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| Jun 19, 2024

With Early USA Lacrosse Support, Union Pines Evolves Into State Champion

By Paul Ohanian | Photo courtesy of Union PInes Girls' Lacrosse

The Union Pines Vikings completed a perfect 2024 season last month, capping their run with a 20-6 win against Bishop McGuinness in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) 3A/2A/1A girls’ lacrosse state championship game at Durham County Memorial Stadium.

Sitting in the stands that day was Tim Ripley, as proud as any other father even though he didn’t have a daughter playing in the game.

“I was super nervous for them,” Ripley said, “but I loved every second of being there.”

Being there has never been a problem for Ripley, a father of six who moved to the Sandhills region of North Carolina in 2013. He was, in fact, one of the key figures in getting lacrosse launched at Union Pines High School in 2019, guided by the desire to provide his oldest daughter Melody and some of her friends with new playing options after aging out of the local middle school program. 

“We made a plan and stuck to it,” Ripley said. “It’s been a grind, but this is special.” 

The Union Pines championship, which capped an 18-0 season, can trace its roots back to 2017, which was two years before the school even launched its girls’ program.

That spring, Ripley and other parents formed the Sandhills Lacrosse Association (SLA) to provide playing opportunities for kids in the absence of having school-funded teams.

Working with USA Lacrosse regional manager Lou Corsetti, the SLA’s leaders also hosted an introductory clinic for school-aged kids to provide more game exposure to local youth. The resources from USA Lacrosse allowed the organizers to provide each of the 65 boys and girls in attendance that day with the needed equipment to participate.

By the following spring, SLA had a girls’ club team that Ripley was coaching, including six players who were attendees at the initial clinic.

“We were playing any teams that would give us games, and recruiting any kids that were willing to try the sport,” Ripley said. “The ultimate goal, of course, was to get a school-sponsored high school team.”

And just one year later, that’s exactly what happened, with Union Pines approving the addition of a school-sponsored girls’ team. Ripley served as the head coach and another team mom who had completed USA Lacrosse Level 1 certification, Tabitha Moses, came on board as the assistant coach.

The Vikings endured a winless first season, but that didn’t really matter.

“The majority of our girls had never played before,” Moses said. “We spent a lot of time just focused on teaching the fundamentals of the game in those early years.”

Amidst the losses, there were also encouraging signs of progress.

“We had good numbers and good support from the school,” Ripley said. “We played the short game and the long game at the same time, and it has worked out.”

The team captured its first win in 2020 during the pandemic-shortened season, and the program’s rise has been steady ever-since.  

Melody, Azilee Moses (Tabitha’s daughter) and the core group that had all been participants at the original USA Lacrosse clinic graduated following the 2021 season, at which time Ripley shifted over to coach the newly-launched Union Pines boys’ team. He completed his third season with the boys in 2024 by leading them to the third round of the state playoffs.

Moses remained as an assistant coach for the girls’ team, and has been the one common thread between the launch in 2019 and this past spring’s state championship.

“Seeing the growth of the girls and the team through the years has just been so rewarding,” Moses said. “We turned the corner last year by finishing 12-6 and reaching the fourth round of the playoffs. Then this past year, we focused on attacking the mental side of the game more strongly and won it all.”

Helping the girls stay grounded as the team has reached new heights is one of the life lessons Moses and head coach Dan Proud try to impart. These days, the focus is much broader than just learning to pass and catch.

“As we have improved, we are now on the winning side of the lopsided scores that we endured in our early years,” Moses explained. “So, we constantly remind our girls to be kind and gracious to the other team, because you know what, not too long ago that used to be us.” 


Union Pines scored the first three goals in the 2024 state championship final and never trailed in its eventual 20-6 win. Freshman Anna Gaab opened the scoring, and junior Addison Volitis added two more before Bishop McGuinness found the scoreboard. The Vikings led 7-2 after the first quarter and 14-4 at halftime.

Janie Spicer, winner of the NCHSAA’s sportsmanship award, scored three times for the Vikings and also had four assists. She was named MVP for her efforts. Freshman Ellie Powell had a game-high six goals and added a pair of assists. Gaab and Volitis finished with three goals apiece. The team’s three senior captains – Madison Aldridge, Madeleine Hefner, and Spicer – have all committed to play in college next year. 

Pick Up & Play Clinics

USA Lacrosse’s Pick Up & Play clinics for children, ages 6-14, are a key component of the annual National Celebrate Lacrosse Week initiative and are offered free of charge to give youth players a chance to try the sport and connect with local lacrosse organizations. Learn more here.