Positivity in defeat

After starting the season with a 17-game win streak, Camden Catholic girls lacrosse plans to build off lessons from its first loss last Monday.

Camden Catholic girls lacrosse huddles prior to last Monday’s 12-7 loss against Eastern. The Irish are hoping to use last week’s loss as motivation as the team enters the playoffs as one of the top seeds in South Jersey Group 2.

On Monday, Camden Catholic found itself in a position it hadn’t been in the entire season.

Prior to their showdown with Eastern, the Irish sported a perfect record of 17-0. When Camden Catholic took the field for that game, only one other lacrosse team, Wayne Hills in North Jersey, remained undefeated in the entire state.

However, on Monday, nothing went right early for the Irish. The Vikings jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the game’s opening minutes. A timeout from Camden Catholic head coach Bridget Sipera didn’t have an immediate effect on the scoreboard. By halftime, the score read Eastern 9, Camden Catholic 2.

“I think we were shell-shocked,” Sipera said following the game. “I think we weren’t ready for how athletic they were. A lot of credit to (Eastern), they’re a very strong team from the goalie all the way down the field.”

The Irish’s undefeated run would come to an end as Eastern won the game, 12-7. However, the Irish aren’t looking at the loss as a negative. Monday’s game is instead being used as motivation for the team to get even better.

“I love this wake-up call,” Sipera said. “We needed this wake-up call. 17-0 is good, but a loss is a learning lesson in my book. That’s what the girls are taking from it.”

Camden Catholic’s loss comes after a string of 17 impressive wins for the Irish. Camden Catholic worked its way into the conversation as one of South Jersey’s best teams thanks to a strong team defense and deep group of offensive playmakers led by Kate Walsh, Brynn Eilbacher and Devin Rybacki.

Junior Kate Walsh looks to make a play on offense in Camden Catholic’s 12-7 loss to Eastern on Monday. Walsh is among the top goal scorers in South Jersey this season.

“That’s been our big success this season,” Sipera said about the team’s depth. We have a bunch of girls that are pulling each other up if one girl is playing down.”

Camden Catholic has also played with a lot of confidence. The Irish’s confidence shined in some of their close wins, such as a 9-7 triumph over Seneca on April 27 in what was a battle for first place in the Olympic Conference National Division.

Confidence made all the difference for the Irish in last Monday’s loss. Sipera felt the confidence was lacking as Eastern built a seven-goal lead in the first half. However, the confidence returned late in the game as Camden Catholic poured in a few goals in the final 10 minutes. In the second half, Camden Catholic outscored the Vikings, 5-3.

“It’s a huge learning lesson,” Sipera said. “I trust this team that they’re going to turn it around. They were not happy after the game, which is good.”

Devin Rybacki snatches a ground ball for Camden Catholic during Monday’s 12-7 loss to Eastern.

Camden Catholic bounced back in a big way on Wednesday. The Irish took down Gloucester Catholic, 17-1, on Wednesday. They will finish the regular season Friday at Seneca, where a win will give the Irish the Olympic Conference National Division title.

Playing a Group 4 championship contender in Eastern was crucial for the Irish in terms of playoff preparation. Prior to last Monday, Camden Catholic’s last loss was an 18-7 defeat against Haddonfield in the 2018 South Jersey Group 2 championship. Not only are the Bulldawgs’ the defending state champions in the group, but they have also won both South Jersey Group 2 titles since the NJSIAA expanded the girls lacrosse playoffs to four sections in 2017.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Camden Catholic and Haddonfield meet for the South Jersey Group 2 championship again this year. The teams are likely going to be the top two seeds in their section when the brackets are released on Friday.

Regardless of what lies ahead for the Irish, Sipera hopes her team applies the lessons it learned in defeat.

“A perfect season means nothing to me,” Sipera said. “I’d rather lose during the (regular) season than the playoffs. As long as my girls learned something from the loss, that’s bigger than anything.”