“It’s really been a lot of big steps,” Chariho coach Michelle Tebbets said. “Once the teams realigned, that helped obviously, but we also had a great set of leaders last year and they set the tone. In fact, some of those girls (who graduated in 2013) are here today.”
Chariho had its first ever winning season in 2013 (9-4)and lost in the Division III semifinals to eventual champion Narragansett.
The Chargers’ program began in 2008 in Division II. The team moved to Division III the next two years, switched to Division II-South for the 2011 and 2012 seasons before returning to Division III in 2013.
The 2014 regular season represented another big leap for the program with Chariho winning the regular season Division III-South championship and finishing the season undefeated in league play.
When asked what had changed for the Chargers over the years, Tebbets said everything.
“Besides everything, I have a really smart group of girls, they’re in a lot of clubs and things. My job’s really easy. I don’t have to tell them 20 million times how to do things,” Tebbets said.
Paige Pajarillo, a four-year varsity player and team captain, said both she and the team have changed significantly over four seasons.
“I’ve played four years for Chariho lacrosse and that’s the same amount of time I’ve played lacrosse (as a sport),” Pajarillo said. “I picked up a stick my freshman year and I fell in love with it.
“I remember playing JV and we won, but when we started playing varsity we were lucky if we lost by 10 goals. To have this as our final game, to win (the state championship) it means a lot to me.”
Pajarillo said this season had a far different feel.
“I think we’re more aggressive as a team. We communicate better and we’re much closer with each other. As a freshman I didn’t talk to the (other players), I didn’t feel comfortable as an underclassman,” she said.
“Now I know that Jenna (Brierly) has my back and I can trust her.”
Pajarillo said her individual game is a far cry from what it was four years ago.
“The hardest moment, when I realized how hard lacrosse was my freshman year when I played center and you have to run everywhere.
“We lost, I think to Mount St. Charles, and I just remember dying in that game — I couldn’t keep up. Now to think about how I can sprint up and down the field and keep my team together, it’s totally different.”
The Chargers might also have seen a vision of things to come for the program with the performance of junior Samantha Orciari.
Seniors Pajarillo and Brierly were the offensive heavy-hitters for the Chargers all year and combined for 110 goals, but it was Orciari who carried the offense Saturday with three goals.
“The whole team came together today and I know we’ll carry it into next year,” Orciari said.
“I’m excited. I think this program had developed very well over the years and I think we’re at the starting point of what Chariho lacrosse will become.”
One question that Tebbets said remains to be answered is if Chariho will move back up to Division II for the 2015 season. “That would be awesome,” Tebbets said. “There are teams up there that have beaten us. I’m not saying we’re going to cream the competition, having lost the one game against a Division II team we played, but playing this way as a team had shown how much stress and pressure they’re willing to put on themselves.
“I think that’s amazing because sometimes you just want to play the game and hang out with your friends and they’re so mature to want that pressure.”
Orciari, who was named the game’s outstanding player, said she thinks Chariho can still compete even if it moves to Division II.
“I would like to accomplish the same thing in Division II. We have Amanda (Picozzi) on D we have a bunch of people up top, we can definitely win,” she said.
Orciari scored 21 goals for the Chargers this season. Sophomore Maisie Jones and junior Abby Cuddy each scored 17 and starting goalkeeper Maddie Newman is still a junior.
“I’m so confident in them coming back and playing well again next year,” Tebbets said.
Brierly finished her career with 112 goals and 49 assists — both school records. Pajarillo finished her career with 71 goals and 26 assists. She ranked thirds all-time on both the scoring and career lists.
Tebbets, a 2008 Stonington High graduate who scored 86 goals in her career, is 23-5 over the last two seasons as Chariho’s coach.