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Chris Robinson's Steady Leadership Takes McDonogh To Unprecedented Heights

May 16, 2016
On April 11, 2009, the McDonogh girls' lacrosse team jumped out to an early lead against Canandaigua Academy (N.Y.). The Eagles got too comfortable, though, and Canandaigua stormed back, winning the game, 12-10.

McDonogh played Winters Mill two days later and won that game, 15-3. At the time, Chris Robinson, the head coach at McDonogh since 2005, was excited to see his team rebound positively from its first loss of the season.

He had no idea what that win would start. 

"That loss really refocused our team and gave us a platform to make a run at a championship," Robinson said. "It catapulted us into a streak we didn't know was going to come about."

That win against Winters Mill began a remarkable winning streak.

The McDonogh girls' lacrosse team has won 152 consecutive games since that 2009 loss to Canandaigua, as of May 2. It easily shatters the previous national girls' lacrosse record of 104 straight wins, set by Loch Raven High School from 1973-1982. 

During this run, McDonogh has won seven Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championships and has become the consensus best high school girls' lacrosse program in the country.

Before the team's 2010 season, the Eagles were still using the loss to Canandaigua as motivation. Despite winning the 2009 IAAM A Conference championship, the season still didn't feel quite as fulfilled because of the loss.

"2010 was a deep team, so to have a dream season was very possible," Robinson said. "For it to go beyond that has been pretty amazing. I thought a 30-game winning streak was possible -- but not to the point we're at now."

With something as major as the streak surrounding the team, it's surprising to find out how little the subject is discussed, with the exception of a meeting at the outset of every season.

During that meeting, Robinson talks about the historic nature of the streak but also how all those previous wins are in the past. The hope is to lessen the burden of trying to uphold such a historic run and to have the players' sole focus be on the next game. 

It's certainly helped this year's team, which finished the regular season 19-0 and outscored opponents, 302-114. The Eagles were pushed to overtime during their regular-season finale against Century May 2, earning a 12-11 victory. Other than that game, the closest an opponent came this season was five goals, which happened against Vero Beach High School (Fla.) March 16 and Marriotts Ridge April 30.

"When I got here and made the team, I learned the streak isn't something to focus on, because it adds stress to the team," senior goalie Gabbe Cadoux said. "Staying calm and composed is the biggest component to it."

On the field, depth has played a big part in the McDonogh success story. The Eagles consistently fill their roster with talented players who can contribute. This has gotten easier the longer the streak has gone on. 

Robinson said a lot of the top players in the Baltimore area apply to the Owings Mills, Md., private school for the educational opportunity but also with the hopes of wearing the white jersey with the McDonogh name on the front.

That depth always shows up in the box score, as McDonogh seems to have a high number of goal scorers in every game it plays. The most scorers the Eagles have had in one game this season was 12 in a 20-goal effort against Archbishop Spalding April 27. 

Against Marriotts Ridge, McDonogh had seven goal scorers during its 13-8 win. That's also the same number the team had against Notre Dame Prep April 1 and Roland Park County School April 21. In both of those games, the Eagles netted 15 goals.

"We play a fast-paced game with a lot of players," senior attacker Brindi Griffin said. "Even when the starters are off the field, we have so many girls who can come in and make an impact. We have a whole bench full of players who can play."

While it's nice to have a deep roster, there isn't a guarantee it'll be taken advantage of. McDonogh's coaching staff preaches playing lacrosse selflessly. That includes having some of the best players in the country who have been willing to make that extra pass or to sacrifice a little bit of their role as a star player to make McDonogh a better team.

"Growing up on club teams, sometimes you're taught to play a little selfishly," senior midfielder Savannah Buchanan said. "That's definitely the biggest thing with McDonogh lacrosse -- be unselfish."

While the team's historic run has been celebrated by some, it's been criticized by others.

Many people don't like dynasties. Unless a person is a fan of the New England Patriots or the New York Yankees, that person probably dislikes those teams because of how often they win. The more wins the Eagles have racked up, the more gossip there's been that McDonogh bends recruiting rules.

"You hear people talk about us being the best team money can buy. Every kid on the team pays tuition; there are no athletic scholarships at McDonogh. It's a total myth," Robinson said. "The criticism of us being unfairly put together simply isn't true. We've never broken any rules, and we are looked at under a microscope all the time. We run a squeaky clean program and take a lot of criticism because we win and do so dominantly." 

McDonogh has done its best to use those rumors to its advantage. The team is a close-knit bunch, knowing that few outside the community want to see the Eagles succeed. It's created a true us-against-the-world feel within the program.

Whenever McDonogh has an away game, the team knows it'll be entering a hostile environment filled with fans who hope their team will be giant killers. The same goes for when the whistle blows to start a game.

"We know going into every game, our opponent is going to give us their best shot," senior defender Sarah Dohler said. "Even if it's a team that doesn't have a great record, they're going to be a tough opponent because they will give us their very best."

One day, a team's very best might be enough to beat the Eagles. McDonogh has had overtime wins and its share of buzzer beaters since 2009, but the team has always found a way to pull out a win.

Robinson hasn't thought about what he's going to say in the team huddle if and when the streak is snapped. For Robinson, he hopes the streak ends because another team plays a great game, not because McDonogh has a bad performance.

Whenever that moment arises, despite the disappointment the Eagles will feel, it'll be a great opportunity to show the world what Robinson already knows about his players.

"On the field, our kids are tenacious and play hard, but off the field, there isn't one negative thing you can say about them," Robinson said. "They're well-mannered and good citizens that go on to be successful in life. We've had a long run and been good sports, winning for a long time. If we lose a game, we'll do it with class."

Issue 221: May 2016