South Xtra: WPIAL lacrosse title in tow, Mt. Lego girls still aim for more

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Surrounding any championship is external noise, the kind of pressures that take place away from the actual game but can undoubtedly -- and often do -- play a role in it.

For the Mt. Lebanon girls lacrosse team, that situation was no different entering the WPIAL Division I championship last Thursday. The Blue Devils were in search of their first title since 2006, the end of a three-year span in which they ruled the sport locally, winning the championship every year from 2004-2006.

Even the oldest girls on the team were barely 10 when that run came to an end, but that history is part of the program they represent, so in many ways, it was a part of them.

Knowing this, coach Brian Kattan had a simple message for his players before they took the field at Highmark Stadium.

"I told them before the game that as long as they go off the field knowing that they gave 100 percent and that there's no regrets, then everything would work out fine," he said.

His words proved right.

Mt. Lebanon continued what's becoming a benchmark season with a 9-7 victory against Quaker Valley for the program's fourth WPIAL title, something that is a precursor to what the team hopes will be an extended run in the PIAA playoffs.

The prize is greater, as are the challenges that await them, but the Blue Devils are ready for what's ahead.

"We're definitely feeling good," senior midfielder/attacker Alyssa Battaglia said. "We've never been in a situation to go to states, so we just want to get as far as we can and do as good as we can to set a precedent for years to come."

How far the team advances might depend on Battaglia. A standout since her freshman year, she has often been her best on the bigger stages, something which held true in the WPIAL championship when she scored five goals.

"I don't know if I can say anything about Alyssa that hasn't already been said," Kattan said. "She's our best player and team leader. The girls look to her."

A slew of talented teams such as Manheim Township and Archbishop Carroll from across the state ultimately stand in Mt. Lebanon's way, but after a first-round matchup yesterday against Cumberland Valley, the third-place team from District 3, a much more familiar opponent could come next -- Quaker Valley.

Though they led for more than 41 of the game's 50 minutes, the Blue Devils had to hold off a late surge from the Quakers. It wasn't until a Bat-taglia goal with 2:27 remaining, one that extended the lead to 9-7, that Mt. Lebanon was able to pull away for good.

A rematch with Quaker Valley would be difficult, but there's a sense of readiness should it come.

"I think they came back a little bit and we panicked a little bit, but once we got back in the game, we got our control back, we got our cool and we were ready for it," Battaglia said.

For all the Mt. Lebanon program has accomplished in the past, there's still potential history for this team to make. The Blue Devils have twice made the PIAA playoffs, but they lost their first game in each of those appearances (a state tournament did not exist for girls lacrosse before 2009, so the school's championship teams were never able to advance beyond the WPIAL title game).

Add in the fact that there's an undefeated record to maintain, and there's still plenty for Kattan's team to play for. And, true to his words, perhaps things will continue to work out just fine.

"I think we have a good shot at it," he said. "The next goal for us will be becoming the first Mt. Lebanon team to win a state playoff game. We've been to a couple and we've lost a couple, so now, it's just the next step toward what they want to get done."

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.


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