In his second season as Hillgrove’s girls lacrosse coach, Keon Humphries led the Lady Hawks to a 13-5 record and the program’s first area championship.
That championship was decided when Hillgrove won its biggest game of the season, a 17-11 victory over Harrison in late March.
It was also the game that helped the Lady Hawks break out of a midseason slump.
It started when Hillgrove lost 12-9 to Pope. Although the Lady Hawks won nearly 90 percent of the draws against the Lady Greyhounds, they kept turning the ball over. That loss was followed by another disappointing defeat, 10-9 to North Paulding.
Although the Lady Hawks bounced back with an 11-8 area win over Northgate, they were still off their game.
On the evening before the momentum-changing Harrison game, with Hillgrove still not playing well, the Lady Hawks decided not to practice, instead taking a hike up Kennesaw Mountain.
“We just took a moment to breathe,” said Humphries, the 2019 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Girls Lacrosse Coach of the Year. “We were pressing (to win), and good things don’t always happen when we press. Let’s just step away from it.”
At the bottom of the mountain, Humphries said the players talked about their foundation. Along the walk, coaches met with players and talked about adverse situations taking place during games and how to overcome them.
Once they made it to the top of the mountain, the Lady Hawks had a team meeting and appeared to have found an identity.
“We looked over the mountain and at the scenery and said, 'this is where we are,'” Humphries said. “Now, it’s Harrison. It’s our biggest game of the season.”
Senior attacker Aubrie Valvo, whose three goals were the difference in Hillgrove’s narrow win over Northgate, told her coach that, “We've got this game.”
Valvo went on to score six goals to lead Hillgrove to victory. She also got help from Lauren Render and Arianne Rivera, who scored three each. Kendal Johnson had four assists while also anchoring the defense, and goalkeeper Olivia Jones compiled 12 saves.
Hillgrove also had non-area wins down the stretch over Lovett, Westminster and Kennesaw Mountain. The Lady Hawks lost by two to Kell and had a two-goal lead over defending Class A/AAAAA champion Starr’s Mill before losing by four.
“Looking at us now versus five to seven years ago, teams in the past were so much better than us,” Humphries said. “To have a chance to go out against those teams and not only compete with them but win, it’s a testament to what those girls have learned.”
Hillgrove endured a tough 11-10 loss to Alpharetta to end the season -- a game in which as many as seven shot attempts hit the crossbar.
“I’ll take that knowing that our girls did everything we asked of them,” Humphries said.