(Cover photo L to R: Kentucky Country Day head girls’ lacrosse coach Pat McAnulty alongside seniors Elinor Wolf, Kendall Jackson, Annie Scharf, and Madison Mitzlaff. Credit: Ashli McLean)
At a K-12 school off Brownsboro Road, there are 150 girls in grades 9-12. Of those 150, nearly a third play lacrosse for the school: 25 on Kentucky Country Day’s JV team and 27 on varsity. And of those 27, which is the largest varsity roster the school has ever had, 11 of them are seniors who will be wrapping up their final high school lacrosse season over the next week.
Led by five senior captains, KCD is looking to achieve a feat they have yet to do in the history of its program.
“They’re just a special class and hopefully they can lead us to where we’ve never been, which is back-to-back state titles,” said head coach Pat McAnulty.
The five senior captains are Kendall Jackson (defense), Annie Scharf (goalie), Elinor Wolf (midfielder/defender), Madison Mitzlaff (attack), and Taylor Casaburo (defense). They’ve led this year’s squad to an 18-3 overall record, including 11-3 against out-of-state teams. Since their freshman season four years ago, their overall record is 85-13 (52-4 against Kentucky teams).
All of them have a hunger to win. They enjoy seeing the improvement in their stats and on the field game by game. And all of them are itching to win state on May 25.
“We’ve had a lot of great players and classes come through here,” said McAnulty, “but this group, they’re super athletic as a group. They also have this kind of competitive fire and just intangible quality about them that just, they just want to do more and they want to be the best, and it’s fun to work with them.”
Of the senior captains, Scharf is the late bloomer. While the others began playing lacrosse for KCD in the fifth grade, Scharf started in the seventh grade, admitting that she went to two indoor practices and left crying because of her inept efforts on the field. Fellow captain Jackson encouraged McAnulty to put Scharf in the goal box, and Scharf found her niche there.
She has held opposing teams to 91 goals this season versus KCD’s 300 – roughly only a third of KCD’s exploits.
The girls function powerfully as a unit, showcasing dominant performances over those out-of-state teams this season. McAnulty wanted his team to compete with the best in the region in order to prep for this year’s state tournament. They’ve played top-ranked teams from Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and more. They defeated the 2015 South Carolina state champions, JL Mann Academy, by 10 (15-5) on March 19. They defeated the 2015 Alabama state champions, Oak Mountain Blue, by 14 (17-3) on April 23. And they finished out the regular season falling only by four (9-13) to the undefeated Ohio state champs Upper Arlington on May 14. Not bad going against a team from a state that has over 100 girls high school lacrosse teams.
“That’s just a lot of fun,” said McAnulty on the competition. “Those team trips help bond and help get different competition, so it’s really fun to compete against some of the best teams from other states.”
KCD began district play in the Kentucky Scholastic Lacrosse League on May 16, defeating Collins 20-0. They take on Eastern at home on May 18 at 6 p.m. for the finals. From there, district champions and runners-up qualify for state quarterfinals on May 21, with the semifinals being held on May 23 and the championship game on May 25.
The Bearcats are the defending state champion after beating Sacred Heart 10-9 last year. It’s a frenzied rivalry with lots of heart and emotion. The two teams have met in the state championship the last five years. KCD won in 2015 and 2012 while the Sacred Heart took the title in 2011, 2013, and 2014.
It’s the showdown between the large, all-girls Catholic school and the small, co-ed private school. Many of the players from both teams also know each other through local lacrosse club play, which makes the games that much more thrilling.
“Playing them, we always get really excited,” said Jackson who, along with her fellow captains, nodded in agreement about the school they highly respect is good at a host of sports. “And I think playing them, it brings out the best in our team. Everyone’s really excited, pumped up, focused. We always look forward to playing them.”
“Every time we play them, so many people come out from all different schools,” added Scharf. “Some are cheering for us. Some are cheering for them. We both have targets on our back, so everybody likes to watch us play, and that’s usually fun… It’s just a fun atmosphere every time we play. They’re great competition.”
Whether playing Sacred Heart or Collins, every game counts. McAnulty has invested in the patience of time to grow KCD’s lacrosse program into the success that it is today. Lighthearted and constantly joking, McAnulty carries a demeanor that is jovial and passionate. He’s been the head coach for 12 years; almost all of the girls who play for him, he’s groomed for this moment of athletic testing since they were little kids.
“We just try to get a stick in their hand pretty early because we are a K-12 school,” he said, “So we can reach them a little earlier than some other schools. As long as we get them started early and inspire them and then keep them here at KCD, we can do great things. So we’ve been able to do that.”
It’s a vision he could not have accomplished on his own.
“It’s been a personal mission, honestly,” McAnulty said. “It’s been my ‘life work’ for the past 10 years or so. When you have a good goal and you see it through, it’s exciting. But a lot of things have to work together…so if I have a vision, it doesn’t matter if I don’t have good athletes who can follow through with that.”
His assistant coaches Mary Beth Tevebaugh and Jamie Tronzo have been instrumental in that. Having talented athletes who mesh well together also helps. The captains laughed when sharing that “Game of Thrones” is the thread of the team. And the girls depend on each other, maintaining relationships outside of lacrosse.
“I love our team,” said Wolf. “It’s literally a family. I know I can go up to anyone and share my day with them if, like, I’ve had a bad day or had a good day.”
That group of senior captains went undefeated and won the championship in the 6th grade. They lost only one game their seventh grade year, but went on win the championship again. And as JV players, they won the championship in the eighth grade. Some were pulled up to varsity as freshmen, the rest as sophomores.
They have a high school career to be proud of. McAnulty saw talent in them early on, attending their middle school games to help advise and coach.
“I knew that they would be amazing down the road,” he said. “They had that fire from the get-go, so it was actually fun… We just had to keep them interested. They’ve just been a special group to see them grow as people and as players. To see them take the reigns as leaders this year has been special.”
All four years of lacrosse will culminate into the ladies’ most memorable upcoming moments. The year-round club lacrosse, the extra lessons, the additional work wherever could be squeezed in – all of that will be tested should the Bearcats advance and aim for another state title.
“I’ve always wanted this program and this sport to be something that the kids take a lot of pride in,” said McAnulty. “Being a small school, we have to kind of stick together. I’m just really proud of the program and how consistent we’ve been with different players, different groups of players, and different types of players over the years.”
“I just want to go out with a really big bang,” said Wolf. “I want us to just be the best that we can be because we’ve been working so hard for it. This is our last time all together as a team.”
“This team, we’ve just put so much into this sport over the past four years,” added Jackson, “just, this group of girls, and most of them are my closest friends. I love them all and I just kind of want to win this last game together and see all of our hard work come out with a win… I just want to see it pay off.”
The championship game on May 25 is set for 7 p.m. at Kentucky Country Day.