Girls’ varsity lacrosse dominates at top of league standings


Elise Spenner

Freshman Haleh Ansari, a standout addition to the girls’ varsity lacrosse team, wields off two defenders in Burlingame’s overtime victory against Sequoia High School.

Elise Spenner, Editor-In-Chief

Just how much does a season opener actually matter? If you ask any player on the Burlingame girls’ varsity lacrosse team, the answer is “quite a lot.”

Consider this year’s first league game against Carlmont High School, on March 8. The Panthers were leading over their perennial rivals until, in the waning seconds of the game, Carlmont scored a goal off a controversial foul to send the teams into overtime.

 But the Panthers weren’t going to let that call determine the game — or set the tone for their season. Suddenly, no one could stop them.

Junior Gigi Bottarini forced a turnover. She spotted senior midfielder Elise Ehrhardt open near goal. Ehrhardt saw net, and scored, clinching a 6-5 victory for Burlingame.

“I was jumping up and down. I was so excited,” said assistant coach Alexandra Gray, who also teaches ethnic studies, government and macroeconomics at Burlingame. 

The Panthers have not lost a game since. Burlingame sits at the top of the PAL Ocean Division with a league record of 6-0 and an overall record of 8-2. They have won five of their six league games by three goals or less — claiming overtime victories in two. 

“Pre-season was weird, and then league started, and all of a sudden we started winning, and I was like ‘what the frick is going on,” Ehrhardt said. “I just think we have a really good team dynamic.”

After graduating an impressive group of seniors — including last year’s leading goal scorer and current Pomona College athlete Ella Bradley — and with star senior Elizabeth Fitzgerald sidelined with an injury, Ehrhardt acknowledged that the team’s future wasn’t entirely clear. But there’s something special about this year’s motley crew of multi-sport athletes, freshmen and veterans. 

For one, the overtime performance against Carlmont wasn’t a fluke: this team certainly knows how to find another gear. In their March 22 match-up against Sequoia High School, the Panthers found themselves down 6-4 at halftime. A second-half comeback sent the game into (yet another) overtime, with sophomore Miranda Sibley delivering the game-winning goal off a second Bottarini assist.

“I think since it’s overtime, everyone gets monstrous. We attack. We go harder than we’ve gone the whole game,” Ehrhardt said. “But it’s terrifying. I’m like, shaking on the field.”

That’s where Gray comes in. As assistant coach, her primary job is to be the girls’ biggest cheerleader, she said, especially when a game doesn’t go their way.

“I see it as my job to help the girls see that they can push through, that they are amazing, and they can get it back together,” Gray said.

But don’t underestimate Gray. She played lacrosse throughout high school and has spearheaded the defensive side of the program this year. It’s no coincidence that Burlingame has conceded the fewest goals in the Ocean Division thus far, by a considerable margin.

Both Gray and Ehrhardt credited their defensive prowess to communication. At the start of the season, when the girls were still playing name games, they weren’t quite at the “yell across the field at each other” comfort level yet, they said. But as the team has grown closer off the field, their chemistry on the field has reaped the benefits.

“In the beginning, it was kinda hard because we were still getting used to each other,” Ehrhardt said. “But once league started, we talked a lot more and got comfortable with each other and each other’s playing styles.”

Gray attributes the team’s larger success to the same intangibles: The girls get along really well and actually enjoy being together.

“People really genuinely like each other and want to come here to practice, I think, as opposed to it feeling like a chore,” Gray said. “I really, truly believe that all of the girls are here because they want to be here, and they want to be part of this team and have fun together.”

Fun is not in short supply. According to Ehrhardt, the girls frequently celebrate their victories with dance parties and snack swaps. When Sibley scored the winning goal in their recent overtime victory against Sequoia, the team pulled out its speaker, blasted rap artist 21 Savage — because Sibley’s number is 21, obviously — and started dancing.

“It’s just so fun. We’re jumping around,” Ehrhardt said.

But with any luck, the fun is just getting started. Burlingame plays Carlmont High School for a second time on Friday, April 7 before a non-league match-up against Castilleja High School on Wednesday, April 12. They then return to league play on Friday, April 14 against Aragon High School, who currently sits in last in the Ocean Division.

Their closest competition for the top league spot is Woodside High School, which sits in second place with an 8-1 record. But Burlingame won’t face Woodside before a Friday night showdown on April 28 — until then, expect them to keep dancing.