May 15, 2019

Senior Star Lopez-Ona Sparks Furious Rally But PHS Girls’ Lacrosse Falls in MCT Final

SEEING RED: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse player Mariana Lopez-Ona races upfield against Allentown in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals last week. Senior star Lopez-Ona tallied four goals and three assists as second-seeded PHS defeated third-seeded Allentown 14-8 in the May 7 contest. Two days later in the final, Lopez-Ona had three goals and an assist but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers fell 13-7 to top-seeded and three-time county champion Lawrenceville. PHS, now 15-2, will be looking to rebound from the loss to the Big Red as it competes in the NJSIAA Central Group 4 sectional tournament where it is seeded first and slated to host a quarterfinal contest on May 17. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Even though the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team trailed two-time defending champion Lawrenceville 7-2 heading into the second half of the Mercer County Tournament final last Thursday, Mariana Lopez-Ona and her teammates weren’t about to give up.

“We knew that we could play better than we were putting it out there,” said Tiger senior standout Lopez-Ona.

“We started out really individualistically. We knew to get together and play together and we showed what we could be in that second half.”

With Lopez-Ona tallying two goals, PHS reeled off four unanswered goals in the first six minutes of the second half to narrow the gap to 7-6 in the game played at WW/P-North.

After Lawrenceville responded with a 3-0 run, PHS got a goal from freshman Kate Becker to make it 10-7 with 9:31 left in regulation. The Tigers, though, never got closer that than that as the Big Red pulled way to a 13-7 win and their third straight MCT crown.

“We fought; they are obviously a very good team,” said Lopez-Ona, who ended up with three goals and an assist in the defeat which moved PHS to 15-2. “We could have stepped up our game but they played hard.”

PHS head coach Meg Reilly knew that her squad faced a hard challenge in the battle-tested Big Red.

“They have experience and poise,” said Reilly after the Tigers advanced to the final. “They are used to this kind of competition. They have a lot of veteran players, they have a lot of experience being in the tournament and being in the final as we don’t recently. I think that is an advantage for us because we are the underdog, we have nothing to lose.”

Lopez-Ona, for her part, believes that the Tigers can learn from the loss as they look ahead to the upcoming state tournament.

“It definitely is a lesson; it is learning from these mistakes and moving on forward to the bigger game,” said Lopez-Ona, reflecting on the program’s first appearance in the MCT title game since 2014.

“We need to be playing from whistle to whistle and not giving up because we showed that we can be there.Our best games are when we all play together and when we use every single person on the field. When we had that run, everyone was contributing and everyone was working hard. We just need to make sure that everyone is up on that level.”

Over the last four years, Lopez-Ona has made a huge contribution to the PHS program, recently scoring the 300th goal of her high school career.

“Obviously that was very exciting,” said Lopez-Ona, who now has 88 goals this spring and is headed to Michigan next year where she will be playing for its women’s lacrosse program. “This has been my favorite season with a team. It is such a good group of girls. It is more about moving our game together.”

Reilly, for her part, sees that togetherness as a strength of the Tigers. “This team truly loves each other,” said Reilly.

“We still have the cohesive unit that powers us through it very time. They truly believe in each other, they trust each other. That is all that matters, that is the biggest thing for us.”

Lopez-Ona and her teammates will be will be looking to utilize camaraderie and intensity as they compete in the NJSIAA Central Group 4 sectional tournament where they are seeded first and slated to host a quarterfinal contest on May 17.

“Everyone needs to leave it our on the field, all 11 players need to be pushing themselves to the absolute limit,” said Lopez-Ona, who helped PHS win the sectional crown last season.

“Coming into it, we know we can compete and we know we can do that. It is making sure that we keep our level up and don’t underestimate anyone.”