Fortier plays team game to lead Lions in record-setting season

Photo: David McGregor Peachtree Ridge's Michelle Fortier is the Daily Post girls lacrosse player of the year.

Photo: David McGregor Peachtree Ridge's Michelle Fortier is the Daily Post girls lacrosse player of the year.

Peachtree Ridge's Michelle Fortier and Duluth's Ali Cole are best friends. So the goal-scoring competition was a friendly rivalry.

But they still enjoyed giving each other a hard time about who was ahead during the season.

Cole led as the end of the regular season approached, but Fortier just kept pouring it on.

It wasn't hard to keep track of who was winning -- one of them was always at the top of the county standings.

Fortier, the Daily Post's girls lacrosse player of the year for a second straight season, had a few more games to add to her total in the playoffs and finished with a whopping 105 goals as a junior this season.

But her competition with Cole was about the only time Fortier kept track of her stats.

She wanted to score, but as a way to help her team win. And the sooner they were ahead, the sooner they got a chance to have fun.

"With Michelle, it's a little unique, she's out there to play," head coach Michael Thomas said. "She's looking at playing in college, but for her it really is a game. If it was allowed, she would play JV games. She just likes to be out there.

"Some people treat it almost like a job, but she really likes to play -- it's a good quality to have."

Fortier was selected as a U.S. All-American honorable mention this week. She's the only player from Gwinnett County to make the team and one of just 15 players from the state. So certainly playing in college seems likely.

Fortier isn't worrying about it.

She gets emails from universities and answers them. But she's frankly not that concerned with it.

"I want to play in college, but I don't think about it when I play," she said.

Right now, Fortier is just concerned with how she'll stack up against some tough competition in Canada.

Fortier is spending the summer in Ontario with her dad, who lives just outside Toronto. She's going to play with a team there as soon as the necessary paperwork gets approved.

"I have to wait until I'm cleared," Fortier said. "I haven't played with them yet.

"I'm scared," she said with a laugh. "Apparently the girls up north are better than in the South."

She'll soon find out. But for a player that led Gwinnett in goals and assists, a player that helped her team be the first in county history to win a playoff game, Fortier should be OK.

"No! She doesn't need to worry," Cole said with a laugh. "She's so good. She's going to do so well."

Fortier is going to play with the team in Canada, where lacrosse is quite popular, until August when she has to come back for school. After that, she's planning on being back with the club team again this fall. It will all be good preparation for her final prep season -- one in which the Lions should be ready to compete with the best in the state.

Peachtree Ridge was narrowly eliminated by Alpharetta 9-8 in the second round of the Class AAAAA playoffs last month and the loss still stings.

Fortier, who's last goal of the season put the Lions up 8-7 in that game, let out a windy sigh when she talked about it.

"We should have won that game," she said. "We wanted to win it for the seniors.

"We were up by five. I don't know what happened."

As disappointing as the loss was, it's served as motivation for Fortier and the team. Peachtree Ridge is returning it's entire offense. The Lions are losing a handful of seniors, including standout midfielder Rachel Harper.

"That's going to be the hardest part to replace," Thomas said. "But the offense and defense are intact and it's good to have (Fortier) for another year."

One reason Fortier was so successful this season was the Lions had a balanced attack.

"We ended up scoring a different way if she was marked," Thomas said. "Sometimes we did run her behind the goal and her job was to feed other players. She did whatever we needed her to do."

But when Fortier got the chance to score, she usually did.

"In one game, she had two or three direct shots," Thomas said. "She cocked and shot and hit the corners. It shows how strong her shot is -- plus the accuracy. And she's a little more consistent than everyone else. She's going to be good for three or four against anybody and against some, she'll put up six or seven.

"But no one ever thought she was a ball hog or just trying to pad stats. She never tried to fight through double or triple team when someone was open. She's a good team player."