By BUTCH HARMON
The home field never felt so good for the Rockford girls lacrosse team.
Playing the Division 1 state finals on their home turf, the Rams dominated play from start to finish against Ann Arbor Pioneer. After jumping out to a 5-1 lead, the Rams cruised to a 16-7 victory. The win was the second state title in a row for the Rams, who also won last year’s state title match at Rockford.
Rockford’s nine seniors led the way to the two state titles. Meghan Datema was one of those nine seniors, and having the opportunity to win a second state title in front of the home fans was very special for her. “In my sophomore year, we lost in the state semifinals,” she said. “The state meet was held here at Rockford, and it was not a good feeling watching another team win the state title and celebrate on our home field. We were ready this year. We were focused, and we came out ready to play.”
Rockford knew that defeating Pioneer would be difficult, as the Rams only beat Pioneer by a score of 10-9 earlier this year. After going down 5-1 in the championship, Pioneer battled back and cut the Ram lead to 5-4 before Datema scored back-to-back goals, giving the Rams a 7-4 advantage.
“We were missing a couple of girls the first time we played them,” coach Mike Emery said. “It was also the day before spring break, so it was getaway day. We had 22 turnovers that day. Today we had eight. We did a lot better job taking care of the ball and in possession today. Our defense also did a great job today. We didn’t allow them to score for most of the second half.”
Rockford closed the first half strong with a 5-0 run to go into halftime with a 13-5 lead.
Defense was key in Rockford’s victory, and the Ram defense began to dominate in the second half. Rockford opened up the lead to 15-5 in the second half and held Pioneer scoreless until a pair of late goals.
“Winning this title was real special,” senior defender Aimee Hite said. “We lost a lot of defenders throughout the season, so seeing how the defense came together and how strong they played was real exciting. We pretty much held them without a goal the entire second half.”
Junior goalkeeper Katie Elwell turned in a strong game with nine saves. “This is just incredible,” she said. “I never thought I would have this experience of winning it two years in a row. You just can’t describe this feeling. I’m so proud of all the players, we all just worked super hard.”
Datema led the Ram offense with five goals and one assist. Sophomore Alex Vandermolen added four goals. The same two players led the Ram offense all season. Datema entered the championship match with 58 goals this season, while Vandermolen entered the game with 50 goals.
Senior Kyleigh Egnatuk ended her career in a big way, as she scored three goals and added an assist. “We worked very hard this season,” she said. “We knew we had to put in a lot of work to get to where we wanted to be. Winning another state title was our main goal. We definitely knew how hard we had to work to do it again.”
The strong start was key to the win. “I thought today we came out strong and focused,” Egnatuk said. “That showed when we came out and scored those five early goals. I thought in the first game that we played against them we had a lot more turnovers, and that was something we cleaned up today.”
Winning a second state title was more difficult than winning the first one. “It was definitely harder,” Egnatuk said. “It felt like we had a big target on our back all season.”
In the end, the Rams defended the title and defended their home turf and sent their seniors out with their second straight state title. “It was so special to end the season on our home field winning a second state championship,” Datema said. “It was the perfect ending. Both of these state titles have been picture perfect. This one may have been more special because it was the last game of my career.”