HOSCHTON — A couple of weeks into the season, the Mill Creek girls lacrosse team was beaten in back-to-back games. Soundly beaten.
The first-year varsity program was no match for South Forsyth or Johns Creek.
“We got it handed to us,” head coach Brian Williamson said candidly. “Twice in a row. It wasn’t pretty. At all.”
Both games, lost by a collective 34-5, were filmed.
Maybe that doesn’t sound like a good thing. But it was the turning point in the Hawks’ season. They haven’t lost since.
“We looked at what we were doing, what they were doing and made a lot of changes on offense and defense,” Williamson said. “We started playing better from there. We were, slowly, getting a little bit better.
“Of course, we have a lot of young kids on the team. I start four freshmen and two sophomores. So we were still learning a lot and trying to figure out how we were going to do this and that.”
One change was to stop putting together a lineup based on age or who was on the ‘A’ club team last season.
“That was difficult when you’ve got a lot of seniors and juniors,” Williamson said. “Obviously it makes sense normally that those are the kids that are starting.
“We just finally got to the point where you say, ‘You know what? I don’t care if this kid is 14 years old or 19.’ We just went with the strongest lineup we had.”
But it wasn’t just that. Or even mostly that.
The Hawks needed to slow their offense down, start setting up plays instead of trying to make one long run up the field and score. It was tiring the players out and not resulting in all that many goals.
“I was trying to teach them to value the possession,” Williamson said. “If they got anywhere near the goal, they were taking a shot.”
It wasn’t an easy lesson to learn. Or teach.
Williamson finally used a drill in practice that got the message across.
“You get one shot,” Williamson said. “You score, defense runs a lap. You don’t score, you run a lap. So it completely changed the way we started running the offense.
“There were times they would get near the goal in practice and they wouldn’t shoot until they could score. They’d be right up on the net and say, ‘Hmm, no, I don’t think I can score.’ So they’d run it again. It was huge.”
The Hawks (14-2, 6-0 heading into Thursday’s regular-season finale with Parkview) won the Area 4-AAAAA title last week. Tuesday they get a home game for their postseason debut.
“It’s been a great year,” Williamson said. “I think the girls are excited and nervous about playing in the playoffs because we happen to be paired up with that area over there with the Northviews and Miltons. That’s where all the strong lacrosse is.
“I think that everybody assumes that we’re going to lose.”
There may have been the same feeling earlier this season when Mill Creek was put in the silver bracket of the Gwinnett County tournament. The Hawks won it and, later in the season, beat the team that won the gold bracket.
But Williamson cautions against reading too much into those results.
“My assistant and I have talked about that several times,” he said. “Had we played in the gold, we’d have gotten beat. No doubt. I’m not saying it to sound humble. We would have lost.”
Instead, it was those early thumpings and a strong week just before spring break that have defined them.
“We had Peachtree Ridge and Collins Hill in the same week, which most people figured to be the best two teams in our area,” Williamson said.
They beat the Lions 10-5 and the Eagles 14-9.
“That was incredible for us,” Williamson said. “I was nervous about playing two hard teams in one week, but the girls stepped up big time. We played really well.”
Mill Creek is led offensively by two freshmen and a junior. Kelly Skoglund, who transferred to the school during the summer, has more than 50 goals this season.
“She actually made our ninth-grade volleyball team and played for me,” Williamson said. “I heard she was good at lacrosse and I was blown away at how good.”
The Hawks second-leading scorer is junior Alexis Ordini, who was on the ‘B’ club team last year. Right behind her in the goal column is another freshman, Mckenzie Fagioli.
“We do have eight seniors, but I think next year we’re going to be better than we are now,” Williamson said. “The goalie, Kali Coleman, is leaving so we’ll have to replace her and that’ll be tough.
“This is her first year playing. She said she wanted to try to play goal. Nobody else wants to play goal, I can promise you that. Because that ball hurts and it’s coming in pretty good. She’s done a great job. What complaints can I have?”
Although defense doesn’t get a lot of recognition, Mill Creek has a couple of leaders in Erin Miller and Breanna Buckley. Miller is one of two captains and Buckley had been a force despite having never played lacrosse before this season.
“She was a softball player first,” Williamson said. “But a taller girl, fast. She plays with a motor that never stops.”
Allison Jackson has also been key to the Hawks’ success in their first year as a varsity team.
Jackson, a competitive cheerleader, is charged with marking the opposition’s best player. Not a position laden with glory.
“We’ll say ‘You’re going to cover her, she doesn’t touch the ball,’” Williamson said. “We did that against some of the stronger teams we played. She’s very fast. She boxes the strong players, which is a lot to ask. She does a great job.”
The whole team is primed for its first playoff game in its first varsity season.
“You know, we’ll see,” Williamson said. “We’ll see what happens. I know the girls are excited.”