With realistic expectations of a banner year, seniors on Middletown’s girls lacrosse team spent the afternoon of March 12 in a fitting way.
In their school’s gym, hours before their first preseason scrimmage, they posed in newly issued uniforms for photos that would be used on senior banners.
Everything was in front of them, or so it seemed.
But while still in the gym, they heard ominous news — Maryland schools would be closed for two weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic.
They were understandably shocked, but at least some thought this development would merely delay the Knights’ quest to win another Central Maryland Conference title and take a crack out of being the first Frederick County girls lacrosse team to win a state crown.
“We didn’t think it would be canceled for the whole year,” senior Shanna Dextradeur said. “We were just hoping for the two weeks.”
But the health crisis ended up forcing the cancellation of the entire 2020 spring season, save for that one scrimmage the Knights played against Sherwood after seniors posed for banner photos.
“We didn’t realize that that was probably going to be our last game all together,” Knights senior Karly Liebendorfer said.
No, the Knights hoped their final game would be in late May, deep into the playoffs.
Returning nine starters from a 2019 team that went undefeated in Frederick County play, including a landmark win over juggernaut Oakdale and a victory over Tuscarora in the CMC title game, Middletown players entered this season with high expectations.
“The team definitely thought that we had a shot to win states this year,” Dextradeur said.
Always one of Frederick County’s top teams, Middletown was a power last season. Any doubts about that were removed when the Knights beat Oakdale, becoming the first county team to beat the Bears since a Middletown win in the 2015 playoffs.
“Everyone was so excited,” Dextradeur said. “We all ran to our huddle and jumped up and down.”
But Middletown’s bid to make the state semis for the first time since 2015 fell short when the Knights (14-4) lost to South Carroll in the Class 2A West regional championship.
The good news was, most of the Knights who played in that game seemingly would get another crack at a regional crown. The only starters lost to graduation were goalie and Frederick News-Post Defensive Player of the Year Brigette Remsburg, midfielder Kate McLister and defender Kayla George.
All were standouts who would be missed, but a slew of key players returned, including All-County first-teamers Isabella Ewine, Bailey Broadbent, Jade Catlin, Alyssa Daley and Brynn Hoffman and second-teamers Dextradeur, Maggie Reed and Madison Stewart.
“I thought we had a talented team,” Knights coach Tyler White said. “I thought we had a lot of returning experience there, and I was looking forward to watching them grow and build together. There was some great leadership in the senior group, and a very talented overall group.”
Also, there were promising freshmen and sophomores who, judging by their performance in the team’s lone scrimmage, looked capable of contributing.
“That was really the focus of that scrimmage — what are we going to get out of our younger girls, our freshmen and our sophomores?” White said. “I thought it was a really good scrimmage, and we performed pretty well, and it was something to look forward to, that’s for sure.”
Don’t think young players were the only ones looking to prove themselves this season. Seniors spent the offseason preparing diligently to help the Knights do even better than they did in 2019.
Since last summer, Maggie Reed and Liebendorfer had been working with a personal trainer to help them excel more on the field. And after fall sports ended, those two and many others attended drop-ins to prepare for the 2020 season.
“Drop-ins are optional, but all of us still chose to show up,” Reed said. “And we had been conditioning and doing stick skills, not even at drop-ins. Some of the girls would get together. We knew we were going to be good.”
If she sounds confident, that was by design.
“The whole motto this year was being confident, believing in ourselves,” she said. “We knew we were going to be good and we were ready for it, but the odds were not in our favor.”
By that, she was referring to a long, pandemic-related shutdown that seemed unimaginable earlier this year. It was still unimaginable when players learned in mid-March that schools would be closed for two weeks. Knights like Daley thought the beginning of the season would merely be delayed.
“I always just kept the positivity and wanted to believe that we were going to play,” she said. “There was a part of me that knew during our last scrimmage, that it kind of felt like this might be the last time. So we played our hearts out, but we had hope that we would play again, but it didn’t happen.”
Daley, a junior who will play at Navy, has another year of high school lacrosse. Still, she missed playing with this year’s senior class, which includes Madison Stewart, Jayden White and Madelyn Clemmer.
“It was really heartbreaking and devastating to know that we were probably not going to get to play with a lot of those girls again,” Daley said.
Several of those seniors will continue their careers in college, so they’ve been preparing.
Dextradeur, who is heading to Shepherd, has been doing home workouts and playing wall ball. Liebendorfer and Reed, who will both play at Division II Florida Institute of Technology, have been doing strength training and conditioning.
“We’ll try to find the hottest part of the day because weather in Maryland is a lot different than Florida, and we’re trying to get used to that weather,” Reed said.
Meanwhile, underclassmen like Daley hope to help Middletown enjoy another strong season in 2021.
“There’s a lot of talent there,” she said. “We should be good.”