Photo by Sarah Liu

CHS women’s lacrosse players, panting, tired and nervous, huddled together for a time-out as their coach gave them one last pep talk—with only 19 seconds left in overtime. Their game against Park Tudor was not just any game. It was the State championship. Tied 7-7 at the end of the game, the two teams had begun playing the first overtime. Then, Park Tudor pulled ahead by one goal.

High-stakes situations in the final seconds of a particularly important game, such as this one, are a common occurrence in varsity player and senior Anna Kitchen’s lacrosse career.

Kitchen, who has been playing lacrosse since third grade, said she is also involved in a travel team and has committed to play in college. No matter where or with whom she is playing, she said the timed nature of the sport plays a crucial role in both practice and actual matches.

“Lacrosse is a game that is all about time and spatial awareness. It’s all about executing things in a quick manner without diminishing how well we do at that certain time,” she said.

Katy Voor, Carmel Dad’s Club recreational soccer player and junior, said the restricted time is also important in soccer.

“The aspect of time affects almost every facet. Time affects dribbling speed and lends to strategic plays in order to use time. The time remaining affects the plays you choose and your positioning,” she said.

According to Kitchen, the lacrosse team practices four, sometimes five, times a week after school with a large clock staring down menacingly at them throughout practice. The team focuses on three aspects of the game during practice through conditioning, drills and scrimmages.

Kitchen said the team spends the most time in drills because that is the part of practice that teaches players specific techniques of different parts of the game and helps shave seconds off of transitions and plays.

“Yes, the drills are not going to be cut and dry when you get into a game situation,” she said. “But they give you the tools to know what to do in certain types of situations when you are actually playing.”

In fact, it was one such drill that moved the championship game last year in Carmel’s favor, according to Emma Ahlrichs, team captain and senior. The team had frequently practiced getting the ball down the field and scoring in precisely 20 seconds. And now, with 19 seconds left in overtime, one goal behind, Kitchen said that drill came into direct play, more influential than the players had previously imagined.

The team was able to score the goal needed to tie once again, placing the team in a sudden death situation— meaning, the first team to score now would win.

Voor, on the other hand, said in soccer, it’s often the scrimmages that prepare players for the timed nature of the sport more than the drills.

She said, “Drills help with individual parts of the game and the scrimmages help with connecting all the parts in a game. The scrimmages I think prepare you the most for a game because drills can’t replicate a game scenario like (scrimmages) and don’t usually involve the same decision-making processes.”

Photo by Sarah Liu

In the end, however, Voor said she believes it really comes down to the situation in the game, especially during the final seconds.

“There is no perfect way to replicate those intense last minutes in some games. Some scrimmages can come close, but the best way to prepare for those nerve wracking moments is simply to play and gain in-game experience,” she said.

According to Ahlrichs, in particularly important moments, such as the sudden death situation in last year’s championship game, no matter how well the drills are executed in the shortest amount of time possible, the team must also remember the mental attitude part of the game.

Kitchen said, “I would say the mental part is a lot more important because in all actuality, physically you know you can do something, but you can only do it if you are mentally tough.”

Kitchen said that during last year’s championship game, the importance of mental toughness in the last, crucial moments of the game “hit home” for her. Although she wasn’t playing, she saw her teammates assume a loss in the first overtime, unsure of being able to catch up.

Kitchen said her coach’s pep talk allowed the team to regain composure, and the lacrosse team was able to score a goal in the sudden death situation to take home the trophy.

“They had to get that composure so that they could go out there and score a goal in the 19 seconds. However many seconds are left in the game, you might as well play it out to the fullest and make good of every bad situation,” she said.

Voor said she agrees that the mental state of the players matters just as much as the physical.

“During the crucial moments, physical and mental aspects are both necessary. The mental aspect helps to stay focused and with team synergy. The physical part helps in execution in the final moments. You might not get the chance to execute if the team has weak mental strength and (is) disjointed.”

Ahlrichs said, as captain and senior member, her attitude often influences the rest of the team, so she has to work on keeping calm under pressure.

“I think especially this year as captain, my reaction to intense moments will have an impact on the younger girls, because they haven’t been in as many intense moments as I have,” she said.

Ahlrichs, who said she believes she has matured in both physical and mental ability since her freshman year, has committed to Bryant University to play as a college freshman, while Kitchen has committed to LaSalle University. Kitchen said games in college are longer than in high school, but is offset by the more frequent use of “subbing”— rotating the players that actually play on the field.

Kitchen said, “So my personal time on the field will go down, but I’m completely okay with that because the intensity of practice will be higher.”

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Laxmi Palde