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Potomac Falls repeats as 5A girls’ lacrosse champions

The Potomac Falls Panthers have once again won the VHSL 5A state girls’ lacrosse title.—Times-Mirror/Chuck Moore
Amid a hot day June 10 in Fairfax, Potomac Falls and George Marshall squared off for a second consecutive year in the Virginia 5A state girls' lacrosse championship. And for a second straight season, the Panthers came out on top 12-9 after an explosive second-half performance.

Guided by All-Met Coach of the Year Jim Birks, the Panthers avenged their only loss of the 2017 season - a 12-11 setback versus Marshall in the 5A North Region championship game.

Potomac Falls senior midfielder Tori Birks - who has been coached by her dad from youth to high school - and Marshall senior Laura Deaver stepped up to take the draw. Birks and the Panthers were able to snatch 15 out of the game's 23 draws.

"I do a lot of wrist strengthening exercises so I can get that quick release, and Molly [DeCarli] is amazing to have on the circle. I know if I can get it in her direction she’s going to come up with it,” Tori Birks said of their effectiveness on the draw.

An anxious crowd watched as Potomac Falls senior attacker Kelsey Curl was the first to find the back of the net, which was then reciprocated by Marshall senior midfielder Hannah Smith tossing two into the goal within two minutes of Curl’s score.

This back-and-forth play continued throughout the first half. The Panthers seeing scores from senior midfielder Kat Wood and Birks, while the Statesmen responded with goals from sophomore midfielder Claire Cwalina and sophomore defender Emma Smith to tie up the score before halftime.

"The girls were determined. They never gave up, they never stopped and they just kept pushing,” Jim Birks said.

The second half started out sluggish, as both teams felt the effects of the heat. Both sides ran slowed-down offenses, conserving energy for fast breaks and executing several feed plays.

Marshall took the lead lead after scores from Hannah Smith and a pass-turned goal from freshman attacker Avery Burke.

The Panthers needed to break through the Statesmen defense in order to get a scoring run going. With careful observation by the offensive unit, Potomac Falls got its wish, finding holes in the defense after spreading out and then driving straight to the goal.

"Since it was so hot, taking that extra breath on offense helped us to keep going," Curl said. "When we got up by a little bit we had the opportunity to slow it down."

Curl started the scoring run that would give the Panthers the lead. Senior midfielder Karis Roberts followed with a goal of her own before Curl added three more quick goals. She tallied five overall.

The Statesmen bounced back with scores by Cwalina and senior midfielder Amanda Tooke, but Roberts and Birks answered to put the Panthers up by three with less than three minutes left in regulation.

"It feels incredible, you couldn’t think of a better way to end the season and high school career than with a win, and a big win," Tori Birks said.

Sophomore goalie Grace Hyde made multiple saves on the night for the Panthers, and despite being one of the youngest on the team, she says she wasn’t nervous about the game’s outcome.

“I have to stay calm, because if I overthink it, I won’t be able to save it," Hyde explained. "I also have to keep my eye on the ball and be able to make sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing."

Since Jim Birks arrived on the scene just four years ago, the Potomac Falls program has witnessed an unprecedented change.

Previously coaching in the Potomac Falls’ community youth league, Birks has led the Panthers to their first conference and regional tournament titles, as well as back-to-back state crowns.

"I know it’s not typical, most coaches don’t just do this, but this was us just preparing to be the best team we could possibly be," Jim Birks said.

"And our best is really darn good. Other teams just have a difficult time with it, and that’s what puts us in the championship each time.”

-Photos by Chuck Moore


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