum. Then, junior Grace Schlossberg, who was filling in for Rose, tore her ACL in the next game, and the Gators were suddenly struggling to hold things together in their end of the field.

“It took some time to adjust on defense,” said senior captain Madison Beale, one of the few defensive starters who was fortunate enough to stay healthy for the entire season.

Pushing Regan back on defense after she took the draw for the Gators helped immensely. And Balis delayed the surgery on her injured shoulder to come back and play.

St. Paul's School for Girls lacrosse 2022: Frannie Hahn (27), Natalie Shurtleff (13) and Anna Regan (23)
Frannie Hahn (27), Natalie Shurtleff (13) and Anna Regan (23).
(Photo Credit: Courtesy of St. Paul’s School for Girls)

It was another example of a major sacrifice that helped carry St. Paul’s to the championship.

Not only was Balis playing injured, delaying the surgery meant she was going to miss playing lacrosse this summer and a prime chance to impress college coaches.

“You can tell how much she loves our team,” Gagnon said. “What character.”

The midseason loss to Glenelg Country proved to be a needed wake-up call for St. Paul’s. It refocused the Gators, who finished the season 17-1, and showed them where they had to improve, namely on defense.

“We hated how we felt the next day,” Gagnon said.

Glenelg Country won the regular-season contest 20-7, marking the first time St. Paul’s had given up 20 goals in a game since 2016. Gagnon called the outcome “embarrassing.”

It didn’t help that one of the Gators’ best midfielders, junior Natalie Shurtleff, picked up two yellow cards in the first half, knocking her out for the rest of the game.

Combined with the defensive injuries, Gagnon said it was like playing the game without four starters.

“We knew they did not see our team,” she said. “They saw us at our worst. We saw them at their best. We had something to prove [in the conference championship game].”

In the IAAM final, the St. Paul’s defense was fortified by Regan and the return of Balis, and the offense began humming in the first half, closing it out on an 8-0 scoring run.

Shurtleff redeemed herself with five goals, while junior attacker Frannie Hahn had five assists.

“I am so proud of the team and so proud we finished so strong,” Beale said. “I know that we played our best in the championship game. Coach Mary always says you want to peak at the right time, and I think we did.”

Photo Credit: Courtesy of St. Paul’s School For Girls

Issue 275: June/July 2022

Originally published June 15, 2022

Greg Swatek

See all posts by Greg Swatek. Follow Greg Swatek on Twitter at @greg_swatek