The 2016 O’Fallon girls lacrosse season ended with a second-round loss to eventual state champion Loyola Academy in the state playoffs. OTHS coach Rob Garrison, starting his fourth campaign as head coach and eighth overall in the program, is hoping that his senior-dominated 2017 squad will continue the improvement evidenced over the past several years.
“Our girls are hungry and are playing really well in the preseason practices. We finished 9-6 last spring, and at the start of this year, I’m cautiously more confident than I have ever been as to what this team is capable of doing,” Garrison said. “This year, we have the largest varsity squad in our program’s history, and our experience parallels our numbers. It’s a combination that, potentially, could produce our best season ever.”
The Lady Panthers must hit the ground running if they are going to realize the potential that their coach envisions. Despite postponement of their season-opener against defending Missouri state champion Cor Jesu on Monday, the OTHS girls will play Kirkwood, Missouri in their home opener April 11 and host a round robin tourney April 14 and 15, which involves highly touted Glenbrook North, Marquette and Cor Jesu.
“Early in the season, we will play six games in seven days, including two state champions, so we’ll find out pretty quickly what strengths and weaknesses we have as a team,” Garrison said.
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Defense should be the cornerstone of the Lady Panthers’ success in 2017. Four senior defenders return for their fourth year of varsity competition — Sam Winkelmann, Becca Cowin, Saran Khalid and Annie Roberts. The foursome will be the “backbone” of the team, according to Garrison.
“We expect to attack more aggressively this year with our senior leaders,” Garrison explained. “All four of our senior defenders are difference-makers. Their experience and approach to the game should force teams into turnovers, giving us more scoring opportunities than in past years. They will, basically, set the tone for what we will try to do offensively.”
Leading the attack on offense will be another group of veterans. Junior Georgie Gaab returns as a midfielder who averaged three goals per game last spring. She will be flanked by senior Jenn Greene, a two-goal-per-game scorer in 2016, and senior Taylor Grout, whom Garrison characterized as the team’s “point guard,” setting the Panther offense in motion.
“Gaab, Greene and Grout have experience and each brings something a little different to the table offensively,” said Garrison. “Greene is probably our strongest offensive threat, and Gaab is a natural scorer who has worked hard in the off-season to improve her overall skills. Grout sets the pace for our offensive attack. It should be a potent trio to balance our experienced set of defenders. We’re confident that the combination will spell success as the season unfolds.”
The goal-tending duties will be shared by junior Cameron Harbour and sophomore Jess Camp. The duo, according to Garrison, are complementary players who will both see extended playing time in the net.
“Harbour and Camp work well together and give us something a little different in goal,” Garrison said. “We should be most effective having the two of them share duties on the varsity level. That’s our plan going into the season.”