Four years ago in middle school, a group of Cheshire girls joined with lacrosse players from other towns to form a summer team in the Team 203 program.
“It was a lot different when we started the team,” reflected Alex Lucas, who will enter her junior year at Cheshire High School this fall. “We had fewer players than we have today, but it was nice to have a lot of Cheshire girls together to play in the summer.”
After developing their skills side-by-side, the players are being rewarded in a big way this season. In spending last Thursday and Friday in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, Team 203 went unbeaten to win the Open Division of the Brine District East National Cup. The squad outscored the competition 70-18 in five games.
“I was very surprised,” said Katie Keogh, who has coached the girls throughout their Team 203 experience. “This was one of four national tournaments around the country. I thought there would be really good games, but didn’t expect a win at the end of the day. Our girls played amazing.”
“It was awesome to win the title,” said CHS junior Ava Matikowski. “This experience really brought us closer together. We’ve been to many big tournaments and had come so close to winning one. This is the biggest victory we’ve had.”
The 24-member squad is comprised of high school juniors and seniors. From Cheshire, nine girls attend CHS, while two others attend Cheshire Academy and Canterbury School.
The local girls have shined competing with girls from Hamden, Milford, Woodbridge/Bethany, Guilford, North Haven, Stratford, and Southbury.
“It is really fun to have players from other towns because we (Cheshire girls) get to use the skills that they’ve learned from their coaches,” explained Matikowski. “We adapt to skills because we have different strengths.”
Keogh used to coach girls’ lacrosse at CA, but chose to leave two years ago to work at Hopkins School. Despite the change, she wanted to stay with Team 203.
“It is impressive what the girls have accomplished,” reflected Keogh. “There was a lot of talent initially and the players have since matured a lot in the off-season.”
Last week, Team 203 displayed their skills during the National Cup. The team opened the tournament with three games and returned for two more the next day at the Proving Grounds, a multi-sports complex.
Since rain limited the team’s practice time coming into the tourney, CHS goalie Audrey Bronson didn’t know what to expect, but felt better after her squad went 3-0 in pool play.
“We knew that we could win if we put our best foot forward,” explained Bronson.
The girls posted 34 goals in winning 19-0 and 15-1 over Bandits KY (Kentucky). They also picked up a 13-6 victory over House Team.
In their most competitive game on day one, Team 203 pulled out a 10-9 victory over 2023-24 Venom, a squad based from Pennsylvania. For the game-winner, Lucas scored on an eight-meter shot with 10 seconds remaining.
“I was trying to remain as calm as possible, but still have confidence in myself,” explained Lucas. “It was really nice to win because it was such a close game. We had been playing some easier teams, so it felt great to have some competition.”
In contrast to their first meeting, Team 203 returned the following day to beat Venom, 13-2, in the final.
“We didn’t stop working in that game. All of our heads were in it,” recalled Matikowski. “We were louder on defense and held possession for the whole game compared to the last time we played them.”
Keogh felt that the team’s chemistry helped them.
“The girls know where the other players are going to be,” explained Keogh. “In that game, they looked up and saw their options. They always found the next pass.”
As the goalkeeper, Bronson shined throughout the tournament. In the spring of this year at CHS, she became her team’s varsity starter as a sophomore.
“She stops one-on-one shots really well,” said Keogh. “She knows exactly where players are going to shoot, makes one step, and blocks the ball.”
Bronson believes that the defensive group of Cheshire players Julia Bailey, Mallory DePaolo, Taylor Fitzgerald, Madelyn VanNess (Pomperaug), Gwyn Estrella (Stratford), and Gigi Schaaf (Amity) play a key role on Team 203.
“I don’t think the defenders get enough credit on the field,” said Bronson. “We always talk about what we can do better. They help me so much.”
Lucas and CHS teammate Taryn Ugrin both netted 11 goals in the tournament. Guilford’s Lorelei King tallied eight goals, while Matikowski and CHS player Lauren Samela joined Cheshire Academy’s Maddie Olmstead with seven.
“I think it is very important that we have a lot of scorers on our team,” stated Lucas. “You can’t rely on a few players to win.”
Olmstead had a team-best eight assists. Matikowski and Cheshire player Clara Dempsey both earned five.
“We shared the ball throughout the tournament. No one was selfish,” reflected Matikowski.
In winning draws, Samela helped Team 203 establish possession.
“Being able to control draws allows you to get into your offense. If you don’t win there, then you need to work to get the ball back on defense,” explained Samela.
“Lauren crushed it on the draw,” said Keogh. “She won pretty much every time.”
As East Regional champions, Team 203 has qualified for the National Cup Championship to be held Dec. 4-5 in Tampa, Florida. The girls will compete against squads in their age group.
“It is a huge honor,” stated Keogh. “These girls have worked hard and deserve this opportunity.”
“I’m excited for us to get to go down there,” added Samela. “I think it will allow Team 203 and our players to get recognized nationally. We have a smaller club than a lot of the teams we play against.”
To kick off the summer season, Team 203 went 3-1 in the Capital City Classic (June 26-27) in Albany, New York.
“We only lost 9-8 to a team from Michigan,” said Keogh. “We had a strong showing to start the season.”
The girls are thankful to be playing this summer. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Team 203 was unable to travel out of state for games last year, so they competed against other club teams.
“We had round-robin tournaments and everybody played in masks. We started late in July and played on Sundays in the fall,” recalled Keogh. “It is best feeling in the world to have a full season this year.
To complete this season, Team 203 travels to Devens, Massachusetts for The Northern Rise Tournament.
“The girls are looking to continuing with their momentum going,” stated Keogh. “They are leaders now and want to push forward with that.”