BOSTON — Sometimes, an athlete is just meant to move on to a career in coaching.
On Saturday, former Waterloo High School and Nazareth College lacrosse standout Michelle Cook proved she could make the transition. The fourth-year coach led the Wellesley Raiders girls lacrosse team to its first-ever Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 1 state championship.
Wellesley defeated nemesis and previously unbeaten Walpole 7-5 at Boston University’s Case Center — making history for the program.
Actually, the Raiders had already made history on Tuesday by qualifying for their first state championship game.
Of course, the key to getting there came when Wellesley won the South sectional title over Notre Dame Academy on June 14.
“That was a very big moment for us,” Cook said. “I think our game to win our section was a big test. It really was an incredible moment for the girls.”
That victory instilled a confidence in the Raiders that would carry them to two more victories en route to the championship, capping a 23-3 season.
It clearly showed when Wellesley faced top-seeded Notre Dame in the sectional final. The Cougars came in with a reputation as a competitive program committed to excellence. After falling behind early, Wellesley scored eight of the next nine goals on the way to a 15-7 upset.
That put the second-seeded Raiders into the state semifinals along with a trio of No. 1 seeds — Chelmsford, Walpole and Longmeadow.
Wellesley topped Chelmsford, 12-5, scoring the game’s first six goals to gain its very first berth in the title game. The Raiders led 8-4 at halftime and 11-4 with less than 8 1/2 minutes remaining in the contest.
The victory set up a rematch against Walpole, which nipped Wellesley, 13-11, during the regular season. It was one of three straight setbacks for the Raiders.
Rather than fold during that lull, Wellesley built off the experience, regrouping to embark on a 12-game win streak heading into the state championship game.
During the sectional tournament, the Raiders also exacted some revenge on Needham with a 9-6 win in the quarterfinals. Needham also beat Wellesley during the regular season.
The Raiders’ other playoff victims were Barnstable and Old Rochester Regional, which they beat 19-2 and 14-3, respectively.
Cook graduated from Waterloo in 2007, scoring more than 100 goals in her career. She also competed in soccer and basketball, but decided to extend her lacrosse career at Nazareth, where she became a top-10 scorer for the Golden Flyers.
She ranks seventh all-time in scoring (201 points), and is 10th in goals (126) and fifth in assists (75). She either led the team in scoring or was No. 2 in all four years. Cook was also an IWLCA Empire Region Second Team All-Star in 2010 and 2011, and was selected to play in the North/South Senior All-Star game in 2011.
Cook and her high lacrosse IQ have molded a group of teen-aged girls into a cohesive unit that has won more than 80 percent of its games during the past four years.
Consistency has been a big part of Wellesley’s success, but so has teamwork. The Raiders have come together as a cohesive unit and have learned not to rely specifically on their star players to carry the team.
It’s all part of the maturing process Cook has instilled in the program. And while she realized that, she was also aware that Walpole had matured as well.
“I think that we have grown, but we believe Walpole has grown too,” she said prior to the championship game. “There is definitely something to prove.
Cook noted that the Raiders hadn’t beaten Walpole, the Division 2 state runner-up the past two seasons, in recent history.
Apparently, getting that “monkey” off their back and winning a state championship were in the cards this season.
“I think from the very beginning we’ve been on a mission,” Cook said.