SOUTH CHINA — When Liv Kunesh, the co-captain of the Erskine Academy girls lacrosse team, thinks of why the Eagles are in the Class C semifinals for a second consecutive season, she first thinks of the preseason. Not of the work put in during practices in the gym. Kunesh thinks of being duct taped to the ankles of teammates and having to work together to collect ping pong balls.

“We had to collect as many balls as we could while staying as one unit. If the tape came loose, the leader had to tape you back together. I just love those things, because it shows us how to work as a team. You can’t get to where you are without working as a team,” Kunesh said.

Ranked No. 2 in Class C, Erskine (10-3) will host No. 3 St. Dominic (8-5) at 4 p.m. Wednesday. The winner will face either No. 9 Lake Region or No. 5 North Yarmouth Academy in the state championship game Saturday at Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium. Wednesday’s game is a rematch of last season’s semifinal game, a 15-2 St. Dom’s victory.

“We’ve certainly improved,” said Liz Sugg, a senior captain along with Kunesh. “I think we’re definitely prepared.”

Preparedness comes not just from practice time but from the team-building exercises coach Shara MacDonald says are essential to success. Along with the duct-taped ping pong ball chase, the Eagles also took part in a game that required them to work together to cross the gym floor on a four-wheeled scooter, bringing a rope and ball with them, without touching the floor.

“It was a competition of course. Everything’s a competition,” Kunesh said.

“It’s just to incorporate communication. Get to know each other a little better. Get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and see the importance that if somebody isn’t strong in one area, we need to make up for that,” MacDonald added. “It kind of breaks up the monotony of being in the gym, and gives them a chance to laugh a little bit. I think that’s important, to keep some humor in it and not be intense all day.”

A majority of the Eagles joined the team without lacrosse experience. Sugg had played around with her older brother, Rusty, when he played for the Erskine boys team, and knew the rules of boys lacrosse better than the rules of the girls game. Kunesh went out for lacrosse because it looked fun, she said. As a field hockey player, Kunesh assumed lacrosse was field hockey through the air.

“It is not. It’s actually a lot more like basketball,” Kunesh said.

Added Sugg: “What it evolved to, is not only is it one of the most fun sports to play at Erskine, we’re actually doing well and succeeding. I hope they continue succeeding (in the future).”

This is Erskine girls lacrosse’s sixth season as a varsity sport, MacDonald said. Sugg and Kunesh said the team took a big step forward their sophomore season, when standout athlete Jordan Linscott joined the team. Joanna Linscott joined a year later, and the Eagles had something long-established teams crave: scoring depth.

“As they get older they get more confident. They trust each other. We haven’t really had to speak on trust this year. They know if they throw it they’re most likely going to catch the ball. We started with one athletic person running it up the field to score. Now we’re working on passing it to get it up the field,” MacDonald said.

Erskine’s three regular season losses came to Lincoln Academy, a team the Eagles beat in a late-season rematch; Winslow, which went undefeated through the regular season; and Class B Cony. The Eagles know the Saints will be the toughest opponent yet, and that lopsided loss to St. Dom’s in the tournament last season still stings.

“We’re going to have to try to get control of the ball from the draw. I think we were a little out of our element last year. This year, they’ve got experience and come in more confident,” MacDonald said of her team.

“Just now, right before practice, we talked about (St. Dom’s). (Coaches) are like 50 percent game plan and 50 percent motivation. They do a great job telling us what we need to accomplish and the mind set we should be in,” Sugg said.

To Kunesh, it ties back to the games played in the gym in the preseason.

“A big thing for us is as a team, we’re really good at communicating on the field,” Kunesh said. “We always know where we’re going to be. Where we need to pass. Who needs to cover who. I think that’s why the team bonding activities helped us so much… We’ve evolved so much as a team compared to last year.”

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