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John Stark girls’ lacrosse team can’t take final step against powerhouse Derryfield

  • John Stark's Danielle Galli tries to stop Derryfield's Brynn Polgrean in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    John Stark's Danielle Galli tries to stop Derryfield's Brynn Polgrean in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • John Stark's Elizabeth Neal runs with her team to greet the fans after their loss in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    John Stark's Elizabeth Neal runs with her team to greet the fans after their loss in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • John Stark's Clarissa Foote attempts to block Derryfield's Brynn Polgrean's shot in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    John Stark's Clarissa Foote attempts to block Derryfield's Brynn Polgrean's shot in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • John Stark's coach John Warner talks to the team before the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    John Stark's coach John Warner talks to the team before the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • John Stark's  Stephanie Wetherbee looks to pass in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    John Stark's Stephanie Wetherbee looks to pass in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • John Stark's Gianna Pezzulo looks to evade Derryfield defense in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    John Stark's Gianna Pezzulo looks to evade Derryfield defense in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • John Stark's Danielle Galli charges in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    John Stark's Danielle Galli charges in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • John Stark's Gianna Pezzulo celebrates after a point was scored in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    John Stark's Gianna Pezzulo celebrates after a point was scored in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • John Stark's Casey Poirier tries to put the pressure on Derryfield's Polly Carter in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    John Stark's Casey Poirier tries to put the pressure on Derryfield's Polly Carter in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • John Stark's Emily Edwards is introduced before the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    John Stark's Emily Edwards is introduced before the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • John Stark fans at the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    John Stark fans at the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Fans embrace John Stark's Danielle Galli after the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Fans embrace John Stark's Danielle Galli after the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • John Stark's Danielle Galli tries to stop Derryfield's Brynn Polgrean in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • John Stark's Elizabeth Neal runs with her team to greet the fans after their loss in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • John Stark's Clarissa Foote attempts to block Derryfield's Brynn Polgrean's shot in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • John Stark's coach John Warner talks to the team before the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • John Stark's  Stephanie Wetherbee looks to pass in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • John Stark's Gianna Pezzulo looks to evade Derryfield defense in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • John Stark's Danielle Galli charges in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • John Stark's Gianna Pezzulo celebrates after a point was scored in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • John Stark's Casey Poirier tries to put the pressure on Derryfield's Polly Carter in the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • John Stark's Emily Edwards is introduced before the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • John Stark fans at the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Fans embrace John Stark's Danielle Galli after the Division III championship game against Derryfield School on Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

MANCHESTER – The John Stark girls’ lacrosse team’s journey to the Division III final was just that – a trip to the game. There was no further step for the Generals, not with the talent on Derryfield’s roster, and not with the way the Cougars played on a drizzly night at Southern New Hampshire University.

The Cougars looked every bit the undefeated top seed last night, overwhelming the second-seeded Generals, 19-2, to win their first girls’ lacrosse championship. The outcome wasn’t a surprise – Derryfield (18-0) crushed nearly every opponent in its path this season – but in a season marked by progress and impressive wins, the John Stark players were holding out hope for another one.

“The girls overtly, they were confident,” said Coach John Warner, whose team finished at 14-3. “(They felt) that if we could play our game and do the things that we do well, that we had a chance. That we could beat them.”

This came despite Derryfield earning a 15-4 victory over the Generals in the final game of the regular season, and Warner acknowledged that part of the upset formula was getting some help from the Cougars. That didn’t happen – Derryfield was nearly flawless, scoring on all three free position shots it took, outshooting Stark 30-16 and finishing with a 21-13 advantage in ground balls. Brynn Polgrean scored eight goals (five in the second half), Polly Carter had seven (four in the first half) and Bow resident Emma Garfield had two.

“It was a lot like the first game we played, but they were even more on than previously,” Warner said. “They didn’t make mistakes. There wasn’t a pass that went astray, there wasn’t a shot that missed the goal.”

The Generals sported a balanced, potent offense all season, but the Cougars didn’t allow it to get on track last night. Derryfield controlled draws 14-9, and pounced on loose balls to up their advantage in possession. The Cougars took a 4-0 lead, and after Samantha Valcourt scored with 12:55 left in the first half to put the Generals on the board, they scored the final five goals of the half to take a 9-1 lead to put the game firmly in their control.

A penalty put Derryfield down a player with 21:24 to play in the game, and Casey Poirier scored on a Gianna Pezzulo assist 15 seconds later to make it 10-2. Polgrean scored 44 seconds after that to bring the advantage back up to nine, however, and any hope for a Stark comeback disappeared when Derryfield dominated possession until time ran out.

“You knew it had to be a pretty pure game,” Warner said. “We had to win the draw, which we just couldn’t do.”

The victory had an “at last” feel for the Cougars, who lost in championship games in 1998 and 2005 and the semifinals last year, which Coach Melissa Catenza said instilled a hunger in the players that their status as decisive favorites could have sapped.

“At the beginning of the season, our goal was ‘we have unfinished business,’ and our mission is ‘We’re going to the finals,’ ” she said. “We worked every day. … It was amazing to see this team come together.”

Seeing the deficit mount was a frustrating ending for the Generals, who broke into Division III’s group of traditional powers after years of also-ran status. They went a combined 16-15 the last two seasons, which included a pair of quarterfinal exits, and were 4-10 the year before and out of the postseason picture.

This year, however, they romped through the regular season, then beat Kingswood, 11-10, in the quarterfinals. They got to the final with an impressive 9-7 victory over rival and playoff regular Kearsarge, the only other team to beat them during the season, but the magic ran out in the program’s first-ever championship game.

“Through a lot of the games, we felt that we were pinned as the underdogs,” said senior goalie Clarissa Foote, who stopped four shots. “Today we were, definitely, and we just didn’t step it up enough to take home the win.”

Foote, who stopped 17 shots in that win over Kearsarge, will be leaving, but she and defender and midfielder Danielle McCarron are the only ones. The rest of the Generals roster – including their entire attack – will be back, and reaching the final will be an experience that pays off should Stark make the big stage again.

“We thought we might have a good year, we had a lot of skilled players, but the girls have worked all year. They work hard,” Warner said. “Through the season they were trying to improve and did improve, and I’m sure they exceeded their own expectations. They exceeded everyone else’s expectations in our division.”

The expectations will be higher next season – especially among the players – and Foote hopes to see her team playing into mid-June again.

“There’s a lot of pride in it, being the first ones to be in the championship,” Foote said. “We have all the fans out here, and it’s really different than what we’re used to. I hope that the girls coming up continue to present themselves in the tournament and championship round.”

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at abonifant@cmonitor.com or 369-3340 or on Twittter @dbonifant.)

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