Ever since Todd Utt took over the Kell Lady Longhorns lacrosse team in 2013, his team has only improved. In his first season at the helm, the Lady Longhorns ended a seven-year state playoff drought and have advanced to the second round in each of the past two seasons.
Now they're thinking beyond the second round.
The Lady Longhorns stand at 11-1 overall (6-0 in Region 2-AAAAA-A) and are the state's No. 1-ranked team in AAAAA-A. Based on the way they've played their competition thus far, there's plenty of evidence to suggest a trip past the second round could be a reality this season.
They beat Charlotte Catholic in March to hand the North Carolina school it's only loss of the season. Charlotte Catholic is the No. 1-ranked team in North Carolina and defeated Kell 17-9 last season. The Lady Longhorns also hung tough with Lassiter, a team that has owned Kell in the past - the Lady Longhorns lost to them 20-9 last season. Though Lassiter - ranked No. 2 in AAAAAA - won again this year, the score of 13-6 was the closest margin since 2006 so the gap between the two teams has closed.
"Even though it was a tough loss for us we did gain confidence," said Utt, whose Lady Longhorns are 0-9 against Lassiter. "Lassiter is a great team and have been for quite some time. It's a testament to our girls and how hard they ahve worked over the past two years to close the gap. ... If we could learn to put an entire game together the results may be different."
The Lady Longhorns return nine starters from last year's 15-5 squad led by junior midfielders Haley Swift and Leslie Ferguson and have had some new players come on strong, including freshman attacker Talen Francis. The team excels with strong defense and transitional play, and its stinginess on offense, rarely turning the ball over.
Utt said the team is at its best when it wins possessions off the draw and making good decisions, which have come more naturally this season with the players having been together for quite some time. Most have come up through Kell's junior program and also play together on travel teams during the summer and fall.
"When they are on the field together they are comfortable with each other and trust each other," Utt said.
As the Lady Longhorns head down the stretch leading into the postseason, challenges remain. No. 7 Blessed Trinity, No. 2 Westminster, No. 3 Northview and Etowah are all expected to give Kell the type of competition it will need to beat if the Lady Longhorns are serious about advancing past the second round.
Utt believes his team is ready to take the program to the next level.
"(Reaching the second round) was a great experience for our program after not making the playoffs for so long," he said. "It has helped us tremendously with our team's confidence and hopefully that will aid us in making a run at the state title this year.
"We feel that we can compete with anyone in our classification. Our goal each year is to win a state title and we will continue to strive to accomplish it."
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