Getting to title game won’t be good enough for Cougars
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Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014

Getting to title game won’t be good enough for Cougars

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/21/15/02/MrQRM.Em.138.jpeg|458
    JOHN W. ADKISSON - COURTESY OF JOHN W. ADKISSON
    Charlotte Catholic junior girls’ lacrosse player Natalie Wallon has committed to play at Syracuse, where she still has family.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/21/15/02/h5scA.Em.138.jpeg|205
    JOHN W. ADKISSON - SPECIAL TO THE OBSERVER
    Charlotte Catholic junior girls’ lacrosse player Natalie Wallon scored 99 goals last year, helping her team make it to a second-straight state championship game.
  • Five girls’ lacrosse players to watch

    •  Riley Harrison, Charlotte Country Day, Soph. – Midfield. Named All-NCISAA after helping Country Day to a state championship.

    •  Anna Comer, Charlotte Country Day, Jr. – Midfield/Attack. Another all-state Buccaneer whose takeaway set up the game-winning goal in the state championship.

    •  Grayce Anderson, Charlotte Latin, Jr. – Attack. Scored a team-high 83 goals for the Hawks last season.

    •  Natali Italiano, Charlotte Catholic, Soph. – Attack. Will help Wallon lead Cougar offense with senior Emma Jetty.

    •  Maeve Healy, Ardrey Kell, Jr. – Attack. Was the top offensive weapon for the Knights, scoring 47 goals last season.

Charlotte Catholic girls’ lacrosse coach Dee Bier hadn’t seen Natalie Wallon play before she tried out as a freshman, but she’d heard about her.

“In the lacrosse world, there was some buzz,” she said. “And when we had tryouts … we had done like two drills, and then I had seen enough. I just kind of put her on the sideline, ‘I know where you’re going.’ 

Wallon, now a 5-foot-3 (“and a half,” she said) junior midfielder, has played on varsity at Charlotte Catholic since her freshman year. She has been a part of teams that have made it to the N.C. High School Athletic Association state championship game for two years in a row. In 2012, the Cougars lost 17-6 to Green Hope. Last year they lost to East Chapel Hill 15-13.

This season, Wallon wants to get back to the game and finally bring home the trophy. She wasn’t on the team when Catholic won the inaugural NCHSAA title in 2010.

“I think that we’re going to have, like, a really strong team this year,” Wallon, 17, said. “We’re not that old, either. We have people coming up that are looking very promising, and I just really think we have a good year to hopefully get to states a third time and win it this year. Third time’s the charm, I’m hoping.”

Wallon has been an integral part of the Cougars lineup since her freshman year, when she scored 56 goals and was named All-American by US Lacrosse. She scored 99 goals last year, earning honorable mention All-American honors and Mecklenburg Player of the Year honors from the Observer.

“Freshman and sophomore year I just got more impressed,” Bier said. “I would have said if there was anything missing from her game, it was maybe being more of a leader. She was so good she was almost too modest, though. She wouldn’t take charge. And just in the couple days that we’ve been back (this season) and in the offseason stuff, she’s taken that role. … I really think she’s a total package.”

Wallon verbally committed to Syracuse University (N.Y.) and coach Gary Gait, a member of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, the summer before her junior year. Syracuse made it to the national championship game in 2012 and the final four in 2013.

Though she grew up in Charlotte, Wallon’s family is from the Syracuse area. She still has family that lives near the university. She said that when visiting the campus, it felt like home.

“The recruiting process is crazy, but the minute I went to Syracuse I loved it,” Wallon said. “I’m so excited to go to that program and learn from coach Gait. He’s an awesome guy.”

Bier said she is “constantly impressed” with Wallon. Her strengths, Bier said, are her stick skills, which she called “unbelievable for someone her level.”

“She’s crafty,” Bier said. “She is very creative. She just does these moves … she’s so quick in her decision making and her movements that it’s hard to stop.”

Wallon also played well defensively in the midfield last year, getting 42 ground balls and 75 takeaways.

Despite scoring nearly 100 goals, Wallon said she most wants to work on her shooting and her ability to place shots around the goalkeeper.

“The better everyone’s getting, the better the goalies are getting, too, and they’re just going to block the shots; so I’m really trying to work on my accuracy,” she said.

Wallon knows she has talented teammates around her, like senior midfielder Emma Jette, freshman attack Jaclyn Perkins, sophomore attack Natali Italiano and sophomore defender Emily Hughes. She hopes her play can help elevate theirs.

“I think lacrosse is a little bit about making the people around you better; because if you make them better, you’re in return making yourself better,” Wallon said. “It helps being able to trust the people that you’re playing with. I think that I got better at really learning other people’s strengths and helping them with that, too.”

The Cougars know what it takes to get to the state championship game, and Bier thinks that her team is willing to put in the work to return for a third straight year.

To do that, she thinks the Cougars need to become a complete team. She doesn’t want others sitting back and watching Wallon.

“My goal is that everybody plays together and plays as a team,” she said. “The ultimate outcome would be a state championship, of course.”

Inscoe: 704-358-5923; Twitter: @CoreyInscoe

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