By Gary Curreri
Sun Sentinel Correspondent
Mar 18, 2022 1:46 PM
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At the halfway point of the season, the American Heritage School Delray girls’ lacrosse team is showing its resilience.
The defending state champion Stallions are off to a strong start and among the top-ranked teams in the country despite two knee injuries that have claimed two of its top players — senior Payton Wainman, a Penn State University commit, and junior Payton Bezjak, a Virginia Tech commit.
The Stallions (8-1) opened the season with eight straight victories as they defeated Community School of Naples, 21-4, The King’s Academy, 20-1, Lake Highland Prep, 13-6, Lake Brantley, 20-3, Pine Crest, 17-9, St. John Paul II Academy, 20-5, Hagerty, 20-5, and Bartram Trail, 17-8.
American Heritage Delray dropped a 15-10 decision at home against St. Paul’s Girls, the top-ranked team in the country. The Stallions entered halftime tied at 7-7 and trailed 12-10 with four minutes remaining. The Gators extended the lead to 14-10 before the Stallions pulled their goalie.
“We played amazing,” American Heritage coach John McClain said. “We had three yellows, which did not help, but we played against the top team in the country and we almost had them.”
McClain said he’s not totally surprised with his team’s start this season despite the youth and the injuries.
“We have young kids, but we are pretty deep,” McClain said. “We have the two ACL tears and another (sophomore Brooke Goldstein) with a bad back, but she is back now. We had to make some shifts in positions because of the injuries and we have been cycling some kids around.
“We try to find the toughest teams in the state to put on our schedule and then we try and go out of state too,” he said. “We play some of the top teams in the country and that is going to prepare us and get our game speed up. That’s why we do it.”
Carli Fleisher, 18, who lives in Boca Raton, transferred to American Heritage this season from Stoneman Douglas High School.
“Switching senior year definitely isn’t easy,” said Fleisher, who signed with Northwestern University. “Knowing a few people at the school has definitely helped. I met girls that I will be friends with the rest of my life. Coming in as a senior, you don’t know how people are going to react and they have definitely been welcoming. It has been better than I could have imagined.
“I definitely felt a lot of pressure coming in because I am a senior and I am committed,” she said. Fleisher scored a team-leading 33 goals and 25 assists during the unbeaten streak. “With the girls who are hurt, I felt like I had to fill a spot in some ways on the attack side, but it’s been great and everyone has been working so well as a team that it takes that pressure off.”
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Senior Casey Roberts, who recently signed with Ohio State University, said she wasn’t sure what to expect at the beginning of the season because of the injuries and with so many young players on the roster.
“We have some injured players so we needed some players to step up and they have,” said the 17-year-old Roberts, who had 18 goals, 16 assists and 24 draw controls during the team’s undefeated start to the season. “We came together amazingly as a team. I think this is the best culture we have had on the team since I have been here since the sixth grade. All of us have the greatest bond and we play with so much hustle and grit. I think it is paying off.”
Alex Dorr, 16, who lives in Davie, accumulated 10 goals, 3 assists and 35 draw controls (65% draw possession) for the Stallions. This is her third season at the school and in each year, they have overcome adversity from COVID shutting down the season three years ago to the injuries this year.
“Since the beginning of the season, we’ve had a lot of injuries and people have had to pick it up,” Dorr said. “The good thing about this team is everyone is dedicated and everyone gives 100%. I think that is why we are succeeding now and hopefully through the rest of the season.
“Winning another state championship would show that Florida lacrosse is just as good as Maryland lacrosse,” said Dorr, who is committed to the University of Denver.
“I tell the girls all of the time that the greatest journeys in life are when you have to meet a ton of obstacles,” McClain said. “You will look back and say, ‘Man, I overcame and that’s what these kids, and everybody in this world, has been doing these last couple of years.”