By BUTCH HARMON
The Okemos girls lacrosse team showed plenty of heart this season on its way to a runner-up finish in Division 2.
Featuring a balanced attack, the Chieftains turned in a memorable tournament run before dropping an 11-7 decision to East Grand Rapids in the Division 2 title match at Rockford.
Okemos had to overcome a key injury in the title game that made it even more difficult to play against an East Grand Rapids team going for its third straight state title. In the opening minutes of the game, sophomore standout Kendall Luberto suffered a severe ankle injury and was lost for the remainder of the game. Luberto entered the game as one of Okemos’ top offensive players.
“I think our girls played tough,” coach Donny Luberto said. “One of our starters went down in the first three minutes of the game, and that threw us out a bit. But the girls played tough. I knew they would keep fighting and keep playing tough.”
Okemos battled the entire 50 minutes while attempting to become the first Michigan high school team to defeat East Grand Rapids since 2010. Okemos scored the first two goals before the Pioneers came back to tie the match 2-2.
Okemos again battled back and went up 4-2 before East Grand Rapids closed out the first half with four consecutive goals to take a 6-4 lead.
Okemos continued the fight in the second half and tied the game 6-6 early on. East’s depth, however, proved to be too much to overcome, as the Pioneers outscored Okemos 5-1 down the stretch to come away with the win.
Despite the loss, Okemos accomplished plenty this season. It finished the season with a 20-4 record and was ranked second in the state at the end of the season. It had a number of impressive wins, including a 9-7 win over No. 3-ranked Caledonia, a 9-6 win over Division 1 No. 2-ranked Marian, and a 9-6 win over Division 1 state finalist Ann Arbor Pioneer.
“This was a great group of kids,” Luberto said. “We have six or seven who will be playing college lacrosse. Our team grade point average was also 3.8. These kids were wonderful. They did a nice job and I am proud of them.”
Okemos had a balanced offense this year, led by senior Bailey Ellsworth, who entered the championship match with 55 goals and 16 assists, and sophomore Kendall Luberto, who entered the final game with 48 goals and 30 assists. Senior Olivia Sherman entered the title game with 46 goals and 27 assists, while senior Alex King entered the final match with 31 goals and 30 assists. Sophomore Angela Palmer entered the title match with 36 goals.
Senior Courtney Humphrey paced the Okemos defense, while senior goalkeeper Katie Johnson had a 5.0 goals against average and a 70% save percentage.