In the moments just before the Charlotte Country Day girls’ lacrosse team takes the field, the players huddle one last time to give each other words of inspiration.
That huddle is a big deal, according to Natalee Palmer, Country Day’s all-state midfielder.
“Every time we get ready to step on the field in a Charlotte Country Day uniform we have high expectations and we are going to hold ourselves to those expectations,” Palmer said. “When we get in that huddle, usually players-only, we seniors remind our teammates that it doesn’t matter who we are playing, whether it’s one of the best teams in the country or the state or not. We are going to go out and play our game the way we want to and the way we are capable of playing.
“It’s important to always remember what we are playing for in each game. We want to live up to the standard we have now, and the teams in the past have set for Charlotte Country Day.”
The seven seniors who make up the senior class on the Charlotte Country Day girls’ lacrosse team -- Sally Dowd, Olivia Finby, Riley Harrison, Julia Loesch, Graham McIntosh, Natalee Palmer and Lucy Pedlow -- have helped set a new success standard in what already was one of the state’s best programs.
That group has gone 61-9-1 in the last four seasons and won three straight state NCISAA 3A state championships. This season they are 17-1-1.
Coach Kristy Boyles, who has led the team for the last five seasons, said this team is “the most dominant team (Charlotte Country Day) has ever had.”
Charlotte Country Day has outscored opponents 330-128. The Bucs, who have won 12 straight games, average 17 goals per contest, while giving up only seven.
Country Day is currently ranked No. 2 in the state behind Cardinal Gibbons, and No. 26 in the nation according to maxpreps.com. The Bucs also are ranked No. 6 in the South Region in Nike/Lacrosse Magazine for the first time in school history.
They have impressive wins over the traditional powers in the Charlotte area. The Bucs beat Charlotte Catholic (22-9), defending 4A state champion Lake Norman (20-4), Marvin Ridge (16-4), Myers Park (16-4) and Weddington (19-11). Country Day also has knocked off several out-of-state power teams -- Kell (Georgia) reigning 5A state champion and Woodgrove, Va., No. 4 in that state.
The team’s only blemish is a 10-7 loss to Vero Beach, Fla., ranked No. 2 in that state and No. 11 in the nation according to maxpreps.com.
“This team has been a work in progress over the last four years, it didn’t happen overnight,” Boyles said. “They have earned everything they’ve gotten, from state rankings to the national rankings. Our focus is always on the next game, but it feels good to be recognized for our accomplishments.”
Harrison said their “often brutal,” preseason conditioning sessions with Charlotte Country Day strength and conditioning director, Darnell Clark, laid the foundation for the 2016 season.
“All of the success we have had this season is a testament to the work we’ve put in for years now,” Harrison said. “We put in a lot of hard work in the offseason, so we can have fun during the season.
“Our conditioning and endurance has really been huge this season. I don’t think there’s any team that can hang with us all 50 minutes. You can see other teams wear down during a game and we keep getting stronger.”
Country Day also has one of the most talented rosters in school history. Five players are headed to college to play lacrosse -- Harrison (University of North Carolina), Loesch (Connecticut College), McIntosh (Denison University), Palmer (Dartmouth College) and Pedlow (Cornell University).
Harrison, a three-time all-state and two-time all-American, has set the school record for career goals (216) , with 77 this season.
Pedlow, also a three-time all-state and two-time all-American, ranks among the school’s best ever in goals (164) and assists (62) and groundballs. She has 38 assists this season.
Palmer, a two-time all-state pick, is the Bucs’ all-time career leader in groundballs (114), leading the team with 42 this year.
But the team has one last goal in mind -- another state championship.
“I remember when I was a freshman seeing how excited the seniors were to go out as champions,” Pedlow said. “We can’t imagine going out any other way. I think that every senior wants to finish as champions.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.