ROCKFORD – The last thing the Detroit Country Day girls lacrosse team needed was to be reminded of recent history.
Which goes a long way in understanding Saturday's stunning 13-12 win over rival East Grand Rapids in the Division 2 Final at Rockford.
The Yellowjackets' Hadley Keating scored with just nine seconds left as Country Day denied the Pioneers a fourth-consecutive Division 2 title and ninth overall. The game featured eight ties and five lead changes.
The championship game was another gem over two seasons after EGR knocked off Country Day 12-11 in overtime in last year's Final. Country Day thumped the Pioneers 18-5 late in this year's regular season. While those results were varied, neither was necessarily on the minds of Yellowjackets players, said junior Emma Arico, who scored five goals.
"We knew we couldn't take them lightly," said Arico, who scored the tying goal with 1:04 left. "It's a whole new team, a whole new atmosphere. We just wanted to focus on us and trust one another.
“I can't express how much I love my teammates and how Hadley won the game with her goal. We fought through adversity, and the last minute was made for us."
The championship was the first for No. 1-ranked Country Day, which finished. 18-1. East Grand Rapids (16-10) had won in both 2021 and 2022, as well as 2019 before the 2020 season was lost to COVID-19.
The Pioneers had taken a 12-11 lead with 1:43 left on a goal by MC Millman.
EGR coach Meggan Loyd said she liked her team's position with less than two minutes left.
"I was feeling confident. The girls have practiced (for close games). Draws were a big point, and unfortunately we didn't enough of them," said Loyd, who said the players had really discounted the 13-goal loss to Country Day late in the season. EGR had just lost back-to-back games to Division 1 finalist Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern/Eastern.
"I think we were more prepared, that we had improved offensively. We're a young team (seven seniors) and we needed more practice time to see about what worked and what didn't work."
Neither team could manage more than a few minutes of momentum. EGR scored the game's first three goals, Country Day six of the next seven, and the Pioneers four of the next five for a 12-11 lead with 1:43 to go.
Keating, an all-stater who has more than 160 career goals, agreed her teammates couldn't dwell on last year's devastating loss – at least to a degree.
"We used that as motivation, for sure," said Keating, who thought the game-winner was simply taking advantage of what was given by the defense. "It was definitely a gritty draw, and Emma came up with it. We wanted to take advantage of that. We had the last shot; we're lucky to have so many shooters and talented players who were willing to work for this."
Fifth-year Country Day coach Emma Kuehl, whose lineup included just one senior in defender Aunvil Mahajan, said she didn't expect less than another classic contest with EGR.
"They came out prepared. They had just played Forest Hills Northern/Eastern (in the teams' first meeting) and were probably fatigued," she said. "We needed possession on the last goal and finished well. We didn't feel like playing another overtime game with them. We just wanted to finish on top. It was a lot of goals to little goals the first time we played, and East probably pushed the envelope against us today."
Country Day averaged 22 goals per game during the Regional before a 19-10 win over Ann Arbor Skyline in the Semifinal. The Yellowjackets closed the season with a 14-game winning streak.
Mary Pavlou had four goals for Country Day. Millman and Vivian LaMange both had four goals, and Olivia Shaw scored three for EGR.
"It feels amazing, just a lot of hard work," Kuehl said. "Every year in my five years here we've taken a step forward. This is for the alumni and all the support they've given us. It wasn't about revenge, it's about evolving as a team. I'm ecstatic; we played fun lacrosse this spring.”
PHOTOS (Top) Detroit Country Day claims its Division 2 championship trophy Saturday. (Middle) The Yellowjackets’ Hadley Keating (18) sends a shot toward the Pioneers’ goal. (Below) Country Day’s Emma Arico (16) and EGR’s Kailee O’Connor battle for possession. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
Alyssa Shaver has made a habit of getting women’s lacrosse programs off the ground.
Her first year in the sport was the first year of the program at Flint Carman-Ainsworth. Her collegiate career involved playing in the inaugural seasons for both University of Detroit Mercy and Lawrence Tech University.
As a coach, she led the first team at Urbana University in Ohio.
When she left Urbana for Lincoln Memorial University, a Division II program in Tennessee, she had an opportunity to take over an established – albeit still relatively new – program.
Two years in, another chance to start a program arose, and she once again stepped up.
However, this was not a different school – but in a different sport.
The 2008 Carman-Ainsworth graduate recently finished her third year in charge of the LMU women’s lacrosse program, and is now preparing for Year 2 in charge of the women’s field hockey program at the school – coaching a sport she had never played and rarely seen.
“I had not watched ‘Ted Lasso’ but when people figured out what I was doing, they told me about it,” Shaver said. “Last fall I started watching it and I was like, ‘Oh God, this is my life right now.’”
Starting with a new sport was how Shaver’s athletic career got jump-started in the first place.
She was a volleyball, basketball and softball player prior to high school, but when her basketball coach brought up the idea of starting a lacrosse program at Carman-Ainsworth, she decided to give it a try. The connection was almost immediate.
“I didn’t know what (lacrosse) was,” she said. “But I put a stick in my hand, and it felt like the most natural thing. I was a point guard in basketball, and I had played basketball since I could walk. I think in lacrosse, the footwork, defense, concepts and ideas are similar to basketball. But when I picked up a stick, it was like, ‘I get to carry this ball around? I don’t have to dribble it?’ From there, it kind of clicked.”
Shaver was a remarkable scorer at Carman-Ainsworth, racking up 226 goals during her four-year career. That included 81 goals her senior season.
While at Carman-Ainsworth, she also continued playing basketball and volleyball.
“As a point guard in basketball, I didn’t really care about scoring,” she said. “In lacrosse, I was really good at offense and scoring. I was a setter in volleyball, so my other sports I was always setting other people up.”
Her success at Carman-Ainsworth and at the club level led to an opportunity to play for U-D Mercy’s new program, led by coach Mary Ann Meltzer. Shaver was an academic all-conference selection during her time there and played for two years before coming back home.
While she was no longer playing, she continued to coach, something she had started while a freshman at Mercy.
It was while coaching a club team that the opportunity to return to playing at Lawrence Tech presented itself.
“It was terrifying,” Shaver said of returning to the game after two years away. “I would play in summer league, and I always had a stick in my hand because I was coaching, but I hadn’t really played competitively. I was 23 and most of my teammates were 18-year-old freshmen. I always joke with them now – some of them are my best friends – but the first couple years, they didn’t want to talk with me and I thought they didn’t like me. It turns out, they were scared of me.”
Shaver played three seasons at Lawrence Tech, earning All-America honorable mention from the National Women’s Lacrosse League in 2014 and first-team NWLL All-America honors in 2015 and 2016. She also was named an All-American by the NAIA as a senior.
Prior to her third season, with Lawrence Tech in need of a coach, Shaver reached out to Meltzer, who had recently retired from U-D Mercy. The two were reunited at LTU, and Shaver and her teammates reaped the benefits, reaching the NWLL championship game, which they lost 9-8 in overtime. Shaver was the NWLL National Offensive Player of the Year.
In 2017, with Shaver on the coaching staff, Lawrence Tech advanced to the NAIA national title game.
“She’s pretty much responsible for a lot of our program at Lawrence Tech,” Meltzer said. “She was the driving force in recruiting kids. She had taken a couple years off, and I think when she came here she was that responsible and was kind of the go-getter in getting players and getting people interested in LTU for quite a while. Fortunately, we’ve done well.”
In 2018, Shaver took over at Lourdes (Ohio), leading the program to its first winning season in her first year.
After two years at Lourdes, she took over Urbana, building the program from scratch. She took over the LMU program prior to the 2021 season. The Lady Railsplitters were 2-5 her first season, but have gone 12-7 and 10-9 in the two seasons since.
Shaver taking over the field hockey program alongside her lacrosse duties wasn’t the original plan. But after things fell through with the coach originally hired for the job, and with some of her lacrosse players signed on to play both as well, the LMU administration turned to her.
“I have a lot of experience with new programs with lacrosse, and the girls were so great and super appreciative,” she said. “My lacrosse players have some experience, and a lot of the field hockey girls were just awesome and understanding, and helping me learn.”
Shaver is learning the game and was able to get some help from volunteer assistant Khotsofalo Pheko, a former runner at LMU who played field hockey in South Africa before coming to Tennessee.
Meltzer has faith in her former player to navigate all of it and find success, even if she told Shaver she was crazy for taking on the field hockey job initially.
“Obviously she has the work ethic, and she’s going to do what she needs to do to be successful,” Meltzer said. “As coaches, especially younger coaches, when things aren’t going well they think that more is better when sometimes less is better. I think she just needs to be patient; we all do. That’s the biggest thing. With her, starting so many programs – we’re all competitive, we all want to be successful really quick – it is going to take time.
“She’s an incredible person. She has a heart of gold.”
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PHOTOS (Top) At left, Alyssa Shaver takes the field for Flint Carman-Ainsworth, and at right she coaches at Lincoln Memorial University. (Middle) Shaver just finished her third season leading LMU women's lacrosse. (Below) Shaver (bottom row, fifth from left) was a four-year player at Carman-Ainsworth, including on this 2007 team. (Photos courtesy of Alyssa Shaver and Lincoln Memorial's athletic department.)