Lacrosse becomes state champion after defeating Vandergrift in a physically heated, low-scoring affair

Meer Mahfuz, Staff Writer

In a humid weekend trip to Humble, Coppell played in the THSLL Class A State Championship round and faced both Dallas St. Mark’s and Austin Vandergrift as the underdog. The Cowboys embraced their underdog mentality and earned comeback wins in all three playoff matches to cement their legacy in Coppell Lacrosse and Texas high school lacrosse history.

Despite not being favored to advance, the Cowboys emerged victorious and are the 2021 THSLL Class A State Champions after defeating St. Mark’s, 10-8, in round three at Kingwood High School on Saturday and Vandergrift, 5-4, in round four at the George Turner Stadium on Sunday.

The second game started off with the Cowboys conceding not even eight seconds into the game and Coppell players were seen yelling at each other to pick it up. 

“Having that team-player accountability is huge because we all understand that we’re trying to accomplish the same thing which is to put our best foot forward and win some games and our guys supported each other throughout the whole quest,” Coppell coach Matt Mueller said. “The accountability shown was just awesome.”

You have to have some thick skin because teammates are going to get after you a little bit, but it all comes from a good place, it’s because they care and we want to compete to the best of our ability.

— Coppell coach Matt Mueller

This time, however, rallying back wouldn’t be as easy as it had been the day before. A minute later, Vandergrift had added another one to its lead. Coppell senior attacker Gavin Osteen’s goal with 5:42 left in the first quarter was cancelled out by another Vandergrift goal with 4:15 left in the first quarter and the Vipers took a two goal lead over Coppell at the end of the first. 

“Lacrosse is a game of runs; there’s takes and there’s valleys and we started down in a valley but they didn’t worry about it,” Mueller said. “They kept the ‘it’s 0-0’ mentality and stuck to the game plan by battling and the score took care of itself.” 

The second quarter for the Cowboys was highlighted by Coppell’s willingness to take offensive risk and having compact, organized defense to clean up any mishaps. With goals with 9:53 and 5:41 left in the second quarter, Coppell was able to tie the game up heading into halftime.

The halftime talk was then given by the seniors rather than the coaches aside from a little game adjustment. Coppell senior midfielder Tim O’Hearn started off the rallying cry by speaking of his love for the team and how he wants and needs every single Cowboy to put their life on the line in order to come out victorious in this game. Other seniors followed suit and the team could be seen visibly impassioned on the sideline, with fist bumps and high-fives going throughout.

Returning from halftime, the Cowboys were evenly matched with the Vipers throughout the third quarter. Mentally matched, physically matched and matched in game plan as each team had an answer for any question thrown at them. It wouldn’t be until Vandergrift made the breakthrough goal with 1:53 left in the third that the Cowboys started to peel out of their defensive shell. 

Still, the Cowboys stuck to the game plan instead of getting sporadic and putting all the responsibilities onto themselves. The plan was to set up the best shot and make the shooters job the easiest rather than force many shots at Vandegrift, a by-product of the talent Vandergrift junior goalie Carter Redwine possessed. 

And set up the perfect goal they did, junior attacker Jack McAdams saw his shooting lane get closed by a two-man cover, making a behind-the-back pass to senior midfielder Tyler Wendel who attracted defensive pressure and passed the ball to a wide-open senior midfielder Aidan Stricklin who eased the ball into the back of the goal for the tying goal with 7:14 left in the game. 

“[His creativity in that situation] was awesome,” Mueller said.

There is a time and place for every flick-stick (special, tricky move to fool a defense) and that was the absolute perfect time for a behind-the-back because his only option was to run away and that would’ve killed the play.

— Coppell coach Matt Mueller

Not even a minute later, the Cowboys set up the game winning goal, though not as beautifully constructed, by passing the ball around until one of the Vipers jumped out of defensive cover, allowing the Cowboys to rifle one past Redwine. The remaining six minutes of the game was the Cowboys holding onto the lead, with every defender marking or double marking a man if needed to prevent any breakthrough from the Vipers.

As the final clock rang, the Cowboys erupted in joy, throwing their helmets and rushing into a dog pile over sophomore goalie Blu Carter.

“I’m just super blessed, the entire coaching is blessed to be part of this and be a part of the Coppell community,” Mueller said. “[This is] a special moment for us, there’s no doubt.”

The first game of the state championship round started off slow for Coppell (10-5), conceding early and having to play from behind to muster up a win. After conceding against St. Mark’s in the first minute of the game, many Cowboys were seen yelling at each other to pick up the intensity and the Cowboys didn’t trail since. 

After a back-and-forth first quarter, the Cowboys were able to hold a small 3-2 lead. The second quarter saw a more aggressive and cohesive Coppell lacrosse unit with all three phases of the game limiting mistakes and taking the game St. Mark’s. After dominating the Lions in the second quarter, the Cowboys were able to increase their lead to 6-3 heading into halftime. 

“We had a great man-down defense and good pace on the offensive side of the ball [to get things going for us],” Osteen said.

The halftime rally cry from the Lions created a reinvigorated St. Mark’s side. The Lions looked impassioned on the sideline knowing that they must come together to keep their season alive. And come together they did, taking the game back to Coppell and outplaying them to cut the deficit to 7-6 at the end of the third quarter. 

“Our biggest weakness for us [during this period] was in the middle third of the field,” Coppell senior midfielder Andrew Sullivan said. “In the beginning [of the game], we started really strong in the midfield but, towards the end, it got a little chaotic.”

The fourth quarter was similar to the first, with each team reluctant to make risky plays and go after one another. The Cowboys were able to control the Lions’ offensive onslaught through superior defensive organization from Blu Carter and breakup play from senior long stick middie Canon Peters.

Overall, I was super pleased with our performance because we executed when we had to in the big moment.

— Coppell senior midfielder Bain Carter

The Cowboys came out of the game victorious, defeating St. Mark’s, 10-8, and ending the Lions’ season at 7-6.

For Mueller, the message coming off this game was to physically and mentally rest up for the state championship game against the first seed, Vandergrift (8-5).

Returning back to the hotel, the team got some hours to themselves and had a lengthy film session which started at 8:30 p.m. and ran for a couple hours, highlighting all aspects of the game against the Lions as well as presenting the game plan for Vandergrift and giving the Cowboys an opportunity to speak on the season and the upcoming game.

The end of said film session was highlighted by one thing: an inspirational speech by assistant coach Carl Rehling that got the Cowboys emotionally invested and fired up for the championship game. The speech was one of many topics but a main point that Rehling made was that the last time Coppell Lacrosse had won a state championship was 10 years ago to that date. 

The main message that the Cowboys took away from that speech was that if they play like they’re supposed to, then winning this year’s state championship would be destiny for them.

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