Annie Jonakin issued the challenge to a couple of students who learned about her background in lacrosse last year and wanted to start a girls’ team at Lafayette High School: If you can get 14 girls interested — enough to field a full squad, plus a couple backups — I’ll coach it.
“I didn’t recruit or anything,” Jonakin said. “And they got 40.”
She quickly re-emphasized.
“They got 40. And so here we are.”
Lafayette arrived on the scene quickly. The Generals defeated Sayre, 12-7, for their first district championship on Monday, and on Wednesday travel to Scott County to play for a berth in the championship game of the Commonwealth League, one of two high school lacrosse associations in the state (the other, the Kentucky Scholastic Lacrosse League, consists of schools in the Louisville area).
Regardless of how Lafayette fares against Scott County — it narrowly defeated the Cardinals, 9-7, earlier this year — the program’s third season will have a lot to live up to after the strides made in year two.
“We started out a little rocky, all new and things like that, but we’ve really, really grown as a team,” said Julia Howell.
“Our first season we were a little bit rough cause we didn’t really know each other that well, but coming out this season we really got to know each other and it’s been a lot better,” said Hannah Hodge. “You can totally see the connection on the field.”
Few of Lafayette’s players had ever played the game before. U.S. Lacrosse offers assistance to programs to help alleviate equipment concerns — schools can apply for grants that can bring them sticks, goggles and keeper equipment — and that helped right away.
“That’s really awesome for first-year teams, to get them off the ground,” Jonakin said. “We’re a club team, so they have to buy a lot, but that allows parents and players to test it out without doing a big investment into the sport before they decide to play it.”
Jonakin, a Spanish teacher at Lafayette, grew up playing soccer but tried lacrosse in the first year it was offered at Baylor School, her alma mater in Tennessee, and loved it. She went on to play at Centre College in Danville, another newcomer to the women’s game.
“I’ve had a lot of experience with first-year teams, but I never thought I’d be coaching,” Jonakin said with a laugh.
Fundamentals were the starting point last year at Lafayette. Some of the girls had played other sports before but many hadn’t.
“I actually called my high school coach and I was like, ‘How did you teach us how to throw?’” Jonakin said. “ ... It’s amazing how much better they’ve gotten. We won a fair share of games, but some of the teams that creamed us last year we beat this year, which is really exciting for them.”
Izzy Mullins had 22 saves in the district championship and has 186 on the season. Hodge scored five times against Sayre, bringing her to 39 goals on the year. That’s second to Isa Stumpf, who scored twice versus the Spartans and has 41 this season. All three girls are sophomores.
Stumpf was among those who had previous experience.
“When I was in middle school and playing, we were playing against high schoolers cause there were no other teams,” Stumpf said. “It’s really fantastic that so many girls are so interested in playing.”
COMMONWEALTH LEAGUE LACROSSE
What: Lafayette at Scott County, state semifinal
When: 6:30 p.m.