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    • Division III girls lacrosse: Pilgrim captures first state title

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    • Pilgrim's Hannah Johnson (2) celebrates one of her two goals during the Patriots' 11-8 victory over Chariho in the Division II girls lacrosse finals on Saturday,.The Providence Journal/Bob Breidenbach  
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      Pilgrim's Hannah Johnson (2) celebrates one of her two goals during the Patriots' 11-8 victory over Chariho in the Division II girls lacrosse finals on Saturday,.
    • By John Gillooly 
      Journal Staff Writer 

      Posted Jun. 4, 2016 at 9:33 PM 

      PROVIDENCE — Coach Tom Flanders kept telling his Pilgrim girls team that the game of lacrosse was filled with droughts and floods. 
      Just when it was looking like Saturday’s Division III state title game was going to be a dry day for Pilgrim, the Patriots opened the floodgates. 
      Trailing, 7-6, three minutes into the second half, undefeated Pilgrim exploded for four goals in nine minutes and gave the six-year-old Patriots' girls lacrosse program its first state title with an 11-8 victory over defending-champion Chariho at Brown’s Stevenson-Pincince Field. 
      The victory completed a perfect 18-0 season for the Patriots and culminated the high-school careers of 11 seniors who had never picked up a lacrosse stick before they entered high school. 
      “They came in when we were really just starting this thing,” Flanders said about his corps of seniors. “They had never touched a lacrosse ball before the ninth-grade year. They just jumped into and immersed themselves in the game. They were good athletes before and they became good lacrosse players.” 
      It was one of those seniors — Kendra Tantimonico — who led the Patriots attack with five goals, including two within two minutes early in the second half that took the Patriots from a one-goal deficit to a lead they never relinquished. 
      Three other seniors — Alexia Martins, Hannah Page and Hannah Johnson — each tallied a goal over the next six minutes, putting the Patriots in command. 
      Most of the seniors had been sophomore members of a Pilgrim team that lost to Chariho in the title game of the 2014 state tournament. 
      “We lost to them in the title game two years ago and the semifinals last year; we weren’t going to lose again," said Page. 
      Chariho, which was going for its third straight title, jumped out to a 3-0 lead just over six minutes after the start of the game on goals by Megan Kirby, Isabella Rinne and Alexa Bobbin. 
      But Page scored Pilgrim’s first goal 6:23 into the first half and Tantimonico scored twice within 41 seconds, tying the score at 3-3 with 12:37 to play in the half. 
      Pilgrim took one-goal leads twice in the final five minutes of the opening session, but the score was deadlocked at halftime as Brianna Williams pulled Chariho into a 6-6 tie with a goal with 25 seconds to play before the intermission. 
      Williams put Chariho back in front, 7-6, just over two minutes after the start of second half. 
      But then Pilgrim opened the floodgates. 
      “We always come back,” said Page. “I knew this was a game that was going to come down to whoever wanted it the most. We wanted to go out 18-0, not 17-1.” 
      • Page 2 of 2 - PILGRIM (11): Kendra Tantimonico 5, Hannah Page 2, Hannah Johnson 2, Molly Lynch, Alexia Martins; assists — Johnson 2, Martins 2, Page 2, Lynch, Emily Heon. CHARIHO (8): Brianna Williams 2, Megan Kirby 2, Isabella Rinne 2, Alexa Bobbin, Mason Jones. Halftime — 6-6. Saves — Paula Cavanagh, P, 7; Samantha Quinn, C, 10.

        Fantastic ascent for Pilgrim (R.I.) girls lacrosse

        Jun 21, 2016

        Mike Scandura, Special to ESPNBoston.com

        Prior to 2011, a Pilgrim High girls’ lacrosse team wasn’t even the figment of most Warwick residents’ imagination.

        Six years later, the Patriots are the Division III state champions. In the process, Pilgrim went 18-0 and outscored its opponents by a combined margin of 220-77.

        What makes Pilgrim’s accomplishment all the more impressive is that during that initial season some girls didn’t know the first thing about lacrosse.

        “Believe it or not, I had to show a few of them which side of the stick with which to catch the ball,” said Tom Flanders, who’s been Pilgrim’s coach since the program’s inception. “Where does the ball enter in the head of the stick? I had a girl say ‘I can’t catch this ball.’ It was a learning process like learning a different language.

        “We drilled the fundamentals into their heads. Every day was about the simple rather than the spectacular.

        “In the future, you rely on fundamentals,” added Flanders. “If your foundation isn’t sound, it’s going to fall down. Fundamentals are the key to everything. Work hard. Do the simple. That’s been the motto of the program.”

        A need for numbers: Even though a handful of girls approached Flanders about starting a lacrosse team in 2011, he knew a handful wouldn’t be enough to make this a viable option.

        “For me to sell this to the school committee, I needed numbers,” said Flanders. “I needed enough players to fill a team for this year and the future. I couldn’t have a team with 35 seniors. We put together a spread sheet that had every kid with their graduating year. There were no less than 12 kids from each grade level. I said these are great numbers for a program.

        “We would get freshmen to replace graduating seniors.”

        A total of 70 girls signed up in 2011; 45 eventually came out; and everyone made the roster.

        But prior to this season, Flanders experienced something he never had before.

        “This was the first year we had to do some cutting because we had over 55 girls try out,” he said. “In the entire program we kept 44.

        “If you win, people tend to be around that. You have kids who never have played this sport before. Now you have athletes playing lacrosse and, hopefully, you can turn those athletes into actual lacrosse players.”

        The core of the 2016 team was comprised of 12 seniors: captain Hannah Johnson, captain Sophia Deluca, Kendra Tantimonico, Emily Heon, Madison Yehle, Molly Lynch, Hannah Ambrosia, Brigh Finnegan, Ashlee Stubbs, captain Hannah Page, Mercedes Faust and captain Alexia Martins.

        Lynch, who was on the track team, came out as a junior and scored four goals last season. This year she led Pilgrim with 40 goals.

        Page played softball as a freshman but, a year later, joined the lacrosse team and this season fired home 39 goals.

        Tantimonico played soccer until Flanders “convinced her to play another sport.”

        “In my opinion, Kendra was the MVP of the playoffs,” said Flanders. “She scored 12 goals and assisted on three in three games.”

        Paula Cavanaugh split time between attack and goal. On the field, she finished with 13-4-17 totals and was named the team’s MVP.

        Not surprisingly, Pilgrim was 0-14 in 2011. But that record didn’t faze Flanders.

        “I had some really good athletes and there were so many games that were close,” he said. “We scared a lot of teams. We weren’t the typical 0-and-whatever team. As the season progressed, I could see defensive schemes and offensive plays that were executed. I could see potential.

        “I considered that year a success because we overcame so many things to get on the field. The fact we were 0-14 was meaningless because we were showing progress and were an official Interscholastic League sport. The girls held their heads high.

        “We were in Division II the first two years so we were playing against girls who had played lacrosse since they were kids,” added Flanders. “But we were competitive.”

        Refusing to buckle under: The Patriots being able to hold their heads high was put to the test each of the previous three seasons.

        Narragansett beat Pilgrim in the 2014 Division III finals while Chariho beat Pilgrim in the 2014 Division III finals and in the 2015 semifinals.

        “We lost two two-goal games,” said Flanders. “It was clear they wanted a different ending.”

        That “different ending” occurred on June 14 when Pilgrim edged defending state champion Chariho, 11-8. But it didn’t come easy.

        “When we were down 3-0 in the finals, they were thinking ‘Here we go again,’” said Flanders. “They needed a timeout to calm down. When they did, they outscored Chariho, 11-5. They knew what it’s like to lose. But Chariho didn’t know what it’s like to lose. Once you start playing with confidence, everything is going to be fine.

        “Rather than screaming or yelling, they knew if they went ahead you put a fear of losing into a champion. Sometimes they can’t recover from that.”

        That’s exactly what happened.

        In looking back at the season, Flanders cited an example of the importance his 12 seniors had on the program.

        “We brought up three freshmen (Lila Giguere, Jordan Petrucci and Alyssa Pexinho) who had been doing a good job on the junior varsity,” he said. “I felt it was really important that they saw the way these seniors carried themselves.

        “I wanted them to realize how you play games. They know everybody loved being a teammate and you can’t place a price on that level of comfort. It was important for the younger players to see that.”


        Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y. he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.