Lacrosse is aiming for their fourth consecutive state championship. Boys’ tennis is working toward a three-peat. Girls swim a five-peat. These three spring sports teams have a history of dominance in their 6A divisions. They’ve all won state titles in the previous years, including last year. Now, these teams are looking ahead to this year’s state championships, and they feel the pressure building.
According to Athletic Director Kelli Kurle, teams that are defending state champions feel a different sense of pressure than other teams.
“I would say [for returning state championship athletes] there’s pressure because you don’t want to let your teammates down,” Kurle said. “You don’t want to be the one that would hinder your team from getting to state, so they’re trying almost harder than people that haven’t been there before.”
Senior lacrosse player Alex Mayfield, who was on last year’s state championship team, says pressure is always on athletes no matter what. However, according to Mayfield, the pressure that athletes like him and other defending state champions feel is different than the pressure felt by non-state champion athletes.
“Pressure in sports is always different for everyone, and everyone deals with pressure in their own way,” Mayfield said. “Last season we felt like we had earned the right to play for the championship, but we weren’t just playing for a trophy, we were playing for last year’s seniors and our coaches and all the fans that came out. It’ll be the same this year.”
Senior swimmer Madeline Peters was part of the state champion girls’ swim team last season. Now, in her last high school swim season, she is aiming to finish strong with another state title. Peters says the topic of state comes up every single day at practice amongst the team. She also says that coach Rob Cole can predict the outcome of how the state meet will play out, which helps to know what the team needs to improve on for state.
“For our team I think we talk about [winning state this year] as motivation to work harder and drop time in our events,” Peters said. We don’t avoid talking about state. Talking about expectations and goals for state really helps our team perform better.”
Although these East teams are feeling pressure this season, they are not alone. When other schools play East’s state championship teams, they tend to step up their game according to Kurle.
“Other schools feel pressure to beat East teams badly, because they want to be able to say ‘I beat last years state champs,’” Kurle said. “Teams that typically haven’t been performing well will perform phenomenally against us because they want so badly to beat us.”
Mayfield says that the pressure is more on the team as a whole, rather than on individual players. He has noticed that the pressure has increased, but at the end of the day, the team who deserves it most will win the state title.
Boys’ tennis has won the state title the past two seasons. Senior Brooks Kendall, who is a two-time state champion, says he tries to take it one step at a time, and focus on the present.
“There’s some pressure because you want to do well, but I try not to think about the nerves and we just try to go out and focus every match and take it one match at a time,” Kendall said.
According to Kurle, although other teams feel pressure, it’s a different sense of pressure than the lacrosse, girls’ swim and boys’ tennis teams are feeling. Kurle says there’s no doubt teams that didn’t win a state championship last season still feel a great deal of pressure. For example, Kurle says the baseball team is feeling pressure this year because the team has four players that have signed to play college baseball.
For defending state champions, the feeling of pressure is different than the pressure felt by other teams, according to Kurle.
“When you’re a defending state champion, like a lot of girls’ swimmers that were on the team last year that won state and are also on this year’s team, they know what’s expected because they’ve been there before,” Kurle said.
Mayfield says that although there’s always pressure on teams, the fact is that whichever team plays better will win the state title.
“There’s always more pressure as your team develops a tradition of winning, but that also comes from the offseason work you put in and how long you’ve been playing the game,” Mayfield said. “We all want to win as badly as the fans do, but the fact is that the pressure is on and whichever team is the most calm and collected on game day will come out on top.”