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GIRLS' LAX: For First Time Since 2016, A Different PCL Championship Final Beckons

By John Knebels, 05/18/24, 1:00PM EDT



(Photos by Donna Eckert & Clint Rader)

WARMINSTER – After most of her triumphant teammates had already exited the field, Archbishop Wood senior Cate DeGraw explained the specialness of reaching the Philadelphia Catholic League girls’ lacrosse championship. 

“We haven’t been to the final in, I don’t even know, 10 years maybe, since 2010 or something like that,” she said.

Nearby, Vikings’ head coach Erin Eckert – ever the teacher and mentor – immediately corrected the senior midfielder, whose brilliant performance had included a whopping career-high six assists, one goal, three draw controls, three ground balls, and two caused turnovers.

“2016,” said DeGraw, joining Eckert with a laugh. “Ten years . . . eight.”

Ten years. Eight years. One hundred years. Didn’t matter. The only thing that did matter was that the Vikings had just overwhelmed visiting nemesis Cardinal O’Hara, 15-7, in Wednesday afternoon’s PCL semifinal and stamped their ticket to the PCL championship final (against 22-straight-champion Archbishop Carroll May 20 at Gwynedd-Mercy University) for the first time since 2016, which just happens to coincide with when Eckert graduated from Archbishop Wood.

Former Wood student . . . former Wood player . . . now the third-year coach of her alma mater. 

“I did what I could,” said Eckert, a collegiate standout at Jefferson University, where she scored 104 goals and added 46 goals in 69 games. “They needed a coach. I stepped up, and I’m so glad that I did. I’m so thankful to be here.”

When Eckert inherited the reins, Wood was coming off a 5-5 finish and a 19-4 quarterfinal loss to Lansdale Catholic. In her first season in 2022, the Vikings improved to 5-3, but a pair of lopsided disappointments to perennial PCL runner-up O’Hara – 18-2 during the regular season, 19-0 in the semifinal – issued reminders of how much landscape separated Wood from the PCL elite.

In 2023, the Vikings again amassed a 5-3 record, but a 17-6 loss to O’Hara displayed the program’s tangible improvement.

Archbishop Wood vs. Cardinal O'Hara PCL semifinal highlights. (Video/ John Knebels for PSD)

When lacrosse commenced this spring, Wood won its first five, lost to behemoth Archbishop Carroll by a weirdly commendable 23-3, and 24 hours later on April 23, traveled to O’Hara. For the first time since 2018, Wood upended the Lions by a closer-than-it-appears 14-10.

A 7-2 record necessitated a tiebreaker after Wood, O’Hara, and Lansdale Catholic all tied for second place. While four-seed Lansdale Catholic had the misfortune of meeting top-seed Archbishop Carroll in the semis, ultimately losing by 24-3, the Vikings faced the difficult prospect of defeating O’Hara twice in one season.

At the end of the first quarter, Wood seized a commanding 5-0 lead. Behind first-team All-Catholic freshman Fran Fazio (five goals, two draw controls, four ground balls, two caused turnovers) and senior first-team All-Catholic senior Honor Breen (two goals, four draw controls), O’Hara climbed to within 6-3 at intermission. In the second half, however, the Vikings continued to push the gas pedal.

Archbishop Wood Coach & Alumna Erin Eckert guided the Vikings to their 1st girls' championship final since 2016 the same year she graduated. (video/ John Knebels for PSD)

Among the team’s eight goal scorers, senior Tess Waltrich found twine a season-high five times – including an athletic third-quarter flick from inside the crease that drew oohs and ahhs from the sweatshirt-donned, blanket-covered crowd – and added one assist, 12 draw controls, and three ground balls.  

“This was so important to us,” said Waltrich, a La Salle University signee and two-time, first-team All-Catholic. “We knew coming into this how hard it was going to be. For the past three years, it’s always been Carroll and O’Hara at the top, so we are so excited we were able to come out on top and make the championship.

“In the second quarter they started coming back a little bit and we were like, ‘We need to calm down. We got this.’  And in the second half, we really showed off all our skills.”

Other multiple scorers included three from sophomore Lily Auxer – whose two quick goals ignited the dominant first quarter – and two from senior Hailey McHugh. Contributing individual tallies were senior first-team All-Catholic Grace Hoeger (goal, assist, draw control, three ground balls), senior Maddie Auxer (goal, draw control, two ground balls), junior first-team All-Catholic Casey Schuette, junior Shaina Lynch, and the aforementioned DeGraw.

Archbishop Wood senior Cate DeGraw cherished the Vikings' Monumental Victory.( Video/ john Knebels for PSD)


On a disciplined defensive unit that did not abandon the game plan, senior Kate Panepresso and sophomore Paige Eckert shined. Sophomore goalie Molly White made several timely stops, especially after O’Hara had found some momentum after falling behind.

“We left it all over the field today,” said DeGraw, a consecutive second-team All-Catholic who will attend St. Joseph’s University in the fall. “So many people were getting injured because they were putting everything into it.

“I am so honored to be a part of Wood. Ever since we got Coach Erin, she really has put us in the lead. We have learned so much from her since our freshman year. It’s like my second family.”

A two-time PCL soccer champion, Archbishop Wood sophomore Paige Eckert aided the lacrosse program to its biggest win in 8 years. (Video/ John Knebels

Auxer sisters senior Maddie (L) & Soph. Lily (r). Made lifetime memories in Wood's 17-5 PCL semifinal win over Cardinal O'Hara. (video/ John Knebels)

Eckert could not have been prouder of her nine seniors.

“They were the babies on my team when I first started,” said Eckert. “So to see how much they’ve grown and developed just melts my heart. They all totally get it by now.

“To be honest, I had to do minimal strategy coaching because the girls all knew what had to be done. Every team huddle, the seniors were speaking up with what they wanted executed when they went back out. That’s when you know as a coach that the girls have become true leaders and understand the game. I’m so thankful.”

Eckert’s sister, Paige Eckert, is a two-time PCL soccer champion. A scarily adept all-around athlete, Eckert eschewed her soccer offense for lacrosse defense. Utilizing her fearless, smart, and coachable physical skills, Eckert has blossomed into a second-team All-Catholic.

Despite playing with an annoying cast that supported a recently broken wrist, Eckert made her mark against a talented O’Hara offense.

“I love playing aggressive with all the physical stuff,” said Eckert, who as a freshman soccer player scored both of Wood’s goals in their 2-1 overtime championship win. “I just love to get really into the game with that energy and love to encourage my teammates to get that same attitude and energy all around the field.”

Like her sister-coach, Eckert lauded Wood’s upperclassmen.

“Our seniors are great leaders,” said Eckert. “They all support me even though I’m only a sophomore. They all lift me up when I make mistakes.”

In the other PCL semifinal, five different players scored three goals while two others netted a pair, leading top-seed Archbishop Carroll to a 24-3 victory over four-seed Lansdale Catholic.

On May 20 at Gwynedd-Mercy University, the Patriots will try to win their 23rd consecutive PCL crown when they face two-seed Archbishop Wood, which defeated three-seed Cardinal O’Hara, 15-7, and severed the Lions’ six-year semifinal winning streak.

“Archbishop Wood is very good, and Lansdale Catholic is very good, too,” said Carroll coach Lorraine Beers. “It’s great to see the PCL get a bunch of good teams and fight to play in the championship. I think we are still deeper than Wood. Again, though, they have some great laxers, and it will be a good game.”

Senior PCL Most Valuable Player Chloe Bleckley, joined teammates Claire Sexton, Kallee Clark, Morgan Wood, and Brooke Hippert with three goals apiece.

“It’s exciting to face someone different in the championship,” said Bleckley. “Although we would have loved to play O’Hara in the final, I think it’s great for the PCL to have different teams competing to play in the championship.” 

Archbishop Carroll vs. Lansdale Catholic Highlights by Clint Rader (@clints.lens)

Dating back to a 14-13 loss to St. Hubert’s in the 2000 final, Carroll has won 282 straight games versus PCL competition.

(Contact John Knebels at or on ‘ X’ – formerly Twitter – @johnknebels.)