Rockford rallies past Birmingham for fourth straight lacrosse title

Geoff Robinson
Special to The Detroit News

Brighton — Rockford found itself in unfamiliar territory Saturday as it trailed Birmingham United 4-0 early in the first half of the MHSAA Division 1 girls lacrosse championship.

It took until the second half for Rockford (20-2) to pull even, still falling behind by a goal on two more occasions. But Mekenzie Vandermolen struck twice in less than a minute to put Rockford out in front for good as it captured its fourth consecutive state championship with a 12-9 triumph on Saturday afternoon.

United (14-7) was the last school to take home the title since Rockford’s run started, capturing it in 2012.

“They’re a great team, they really took it to us in the beginning,” Rockford coach Mike Emery said. “But our girls are battle-tested and we were able to come back.”

Anna Stachler got United off to a blistering start as she scored three goals in the game’s first 12 minutes on her way to a Division 1 state championship-record seven goals on the day.

“She really stepped up and took charge,” United coach Jen Dunbar said of her star attacker. “She’s been huge for us all season.”

Grace Gunneson and her teammates had a response, pulling within a goal as United took a slim 6-5 lead into the half. Gunneson scored two of Rockford’s five first-half goals and netted three on the day.

Stachler added her fifth goal to push United’s lead to 7-5 to begin the second half. Rockford responded with the next two and the teams traded goals until Vandermolen struck twice in less than a minute to give Rockford its first lead of the game at 10-9 with 4:50 remaining.

“This game was a little too close for me,” Vandermolen said. “It’s a big relief getting this done with one of the best goals I’ve ever scored.”

With 4:02 remaining, Gunneson scored her third of the day and Rockford held on for the fifth championship in program history.

United got a stellar performance from goalie K.J. Blumberg, who fought off the Rockford attack as best she could for 50 minutes. Blumberg totaled 10 saves as Rockford outshot United, 22-12.

Geoff Robinson is a freelance writer.