Grace Denarski takes the usual cliché and adds one word to it. The senior feels when it comes to the Lawrence High girls’ lacrosse team, there is strength in less numbers.
“This is the smallest team we have ever had while I have been at Lawrence but I think that puts us at an advantage,” Denarski said. “We are all very close and can really understand how everyone plays the game. This allows us to create specific plays that cater to the strength of our team.”
Coach Heather Phillips won’t argue with that point.
“We have 17 girls, which I’m good with because obviously you earn a starting position but it can change day to day depending on what’s best for the team; depending on who’s executing on defense or attack,” Phillips said. “It think it’s really good. The girls get a lot of reps in practice. In our first scrimmage we had two subs, we usually have five subs. I think that’s pretty good because I’m relying on the girls to play a full game.”
The Cardinals are in rebuilding mode after graduating eight seniors, including five who started. The graduations left holes at key spots as Lawrence lost all four of its starting defenders and two regular midfielders from a team that finished 7-9 and was one game from winning the Colonial Valley Conference Patriot Division title.
Phillips feels her young team might be a little nervous about its personnel losses, but that hadn’t affected the attitude in preseason.
“They look pretty spirited,” the coach said. “They come to practice every day working hard. I don’t have high expectations, but it’s looking pretty positive. I’m looking to some of my juniors and seniors to fill those positions, some girls have to play positions they’re not used to just because I feel they are capable of doing it.”
One of those players will be the “feisty” Denarski, who is dropping from attack to defensive midfielder.
Denarski is one of three captains along with senior Lauryn Jodoin and junior Victoria Wierzbowisz. Jodoin will return to her attack spot, while Wierzbowisz is at center.
“They’re three of our key players,” Phillips said. “When we voted for captains, they definitely stood out from everyone else.”
And the new captains are very much relishing their role.
“We plan on providing leadership by setting examples for our underclassmen,” said Jodoin, who had a goal and three assists in 2016. “We always try to stay positive, which keeps the whole team relaxed as we work together.”
“I love being a leader and it is something I find to be an honor,” Denarski added. “To provide my team with the leadership they need I plan to encourage them when we are struggling in a tough game or situation. I think the best way to be a leader is to be positive and always make the best out of every situation that is thrown our way. I am a very loud person and that is how I like to lead my team. Being a captain is a privilege and an honor I am happy to have.”
Phillips did not have her entire lineup figured out heading into the final week of March, but did have a good idea about several positions. Sophomores Sarah Berardi and Cassidy Carroll are expected to step up in the midfield, while junior Yasmine Hachicha is going to lead the revamped defense. Junior Sarah Zoll missed last year to injury and Phillips hopes to see her pick up some scoring slack at the attack.
In goal will be freshman Madison Wingerter, who also played goalie for the field hockey team.
“It’s a little different in field hockey than in lacrosse,” Phillips said. “But you want a girl in there that’s going to want to play, and she wants to play. I had a defender in there who was willing to do it, but she wasn’t a true goalie.”
The other positions are up for grabs but one thing that has not been in question is the Cardinals work ethic.
“We are excited since we have a group of hard working girls,” Jodoin said. “Our biggest strength is working together and passing and moving for each other. We all stepped onto the field together during our (first) scrimmage and it was like an instant connection.”
Denarski feels the team’s biggest strength is at attack and midfield due to the fact “we have many upperclassmen playing those positions who truly understand the game. Our midfield works very hard in between the restraining lines to prevent turnovers. This year with these strengths I believe we can have a very successful season.”
Phillips also liked what she saw in the Cardinals’ first scrimmage, noting that Lawrence dominated play but showed it still had several things to work on.
“The goal I told the girls is that each day we’re going out there and working hard and trying to improve on the fundamentals and working together as a team,” Phillips said. “We want to be competitive, and in order to be competitive in the Patriot Division we pretty much need to work every day.”
Rounding out the roster are senior attackers Hannah McGann, Sarah Tennant and Kelly Townsend, junior defenders Veronika Hajduczka, Jacqueline Yank and Gabby Araneta, junior defender/midfielder Morgan Franc, junior attackers Madison Miller and Sami Posluszny and sophomore defender Sydney Schreiber.
“With the number of players we lost, I thought it would have been very hard to transition into this season,” Denarski said. “We have very strong underclassmen that I think can step up to the plate. I think we have a great chance at doing very well in the division and that is all I can hope for. If we would win the division, that would be the cherry on top of my high school career.”