Out-of-state win could signal success

No doubt about it, this was a revenge game. Rare is the case when such circumstances are true between two teams that aren't from the same state, but after losing 15-11 last season in a cold, rainy, uncomfortable game, the Rams girls lacrosse team entered Saturday's home tilt against Yorktown with a determined, fierce attitude.

"It was huge because Yorktown's a phenomenal team, and I think, just after last year's game, the girls had a little more desire," Rams head coach Kristin Wood said. "And I also think it was a big game to win ... I think Yorktown has that national ranking and that really helped us to come out hard."

Whether it was goalie Charlotte Spitzfaden playing in the most physical fashion Wood had ever seen, or quiet, humble leader Betsy Hart picking up a yellow card (to the chagrin and shock of all New Canaan players and coaches), it was evident New Canaan wanted to deliver a wire-to-wire message.

And it did. The Rams won 9-7 over the Huskers thanks to six goals from Ivy League-bound forward Anjalie Christie.

"In the locker room before the game, coach Wood said, `If you have confidence and determination, no one's going to be able to beat you,' " Christie said. "We've been working on the flow of our offense, and that contributed a lot."

Christie, who also had an assist on a Sarah Mannelly (two goals)goal in the first half, was an absolute force. Christie's definitive goal was also her sixth and final one.

After she scored on a breakaway to give the Rams an 8-7 lead with 11:06 remaining, the Rams' ultimate score came after Kacey Pippitt passed to Olivia Hompe, who found Christie blazing down the turf with about 25 yards to the goal. It was no contest -- Christie fired at Yorktown goalie Laura Grose, who whiffed on the save.

"As a team, we've been able to cut and make lanes for each other -- with that I'd say this was one of our best games," Christie said. "When you make lanes for people and you get those feeds in you can get those drives and goals."

Perhaps the only play more impressive than that quick-strike was what Erin Fessler did to prevent the game from getting back to a one-goal margin with 5:45 remaining. Yorktown's Kelly Harris was given a free release and the advantage occurred with Spitzfaden outside of the goalie circle. With Spitzfaden not in position for the save, Fessler got her stick chest high and stretched out to make the stop -- which she did on the edge of her stick's sidewall. Fessler said she remembered how losing to the Huskers felt and this year the team had to key in on Yorktown's version of Anjalie Christie: Lindsay Scott.

"We fell apart as a team last year," Fessler said. "We knew that [Scott] was a strong player, offensively. So we really practiced on being a slide [defense] if we needed a slide and forcing her to her weak side."

Fessler was the one who had the assignment of keeping Scott slowed down throughout the day. Scott didn't score any goals that didn't come off a free release.

"I think everybody came out hard this game, and I think there was a little lack of focus last year," Wood said. "This year, they were completely ready to go. We were working a lot with the defense. ... Even though they were fouling a little too much, they really played with confidence and the slides were there. They were making it hard for those Yorktown girls to get into the cage."

And as for Spitzfaden's aggression, Wood's a convert. When asked if she was OK with the senior goalie's new approach Wood responded, "I am now. She said at practice she wanted to come out a little more. If you're going hard I'm not going to be upset. I liked her aggression and it got the rest of the team going. It stirred everyone up when she came out and was playing hard. ... Charlotte played absolutely phenomenal coming out on the passes and intercepting the ball."

The other good news for the Rams in this game was the return of Hart, "a commanding force on defense," according to Fessler. She played in her first game back from a meniscus tear in her knee, which she hurt in the preseason.

"Betsy's a huge, huge defender on our team," Christie said. "Having her back today definitely made a difference out there."

It's been a grand turnaround for this team since the season-opening 12-7 loss against Darien. Many believed that game was a whimpering way to start the season and this win was what exorcised the lingering feelings from the loss to the Blue Wave.

"The confidence our attack is having now, compared to the beginning of the season, is just that much better," Wood said. "We might not be making all our shots yet, but it will come."

Fessler said: "Against Darien we started out slow but we're really coming together. We have some younger players who are really stepping up and getting used to it. They don't feel inferior -- they're feeling a part of the team."