Bengal Girls Hoped for Season of Learning

This spring, the Blythewood girls lacrosse team was going to have a new look.

The coronavirus pandemic put the Bengals’ plans aside, just for the time being.

First-year head coach Margaret Roberson, who was the JV head coach and a varsity assistant for the last four years, wanted to get the team off to a fresh start.

The Bengals went 6-0 in Region 8 to win the region championship in 2018. They finished 2019 with a 4-11 overall record and a 1-5 region mark.

“This year the team was a little different than before,” Roberson said. “We have nine seniors this year, but we really only had two seniors that were veterans.”

Four seniors were second-year players and three were completely brand new to the team, which meant Roberson had to get a full-sized team of young and inexperienced players ready to compete with the competition that the midlands region offered.

Leading the way were the two veteran seniors, goalkeeper Ninah Cooks and attacker Madeline Roberson (Coach Roberson’s daughter). With Cooks in front of the net leading the defense, Madeline Roberson, a 4-year starter with six years invested in Blythewood Lacrosse, was to lead the way on the field.

“The whole team was brand new,” Coach Roberson said. “We had 55 new girls who came out for tryouts, and so we had to try a different approach at how we played the game.”

Coach Roberson said that her goal was to have the players stay in constant communication with one another, instead of having to relay information with the coaches on the sideline. Along with Cooks and Madeline Roberson, Coach Roberson worked with all the players to instill in them communications. She had all the seniors call plays as they saw them, which she said gave the players confidence to determine what they needed to do instead of hearing from the coach.

While losses kept on coming, the learning kept on going.

“It was really beginning to take effect,” Roberson said. “the more games they had under their belt you would see it start to develop as they were playing other teams. One time when they were starting to come off the field the other team mentioned that they’ve never played a team that communicated so well.”

Just then, the season got put on hold. All high school athletics were suspended indefinitely on Gov. Henry McMaster’s order to close the schools beginning March 15, and continuing to this day.

Leading up to that day, Blythewood was too busy learning how to compete. Friday, March 13 was a practice day after the Bengals’ loss to Spring Valley the night before.

“We lost that game but we went into halftime only two points down. We were playing a strong game going into the half, but we had some struggles with fouls and some issues with calls that we had to overcome.”

The Bengals ended up losing, but they picked up a lot of information on that game that they were eager to share at Nations Ford scheduled for Monday night, March 16.

“In that Spring Valley game we knew we had some thing we needed to improve on and we were working on preparing to play a very strong Nations Ford team,” Roberson said. “We were looking forward to demonstrating what we learned, and then it was taken away.”

Since that moment, the team has been confined to home, completing their studies online and waiting for the possibility to retake the field, however remote those chances were.

“The girls have been devastated,” Roberson said. “We were scheduled to have lacrosse photos that week. We still haven’t been able to meet to do that. Some of these girls are trying to figure out if we can do a summer program, and I’ve had to tell them no. There are so many things these young ladies were looking forward to doing that we just can’t do.”

Besides Cooks and Madeline Roberson on the list of seniors are veteran attackers Logan Sables and Gracie Reed, first-year attacker Baylee Jackson, and defenders Janina McDuffie, Jasmyn Hudson, Hannah Herbig, and Jadyn Velpula. Regardless of experience level, each senior was looking forward to guiding the younger players on the team.

“The seniors have always worked for this moment, and they’re not even able to do what they’ve wanted, to mentor the younger girls. We can’t do banquets, we can’t do any of those things, and they’re just sad. They talk to each other, they try to keep their spirits up, but they’re missing it.”

In the meantime, Coach Roberson is making plans. The school year has concluded with only graduation awaiting, so it’s on to the hope for late summer programs, the hope of a fall season, and the prospects of the spring 2021 season.

“One thing that’s being looked at is having a special bracket of teams for seniors to play if they can,” Roberson said. “If we can, we’ll try to put together a specialty team to allow those seniors to play one more time. But those things keep getting pushed back further and further.”

In the meantime, she’s hoping the girls keep their skills sharp and their knowledge of the game alive.

“They’re excited to play, and they’re asking me what they can do to keep their abilities up,” Roberson said. Hopefully they won’t lose the feeling of the stick in their hand. It’s the best thing they can do, barring playing on the field. Safety first and foremost, but one day they’ll open up the fields and we’ll get back out there.”

Photos: Gregg Martin Photographic Design