Taking Offense

Marvin Ridge girls lacrosse team knows how to score points in bundles

by Aaron Garcia

Marvin Ridge senior Mikayla Sweeney (left) and sophomore Amy Collins have led a Marvin Ridge attack that ranks as one of the nation’s most prolific this season. Aaron Garcia/UCW photo

There aren’t many teams out there that would turn away the type of offensive season the Marvin Ridge High School girls lacrosse team had in 2011, when the Mavs averaged 12 goals per game and distributed an average of 6.9 assists.

But this year’s Marvin Ridge team sure would.

This season, the Mavs have cemented their place as one of the top programs in the state, a position supported by their 12-2 record. They’re ranked fourth in the state, according to laxpower.com, and have notched wins over 2011 state private-school champ Charlotte Country Day, rival Weddington and several Charlotte teams, such as Ardrey Kell and Providence, with a prolific offense that is averaging 17 goals per game with 9.2 assists. Both marks rank second in the state, according to maxpreps.com.

More impressive, the Mavs’ goals-per-game and assists-per-game averages rank sixth and seventh in the nation, respectively.

“Honestly, we’ve had a number of games where we’ve had to really shut (our attackers) down and say, ‘Look, we don’t want to just completely annihilate these teams,’” said coach Brad Sweeney. “We’ve got a lot of girls that can score; they know how to take it in and shoot. I’m not surprised by the high (scoring) average at all.”

Sweeney’s proclamation might sound like bravado, but given his roster of players, it’s more realistic than bombastic. For the past two years, Mikayla Sweeney, the coach’s daughter, has been one of the top offensive players in the state, as she tallied 46 goals and 27 assists during the 2011 season, en route to being named Union County Weekly’s Girls Lacrosse Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. But she didn’t do it alone, as then-freshman Amy Collins proved to be the perfect complement to Sweeney, giving the Mavs another potent scoring option with 50 goals and 13 assists.

Though the Mavs finished the year with a 6-6 record, Brad Sweeney said he had plenty to be enthusiastic about when he took over for departed coach Ashley Mitchiledes this spring.

“I think initially I had high expectations because I knew what kind of talent we had,” said Brad Sweeney. “I actually set a couple of goals. The first was to make the playoffs. Second, I honestly think we have a team that can take it all the way if we gel at the right time.”

And much of that load, said the Mavs’ coach, had to be shouldered by Mikayla Sweeney and Collins as the team’s top returning scorers.

Entering the final week of the regular season, the duo hasn’t disappointed. Collins leads the team in both goals (64) and assists (30), while Sweeney is right behind with 48 goals and 25 assists. Collins is sixth in state in goals (25th nationally), fifth in assists (23rd nationally) and sixth in total points (20th in the country). Mikayla Sweeney, a Virginia Tech signee who has played through a back injury this season, is 12th in North Carolina in goals scored (59th nationally), seventh in assists (37th) and eighth in points (41st).
Much of the success, said Mikayla Sweeney, is the result of the familiarity that comes with being second-year teammates with Collins.

“We pass to each other more this year than last year,” Mikayla Sweeney said. “We’d do the one-person-run-it-down-the-field thing (last year). This year it’s more cohesive, and the ball moves faster.”

Collins also credited the rest of the team for showing vast improvement, as a whole, from last year, as well as the addition of a strong corps of freshmen that has given the Mavs even more weapons.

But Mikayla Sweeney had to interject.

“I think that’s all so true, but in my opinion, Amy has grown to be twice as much of a player this year,” said Mikayla Sweeney, nodding toward her teammate. “She sees the field better, everything.

“There are certain things (she’s improved on), like not forcing the ball and pulling it out (of the zone when needed). She’s a smarter player this year.”

But back to Collins’ point. The Mavs have five other players who have notched double-digit goals on the season, led by freshmen MacKenzie Lancaster (28 goals, 23 assists), Taylor Sweeney (23, 11) and Claire Murphy (10, four). Juniors Megan Loren (11 goals) and Hannah Kessenich (11) also have been solid.

“It’s not just two girls that are doing it – it’s really across the board,” said Brad Sweeney. “That’s always nice because we lose seven seniors next year, but out of the seven, there’s only two that start, so the team is going to be pretty solid (even next season).”

Brad Sweeney also said that former midfielder Taylor Malseed has transitioned to the back and has provided the Mavs a much-needed presence on defense, allowing Marvin Ridge to outscore its opponents by 139 goals (243 to 104).

“In lacrosse, it’s all about scoring,” said Brad Sweeney. “That’s where everyone wants to be, but (Malseed) was great about it.

“Honestly, if Taylor didn’t say, ‘Yeah, I’ll stay back there (on defense),’ there would’ve been two or three games I know of that we would not have won, just because we struggle on the defensive side.”

But again, even with all the precocious newcomers and selfless veterans peppering the roster, the true onus for taking the Mavs to the next level as a team with legitimate state championship aspirations was going to fall on Marvin Ridge’s two proven commodities: Mikayla Sweeney and Collins.

“The nice thing about both players is they’re very unselfish,” said Brad Sweeney. “The thing I kind of tried to do when I took the team over this year was talk to all of the girls about (how) it’s not just about scoring goals; it’s about the whole team working together. If you’re pulling two and three defenders on you, somebody’s open, so you’ve got to dump it and dish it off.

“Those two (players) see the field probably better than any of the other girls on the team, and they trust each other,” he continued. “I think that’s why they’ve done so well together.”

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