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GAITHERSBURG — When Eleanor Roosevelt High School’s Jeanette Betke shuffled a shot into the goal, the Lady Raiders bench erupted. The bench had been energetic and loud whenever their teammate made a good play. They knew they were overmatched against Baltimore County’s Dulaney High School, and were savoring just playing at Gaithersburg High School in the Maryland Public Secondary School’s Athletic Association (MPSSAA) 4A State semifinals.

But the goal marked progress, even if it was slight. Eleanor Roosevelt (16-1) still lost to the Lions 17-1 on May 17, but it was one more goal than a 20-0 loss to South River last year. That was reason enough to celebrate.

“We all knew our chances going today and we’re really happy with the progress we made, even from last year,” senior midfielder and captain Camille Lorente said. “Last year it, was 20-0 and this year we put up a point and we’re really proud of what we’ve done.”

It may not seem like much, but four years ago no Prince George’s County team had this opportunity. Lacrosse didn’t become an official sport in the county until 2016, with county schools participating in the MPSSAA playoffs a year later. Last year, the state moved from three classifications to four classifications for state championships, creating a path for a Prince George’s County team to make a deeper run in the playoffs.

The Lady Raiders became the first team from the county to make the state semifinals by winning the 4A south region last year, and won it again this season. They’ve set the standard in the county for the sport during its infant years, something that wasn’t loss on head coach Charles Mills.

“We are trying to be role models,” Mills said. “This is the graduating class of the first year. They were freshmen when the county decided to start the sport and they helped create something that we’re proud to hand off to other people.”

But while Roosevelt has dominated the county over the past two seasons, it didn’t take long for Dulaney (11-4) to show how far the Lady Raiders have to go. The Lions carved up their defense, scoring 10 goals in less than 10 minutes, a mark only two teams hit against Roosevelt all season.

The Lady Raiders actually won the opening draw, but couldn’t capitalize after an errant pass on offense led to a turnover. It was all Dulaney after that. Following the restart, Zoe Hermann found Rowan Burke at point-blank range 54 seconds into the first half. Samantha White won the ensuing draw and sprinted down field before passing the ball to Bridget Kelly, who found Burke for her second goal of the game, 26 seconds after her first. White’s draw control was the first of 11 straight for the Lions, who jumped out to a 12-0 lead before Roosevelt could get another offensive possession.

“The past couple of games we’ve been able to start out consistent and start out strong and that sets the tone for the rest of the game,” Dulaney senior Mae Dickens said. “By starting out strong, it definitely boosted confidence and our level of play.”

Even when the Lady Raiders did stop the Lions offense, it struggled to turn that into opportunities. Zosia Nicholson finished with four saves, but continued to face shots as Dulaney swarmed Roosevelt players trying to clear the ball, forcing turnovers.

The Lions dominated possession again in the second half, working on perfecting their offense while turning down many easy shots, cruising to their third state final appearance in four years.

In those moments, the gap between the teams was obvious. Dickens said she’s been playing lacrosse since she was four years old, and many of her teammates probably started at the same age. Lorente said she’s one of the “eight or nine” of the 27 girls on Roosevelt’s roster who had played before high school.

“A couple of have played club (lacrosse) and understand it’s two different types of lacrosse,” Lorente said. “(We) understand that PG County is just behind and it’s not their fault. It’s a thing of access and we’re getting there.”

Mills said growing the game at the county starts at the elementary school level, as getting younger kids into the sport will only increase the talent for future teams. As that pipeline improves, the competition within the county will continue to get better, decreasing the gap between Prince George’s County and the rest of the state. That could take a long time, especially in a state like Maryland, where lacrosse has a huge cultural footprint.

The process could be discouraging for some, but Mills said his team established a culture where they really care about each other and have fun just playing the game.

“They always had a positive attitude,” he said. “They love coming out there, so many are wrapped  in tape but they don’t complain about it because they love spending time with each other.”

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