May 2, 2013

Castleton Has Found its Inspiration; Takes NAC Title

by Mark Macyk |

The Castleton women's lacrosse team poses with 10-year-old Lexi Cross (center), who was diagnosed with a rare genetic lung disease and has become the team's 25th member.
© Castleton

For most members of the Castleton women’s lacrosse team, Sunday’s North Atlantic Conference championship victory was old hat. The Spartans won the title last year too. But, along with Castleton’s six freshmen, there was at least one member that experienced the excitement for the first time.

This year the Spartans became participants in Team IMPACT, a non-profit described as a combination between Make-A-Wish and Big Brothers Big Sisters, which was chartered to improve the quality of life for children facing life-threatening illnesses.

That’s how 10-year-old Lexi Cross was drafted to become Castleton’s 25th team member. Cross, who was diagnosed six years ago with primary cillary dyskenia, a rare genetic lung disease, has become a fixture at Castleton’s practices and games.

So, of course, Cross was on the sidelines as Castleton crushed Thomas 21-12 on Sunday to win another NAC title and punch a second-straight ticket to the NCAA tournament.

“She was just as excited as the team was,” said Castleton coach Mary Kate Scardillo.

That excitement is to be expected. Until Cross joined the Spartans, her condition had kept her out of organized sports.

On April 20, the Spartans defeated Colby-Sawyer 20-10 for the sixth victory in what is now an eight-game winning streak. That was also Castleton’s Orange and Purple game, which was played in honor of Cross. Orange is the color that represents PCD and purple is one of Cross's favorite colors. Donations were taken for the Give Kids the World Foundation during the game.

The Spartans and Cross have teamed up off the field as well. Players are frequent visitors at Cross’s family’s home and they’ve spent time together enjoying everything from go-carting to pasta parties.

And Cross has been along for a season that’s featured quite a turnaround. Castleton (9-7) lost seven of its first eight games, but has won eight in a row since conference play began. Only one of those games, the championship victory over Thomas, came by fewer than 10 goals.

The Spartans are anchored by an experienced defense — senior defenders Cori Healy, Julia Lesure, Charlotte Farrell front freshman goalie Meghan Els — and a balanced attack. Junior Amanda Floodstrom leads the team with 47 goals, 19 assists and 66 points. Sophomore Kate Auer (28-9-37), senior Jessica Taplin (24-10-34) and freshman Brandi Whittemore (16-15-31) have all cracked the 30-point barrier. Whittemore scored two goals in the conference championship game and was named NAC Tournament MVP. On Friday, Floodstrom was named NAC Player of the Year and Healy was named NAC Defender of the Year.

Castleton will put its eight-game winning streak on the line in a postseason tuneup against Norwich on Friday, then on Sunday it will gather to find out who they’ll play in the NCAA tournament.

It’s an experience the Spartans know well from last year, when they learned they’d be headed to Cortland, where the heavily-favored Red Dragons won 22-6. 

“You don’t know what to expect,” Scardillo said. “You’re sort of sitting on the edge of your chair waiting. When are you gonna hear Castleton? Who are we gonna be able to play? It’s exciting.”

It’s a moment Cross will surely share with the Spartans. And a moment she should expect to witness again.

“She’ll be a part of our team for some time,” Scardillo said. “It was one of those things where we kind of got involved knowing this wasn’t a one-year thing.”

Scardillo was referring to Cross and Team IMPACT. She very easily could have been talking about Castleton and the NCAA tournament.

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