May 22—ELKINS — After having their previous two meetings each decided by a single goal, there was the thought that Saturday's WVSLA D-I State Championship match between the Fairmont Senior Polar Bears and University Hawks could be a nail-biter.
But, with the opportunity to fly their fourth straight championship banner, in the end the Polar Bears were not interested in drama or tension, instead showing themselves as every bit the dynastic, dominant force that they have proven to be, claiming the state title once again in a 15-6 victory over University.
"It's a great group," Fairmont Senior head coach Jon Cain said of his players. "We started out the year knowing we had to replace nine starters. So Jerry [Gardner] and Ryan and I, we said if we can get them to play together and believe in each other, the sky's the limit.
"With the senior leadership we had, we could do anything we wanted to do. I even told the girls early on, I said this team could do everything last year's team did, we'd just have to believe in each other and play together. They just did."
Seniors such as Georgia Gonzalez, Abby Frederick and Aubrey Harrison shone bright Saturday, with Harrison — the state's all-time leading scorer with 309 goals — was named the championship game's MVP after scoring three goals against the Hawks.
Harrison quickly pointed to her teammates when asked about being named MVP.
"I am just so honored to play with them," Harrison said. "We have worked so well together the entire season, I couldn't have gotten that award without them helping me today and throughout the entire season to get here. I am just beyond proud to call them my teammates."
It was one of those teammates, junior Emily Decker, who scored the first two goals of Saturday's game. Harrison got a pass from keeper Liz Amos and dashed the length of the field before dishing an assist to Decker for the second goal at the 19:15 mark of the first half.
Fairmont Senior's Georgia Gonzalez scored on a free shot and Harrison converted her first of four goals to pull Fairmont Senior ahead 4-0 within the first seven minutes of play.
Saturday's showdown was the third meeting between the Polar Bears and the Hawks, Fairmont Senior having escaped with 13-12 and 8-7 wins over University at different points in the regular season.
Cain had spoken about how he did not believe his team had played their best ball in the previous matchups, and Saturday was a vindication of that theory.
"This week in practice, you could see the focus, you could see they were hungry," Cain said. "They knew the first two times we played University we didn't play well. But University is a good team and they make you play ugly sometimes, because they're good. But I knew if we played our game and didn't get too crazy, we would be able to do well."
"[Cain] just said we needed to work hard, we need to win the draws," Harrison said. "They play a zone defense and we needed to be able to break that too. He critiqued all the little stuff, and then we got into the bigger stuff, for all of us to have fun. Last week, it was a great time before the championship game."
University closed the gap at that point, and fired off back-to-back goals from Kelsie Kyle and Rebecca Chmiel to halve the distance, 4-2, but it'd be all Polar Bears the rest of the period.
Brooklyn Brandau started what would be a 6-0 scoring run by Fairmont Senior going into halftime, where she finished off a pass from Decker with 15:43 to play.
Harrison set up a Decker goal next, biding her time from the X position behind the net until she sprung a pass to the diving Decker for a strong shot in-close.
Gonzalez was next to join the scoring frenzy off a ground ball near the Hawks' net which the senior scooped up and slung into the goal.
Harrison took a break from distributing next, and swept her way across the field from one side of the goal to the other, scoring on a low shot that wrapped around the post.
Gonzalez sunk one more, and Ainsley Lilly scored off a Harrison assist to put the Polar Bears ahead 10-2 at halftime.
Keeper Liz Amos was stingy in the first half, helping hold the Hawks off the scoreboard for the last 16 minutes of the first half while the offense built a commanding lead. Amos finished with nine saves in the game.
As the game wore on, Cain saw smart and opportunistic play as the key Fairmont Senior's lead grew.
"Us playing smart, us not getting into the physical part early, I think that took University a little bit out of the game," Cain said. "They did, and then they found themselves down players, then we took advantage of it. That's the main thing of the game, once they went down a player permanently, with [Rebecca] Chmiel who is their best player, arguably, went down early, I knew if we just played smart we were going to be OK."
In need of a serious comeback, University started the half off strong when Olivia Stewart scored, but three assisted Fairmont Senior goals — Harrison assisted by Gonzalez, Decker assisted by Harrison, and Gonzalez assisted by Harrison — smothered University's momentum and sent the Polar Bears ahead by double digits, 13-3 with 16:48 to play in the second half.
Decker and Abby Frederick tacked on two more goals for Fairmont Senior, while Zoe Mackey, Adrienne Regar and Shelly Batista scored for University, bringing the eventual final score of 15-6.
Decker led all scorers with five goals, followed by Gonzalez with four, Harrison with three, and Brandau, Lilly and Frederick with one apiece.
Fairmont Senior has now won each of the last four state championships over the last five years — 2020's was cancelled due to the COVID pandemic. The WVSLA implemented a division system for girls lacrosse this year, splitting teams into D-1 and D-2.
With the win Saturday, Fairmont Senior becomes the winner of the WVSLA's inaugural D-1 championship, a harkening back to the Polar Bears winning the WVSLA's inaugural championship when competition first started in 2008. With the win in 2023, Fairmont Senior now has 10 state titles in girls lacrosse's burgeoning history.
Four state championships in a row would be an unprecedented amount of success for many other schools — for Cain and the Bears, it's a humorous near-parallel as his team shoots for five in a row next season.
"It's funny, we started out with five in a row, back when this all first started," Cain said.
Reach Nick Henthorn at 304-367-2548, on Twitter @nfhenthorn_135 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.