It’s no wonder the Ponte Vedra girls lacrosse team had such as successful run this season despite missing most of the previous season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. After playing together so long, becoming like family and learning to overcome adversity they could never have foreseen, the team’s unbreakable bond helped launch a bright future for PVHS girls lacrosse.
In its impressive run to the Final Four, PVHS amassed a flurry of goals and dominated opponents. Although the season ended just short of a state championship, it was a season to celebrate for sure, especially given that the senior-laden team started the school year not knowing if there would be a season at all. The PVHS girls lacrosse team graduated nine seniors last weekend, and as the rebuilding process gets underway, the team will have a lot to build on.
The four senior captains — Sami Lowinger, Taylor Rocha, Pierson Schuchart and Katie Stoudt — have all had a hand in building the sister-like bond and leaving a strong foundation for the next group of leaders on the team.
“By far, this is definitely my favorite year of high school lacrosse,” said Schuchart, who plans to attend and play at Long Island University. “Our team really worked together and just came together. And even though like we didn’t win our last game, we weren’t so disappointed, because every single day felt like a win together because we worked so hard and built relationships that I know that will continue throughout our years going on.”
The strength of the team was obvious in its play, but the behind-the scenes aspect early on contributed greatly to the season’s success.
“I feel like us showing up early in the morning and coming after school to practice really bonded us,” Rocha said. “I felt like we have that, not only emotional, sister bond as a team, but we also were able to get stronger together.”
Coach Jen Conway guided the team with a steady hand. The coach has also been a big part of the bond the team shared, having coached many of the seniors for a big part of their lives.
“I think I can speak on behalf of the whole team when I say Coach Jen has seriously made such an impact on all of our lives on and off the field,” said Stoudt, who will be studying business at the University of Mississippi. “She has been coaching a lot of us, and myself, since the very start in our rec program. She’s been there with us all. I mean she’s seriously the backbone of growing up in Ponte Vedra lacrosse. So I really think that she’s created us into the team that we are,”
For Schuchart, who relocated to Ponte Vedra her junior year from Milton, Georgia, the experience of playing for this Sharks team has been unparalleled.
“I’ve ever been more happy or happier to have moved down here, because it really helped me come out of my shell as a player. and meeting the girls has really developed my character, too,” Schuchart said. “I have not seen girls who worked so hard, and just love each other and love the game. So, I’m so glad that I moved here.”
A lot of what carried the team to the state semifinals this season was its immense depth, on the field and off.
“Any girl on our sideline could step out onto the field and be a huge contributor in the game and I think it was really cool to be a part of a team had so much depth.” said Lowinger, who will play lacrosse at Mercer University. “I think leaving that on that last game, it was so heartbreaking because we just wanted more time together. Before that game, throughout the week, I kept saying, ‘Let’s earn some more time together.’ And of course we wanted to win. But ultimately, I think we just wanted to have fun and play together as long as we could.”
Many of this season’s seniors also kept last season’s seniors in mind, knowing they didn’t have the opportunity to complete their season because of the pandemic.
“We had nine seniors this year, so we are the big class and then for seniors last year who didn’t get to finish their season. We really had a lot of heart into the season,” Stoudt said. “It’s such a fun sport and such a fun time. So we’re really just enjoying it, being together, having good memories.”
This year’s senior’s started their final high school year not knowing what their season would hold either, so being able to complete the regular season and go deep into the postseason was extra special.
“We’re grateful,” Lowinger said. “That was our word of the season — gratitude. And I think honestly, I’m just very grateful that [we were] pretty healthy throughout the season, and we got to play.”
Rocha, who will be playing for Ohio State, also noted the special bond, which was the catalyst that propelled the team.
“You need to be bonded, because that’s what will carry you through the season, a lot farther than people who are out to play individually and for themselves,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of successes [this] season, because we’re playing for each other and not for ourselves.”
The senior captains are also comfortable with the lessons and goals left behind for the players who are still there, and Lowinger just wants them to embrace the moment during their high school careers.
“Since they’re losing so many players after graduation, we just really tell them to soak up the four years because they truly go by so fast,” she said. “And I know I had an amazing senior class when I was a freshman, and it’s so crazy to think that now they’re seniors in college. It’s just crazy how fast time flies, and I would truly do anything to put that uniform on and play one more game. So I really just encourage them to cherish every moment.”
The impact of the seniors and the season’s success isn’t lost on Conway.
“I’ve watched them grow up, and I’m super proud of how they’ve played,” the coach said. “They’re so vibrant. They are really special girls, who smile and are happy and have a great work ethic. It’s been a really important position to be in to empower young girls, so I’m just glad I was able to be a part of that.”