Barrington (R.I.) lax eyeing title No. 11

Roll these numbers around in your mind: Since the Rhode Island Interscholastic League added girls’ lacrosse in 2001, Barrington High has captured 10 of 13 Division I state championships – including the 2013 crown under then-first-year head coach Kathryn Tajima.

Rhode IslandAs the Eagles prepare for the upcoming Division I Tournament, they’ll do so with a 31-game winning streak against league opponents.

Question: How to you spell pressure?

“Before I coached for (Division II) Middletown,” said Tajima. “There comes a certain amount of pressure the second time around, especially when you’re undefeated in our league. This year, I think our girls felt a certain amount of pressure because people said it would be difficult to go undefeated.

“I think coming into this season, there was added pressure but nothing we couldn’t handle. When you win a state championship, other teams get more excited to play you.”

According to Tajima, the fact the Eagles were strong mentally was a major factor in their going 13-0 against Division I opponents and finishing 14-1 overall.

“I think in every competitive sport you have your rival teams – teams that have been on top as well,” she said. “We focused on playing a mental game as well as a skill game and not letting those things get in our heads.

“We’ve definitely progressed this season with our mental game.”

Another factor in Barrington’s success was that the team wasn’t devastated by graduation albeit the Eagles did lose two key players in All-American Kelly Dolan and Laina Caesar.

Their departure was offset by the return of seven seniors including First Team All-State selections Mary Kate Coogan (a midfielder who’ll play lacrosse at Colgate), midfielder Madeline Soutter (a midfielder who’ll play at Boston College) and goalie Kate Clancy (who’ll play at New Hampshire).

The other returnees include attack Beatrice Branhall, attack Ainsley Freeman, defender Lily Broomhead and attack/midfielder Cammy McDonald (who’ll play at William & Mary).

“This particular senior class started playing together when lacrosse first came to Rhode Island,” said Tajima. “They picked up sticks and have been playing together ever since. That’s added to our team dynamic.

“We were fortunate to have a majority of our team returning. We knew our strengths and our weaknesses and knew what we had to work on going into this season.”

To say the Eagles worked on their offense would be an understatement.

While outscoring all of their opponents by a combined margin of 230 to 75, at least 10 Eagles finished in double figures.

Leading the way were Coogan with 44 goals and 20 assists and Branhall with 31 goals and 15 assists.

Ironically, the Eagles may have benefitted greatly by playing their last regular-season game against a non-league team in which they suffered their lone loss – 9-4 on May 19 against Notre Dame of Hingham.

“My A.D. (George Finn) is good in terms of setting up games like the one against Notre Dame,” said Tajima. “We went into the game knowing they were four or fifth-best in Massachusetts (actually Notre Dame was ranked No. 2). It was a great experience for our team. It showed that we weren’t willing to give up.

“The referees came up to us after the game and said that was one of the best games they’ve seen. It’s okay to lose. But it’s how we handled ourselves and played throughout the entire game.”

Not surprisingly, Tajima lavished praise upon her seniors for being major contributors to a team that’s seeking an 11th Division I state championship.

“This senior class alone is amazing because of their versatility and the fact they are role models,” she said. “We have four going to Division I schools (Coogan, Soutter, Clancy and McDonald).”

But like on any team regardless of sport, invariably there’s one player who exceeded pre-season expectations.

In this case it was Soutter, even though she earned All-American honors last season as a junior.

“Madeline might not be the highest-scoring girl on the field, but she certainly dominates the game offensively and defensively,” said Tajima. “She’s amazing at seeing the field. She’s impressive at setting up our whole team on the field.

“She has the ability to bolster the team on offense and defense. She’s tireless and works so hard. Her work ethic is so amazing. She comes into every practice and every game giving 100 percent.”

In retrospect, the same could be said of the team as a whole.

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.