The WPIAL Lacrosse Committee had its hands full when it came to seeding the field for the Division II girls tournament that got underway Tuesday and will conclude with the championship game on May 23 at North Hills' Martorelli Stadium.
That's because The Ellis School and Greater Latrobe High School finished the regular season with identical records of 9-1 against WPIAL Division II, Section I competition. Latrobe, the No. 3 seed, enters the tournament with a 10-5 record. Ellis, the No. 4 seed, is 11-2.
Even the two regular-season games between the two teams were a logjam. Ellis won the season opener, 7-6, against Greater Latrobe on April 2, but the Wildcats responded with a 10-9 victory against the Tigers. Add the aggregate scores compiled by both teams and even that's identical: 16.
Latrobe's playoff run begins today with a 7 p.m. home game against Blackhawk, a 13-8 first-round winner against Butler Area Tuesday. Ellis meets Hampton at 4 p.m. Friday at Cupples Stadium on Pittsburgh's South Side.
Both Ellis coach Emily Deering and her Latrobe counterpart, Kaytie Russo, believe good things are in store for their respective programs.
For Russo, the playoff experience has not been a common one for her team. Since the WPIAL began to sanction girls lacrosse in 2009, the Wildcats have been to the postseason just once before this season.
"I've been around this program since 2003, and we've improved each year," said Russo, who played at Latrobe and for two years at Saint Vincent College. "We have good athletes coming up, and the girls are picking up the game. They are doing the things they need to do in the offseason [to get better]."
A Deering-coached team has reached the playoffs in the three years she's been at the helm. Her players took her by surprise when she became the Ellis coach.
"I was quite surprised with the number of natural athletes we had on the roster," Deering said. "They're smart girls, and they bought into the ideology and philosophy that I wanted for this program. They've exceeded all of my expectations."
Ellis has shone in putting the ball in the net.
Senior attack Elise Medeiros is the Tigers' best offensive threat with 51 goals and 15 assists.
"There are times where she can run 50 yards, but we don't want to wear her out," Deering said. "Our offense relies on how well it works together. Usually Elise scores, and she has a scary fast shot."
There are times, though, when Medeiros faces defensive pressure. That's when senior midfielder Anna Thomas has stepped up with 21 goals and five assists.
Younger Ellis players are getting involved, too. Freshman attack Charlotte Forsythe has scored nine goals and dished out five assists.
In the second game between Ellis and Latrobe, Deering noted that her team couldn't stop one player: Anna Ayers.
Ayers, a sophomore midfielder, led the Wildcats with five goals that day. Russo said Ayers is averaging "between three and six goals" a game along with freshman midfielder Jessica Kostic.
"They click well on the field together," Russo said. "Those two have a good chemistry."
Russo said an 11-10 Wildcats' victory against traditional rival Hempfield Area might have been her team's "aha!" moment.
"We've played five one-goal games, and we've won three of them," she said. "In that 11-10 win over Hempfield, we were down by two goals on their field with three minutes to go in the game. But then we scored two goals to tie it up, and then scored the winning goal with about 20 seconds left. That showed me momentum is very strong with this team."
As a larger school, Latrobe has the benefit of playing at the school's football stadium.
Ellis, conversely, is an all-girls school that plays its home games at Schenley Oval. Deering said Ellis athletic director Genny Kozusko lines the field for the Tigers' home games.
When the playoffs open for Ellis at 4 p.m. Friday against Hampton, the Tigers must get acquainted with another facility, the City League's Cupples Stadium.
"Our field at Schenley Park is as big as a football field, but it wasn't approved for the playoffs," Deering said. "And we're also going to be playing on turf, which means the game will be faster for both teams. We won't be able to practice there, but we are looking forward to playing Hampton."
The only way these two teams could settle what would be a best-of-three season series would be to meet in the WPIAL Division II championship game.
Latrobe's coach is willing.
"Ellis and Latrobe are evenly matched," Russo said. "It's always a good game."