Agnes Irwin defeated Penn Charter 7-6 in OT to win the 2023 PAISAA State Championship - PSD Photo by Kathy Leister
Photos/Videos: Kathy Leister & Jeremy Goode
By: Jeremy Goode
RADNOR, PA – For Agnes Irwin girl’s lacrosse, it did not matter that they trailed in the PAISAA championship game against Penn Charter for 36 of the 50 minutes of regulation. And it was not as if the rest of the time they had the lead; of the remaining 14 minutes, Agnes Irwin had a lead for two minutes and 34 seconds early in the game, but it would not be until 22 seconds remaining in overtime when they would retake the lead and secure the PAISAA state title.
On May 25, Agnes Irwin competed against Penn Charter for the PAISAA championship in girl’s lacrosse. Agnes Irwin’s story will forever be as the 2023 PAISAA girl’s lacrosse champions, after coming back down 6-4 with just under 11 minutes of play and beating the Quakers 7-6 in overtime on a championship clinching goal by Caroline Chisholm.
“We knew it was going to be a battle going in; give a lot of credit to Penn Charter, they’re a fantastic team,” Agnes Irwin head coach Lauren Wray said. “Everyone stepped up and just believed. Made some big stops in the defensive end when it counted and were smart on the offensive end.”
Demonstrating their smart offensive play, Agnes Irwin opened up the game with a quick goal two minutes into the contest. Catherine Holmes netted one home to send the Agnes Irwin bench into a frenzy.
Oddly enough, it would be another 51 minutes of game play before Agnes Irwin would take the lead again.
Within the next 13 minutes of regulation, Penn Charter would score three unanswered goals in a row, taking a commanding 3-1 led with just over nine minutes to play in the first half.
Even with Penn Charter’s long lead, it never seemed as though the game was out of reach for Agnes Irwin. The Quakers never seemed to be able to put the game away.
Part of this was illustrated with a minute and 38 seconds left in the first half, where Holmes was able to orchestrate a quick drive and ultimately cut the deficit to one with another goal, as Penn Charter headed into halftime only up 3-2. With the pace of play and long possessions, a two-goal lead at that point may have felt ominous for Agnes Irwin, especially considering that until Holmes’ second goal, the Owls did not have much going on offensively.
“Our offense was moving the ball pretty well,” Holmes said. “We had a lot of pipes in the first half, but we were getting good angles and I just hit the net more than other girls but we were creating really good opportunities overall.”
The start of the second half was a bit of déjà vu for the Owls. Instead of scoring within the first two minutes and change, Chisholm tied the game at three after controlling possession to open up the half, scoring a minute and one second in.
The goal, monumental enough for Chisholm in tying the PAISAA championship game with nearly 24 minutes to play, would not be her last impactful play.
Not even close.
When asked about what might have been the spark to the beginning of each half, Wray believes the strong character of the team helps propel them in those moments.
“The kids are just determined and they see their opportunities and they go for it,” Wray said. “I’m proud of them that they can have that focus and recognize when they have those opportunities and really make them count.”
After a cold spell for the Owls in which they gave up two goals to Penn Charter, Holmes netted a hat trick with 13 minutes of play remaining, keeping Agnes Irwin in the game. Penn Charter would find the net one last time with 10:47 remaining,
Fast forward to 8:55 where the Owls score, cutting the deficit in half Penn Charter. After a defensive stop and a timeout, Chisholm found herself with possession after a Quakers penalty. She capitalized, tying the game at six with just under six minutes left with the tide turning in favor of the Owls.
“I think we moved the ball much better in the second half and made a lot of great adjustments going into halftime,” Holmes said. “I really just think it was our teamwork and we wanted the ball more.”
While ecstatic about Agnes Irwin’s state championship and the role she served in the game with clutch goal after clutch goal, Chisholm was humbled throughout, reflecting that “I couldn’t do it without my teammates.”
With an additional three minutes added for overtime, the Owls controlled possession and field position deep into Penn Charter territory for the next two minutes and 30 seconds. It was Wray’s plan from the start; if they got possession, they did not want to eventually give Penn Charter possession, so establishing the last shot was crucial for the Owls. There was much passing the ball around in attempting to stall and tire the Quakers out without having them form their own offense.
With 25 seconds left, Chisholm started her move to net, saw an opening 10 feet away and flung an open shot onto net, getting it past Penn Charter’s goalkeeper, giving Agnes Irwin a 7-6 win and, most importantly, the state title. With the game winner, Chisholm would join her teammate Holmes with a hat trick; not that they will view that as the lede.
“When I got the ball on my stick and there was 22 seconds left, I just took it to goal,” Chisholm said. “Our plan was to kill the clock to around 20 seconds, but the opportunity arose earlier, and I took it.”
Buckling down in the second half and really executing Agnes Irwin’s style of play was vital to the Owls winning the PAISAA state championship. When asked about major influences that helped the Owls hoist the trophy, Wray noted that, “second half draws, patience on attack, and creating chaos and turnovers on defense” ultimately pushed Agnes Irwin to the finish line.
As Wray noted, winning draws was crucial for the Owls, and maybe the most responsible for this task was Agnes Irwin’s sophomore, Blair Fox, who was able to collect three draw controls. As a result, the three she recorded against Penn Charter tallied triple digits, as she ended the season with 100 draw controls.
Agnes Irwin might have gotten to the party early, and that’s a good thing. The Owls are a young unit and will return nearly their entire team for next season. Besides the success they have had on the field together, continued game experience should only boost team chemistry for the next few years, ultimately setting the bar high for Agnes Irwin girl’s lacrosse.
“These are my best friends; we’re so close,” Holmes said. “We’re a super young team but we really meshed together this year and we’re building onto next year and onto the next… we’re all so unselfish and all these girls work so hard, so, we’re going to continue to work hard in the offseason and working together always.”