Cashing checks: TC United girls win 1st home game, playoff contest

May 17—TRAVERSE CITY — Time to call this season a success.

The first-year Traverse City United girls lacrosse team came up with three goals in a preseason survey by coaches.

Win a game. Check. On tax day, no less.

Win a game at home. Check.

Win a playoff game. Check.

Those last two received checks Friday as TC United (4-10-2) defeated Grand Haven (9-7) 12-10 at Thirlby Field in a Division 1 regional contest.

"We've checked all those boxes, and we're very excited about that," United head coach Rich Axtell said. "Winning a playoff game earns you one thing and one thing only: Guaranteed more practices. More sprints, more laps and everything else."

The team seemed pretty excited about that eventuality, applauding the fact during the squad's postgame speeches.

Now, the United move on to visit Grandville next Wednesday at 6 p.m. The Bulldogs (11-6) knocked off TCU, 20-5, at Thirlby exactly a week ago and beat Grand Haven, 16-3, earlier this month.

"We get a couple more days of practice, and then we go get to go up against a team that handled us pretty well," Axtell said. "The kids are going in with a fair amount of confidence that they can rewrite the script on Wednesday."

The United trailed for less than a minute Friday after Grand Haven's Cameron Neil scored the game's initial goal 2:17 into the game.

Sophomore Quinn Gerber answered 51 seconds later, and sophomore Addison Taggart put TC in the lead 1:36 after that. The Bucs tied the game at 2-2, but senior captain Ella Brisbois put United on top for good, 3-2, with a sidearm shot with 6:28 remaining in the first quarter.

Gerber and McKenna Meyer tacked on goals for a 5-2 lead by the initial quarter's end. Meyer's came from a sharp angle after senior captain Amarah Lesperance forced a turnover by pressuring Grand Haven's goalie on an outlet pass.

After that, every time the Buccaneers drew close, United had an answer.

"It feels great to go from not even having a team four years ago to getting an MHSAA win our first high school season," said Brisbois, one of eight seniors and three captains. "It's so impressive that most of these girls didn't even touch a stick before this season and now they're coming away with a win on their home turf."

Even with Grand Haven coming in with four more victories this season than TCU, their MPR rankings were fairly close.

With only five or six players who've played lacrosse extensively, the United started the season 0-5 before a patch where the team produced a 3-0-2 mark. They came into the postseason on a four-game skid.

Friday's 12-goal outburst is the team's biggest offensive output this season.

"We started off the season losing by double digits," Axtell said. "As the season progressed, we had a stretch where we won a few, but then we came up against some good teams, and they beat us; but I was always telling the kids over and over again, we're doing the right things, we're playing right, and eventually it's going to work out for you. I don't think they really believed me, but I told them the exact same thing before this game."

In addition to the extra sprints and laps, the team witnessed senior goaltender Eva Lawson do the worm on Thirlby's turf following the game.

"We weren't sure if we were going to win coming into the game," said Lawson, another team captain. "We knew it was going to be a close game, but we were accepting the reality that it could be over. So a few of the defenders were like, 'If we win at the end of this, you have to do the worm.'"

The captains pick two players of the game after each contest. Sophomore defender Gillian Hysell and freshman Summer Lewandowski received the honor Friday.

Lawson started playing as a freshman, when the squad was still a club team, playing exhibition games all over the state and practicing a couple times a week. She was a forward, and Brisbois started at goalie. Now, those roles have reversed, and Brisbois led United with three goals and three assists against the Bucs.

Gerber scored four goals, Taggart and Lewandowski each put in two, Meyer one, and Lesperance notched an assist.

Lawson made eight saves in goal, including several late to keep Grand Haven from getting any closer than two scores. Senior defender Ali Stone also forced several fourth-quarter turnovers.

"It's a little nerve-racking especially because Thirlby is an east-west field," Lawson said. "The sundown on the east side of the field is just right in your eyes when they're shooting."

The United led 8-5 at halftime and 12-8 to end the third quarter, choosing to run the clock more than add goals. They held Grand Haven scoreless for the game's final 7:26.

"There's obviously not a ton of fans for girls lacrosse yet," Brisbois said. "But just being at home and not having to get off a bus after a four-hour bus ride definitely makes a difference."

Follow @Jamescook14 on Twitter.