MARPLE >> Before Monday’s Catholic League first-round lacrosse game, Cardinal O’Hara junior Erin Grady hadn’t seen the field in a long time.
The 100-goal scorer had been sidelined with a lingering ankle sprain for most of the season. She initially was hurt in practice, then aggravated the injury early in the regular season.
“I was getting a little bored keeping the scorebook,” she said. “I had fun cheering on my teammates, but I wanted to get back out there. … I recovered and then sort of re-sprained it again.”
Grady made her comeback official Monday. She played a big part in helping O’Hara claim an 18-6 victory over Bonner & Prendergast.
“It was tough to adjust, considering we lost Erin … so it really changed up the whole attack,” said Anna DiRita, who thrived on defense and on draw controls (five wins). “It took a little while to get used to it, but we started to jell really well the last couple weeks. But having (Grady) back today really was great to see.”
The Lions have been improving by the day under new coach Jenny Duckenfield. The former boss at Agnes Irwin School, Duckenfield was hired late in the offseason and had little time to get acclimated at O’Hara before the beginning of the regular season. Despite an 8-8 overall record, the Lions went 6-2 in the Catholic League and played well enough to earn a first-round home playoff game.
“It is crazy how much better people have gotten over the past three months,” Grady said. “The improvement we’ve seen is insane. We’re more of a team this year and there’s a lot more energy.”
The players quickly bought into what Duckenfield, whose reputation for being one of the best lacrosse coaches in the state preceded her arrival, was selling. Several of her players had never before picked up a lacrosse stick prior to her hire.
“There’s been a huge difference having her here,” said Sara Grassi, who shined defensively for the Lions. “She’s such a good coach. She’s focused on us getting better as a unit.”
Duckenfield is happy to have the opportunity to build a winning program again. Now it’s simply a matter of when, not if, O’Hara will compete for Catholic League and PIAA championships.
“It’s about trying to change a culture,” Duckenfield said. “Now that it’s playoffs, the girls are psyched and they are getting better each day. Playing Bonner & Prendergast, they were ready for this one. Today they came out confident. They’re making good decisions. Defensively, they’re really starting to figure out what good team defense is all about. I’m going to credit my assistant coach Alex, my daughter, who has been a great asset to the team.”
Alex Duckenfield was an All-Delco lacrosse player when Jenny was the head coach at Strath Haven High.
The Lions struck early and often against the Pandas. Grady admitted to being somewhat nervous in her return, but it took only a few minutes to kick the rust and get back into the swing of things. The junior had three goals and three assists, scoring back-to-back tallies midway through the first half to give O’Hara a 5-0 lead. The Lions scored the game’s first six goals before Carly Brosious ended Prendie’s scoring drought 12 minutes into regulation.
“Shooting was a little rough today, but I’ve been (practicing) on the wall and in my backyard,” Grady said. “I’ve been keeping up with my stick skills and making sure I get my conditioning back up to where it needs to be.”
Sophomore attacker Julia Ferraiolo was glad to have Grady back in action, making plays and helping each other.
“She’s one of my best friends on the field and it was so nice to have her back,” said Ferraiolo, who scored a game-high five goals, including four in the opening half. She also dished out two assists.
O’Hara had the game in the bag by the end of the first half, leading 10-1 at intermission. From there it was a matter of maintaining focus and keeping the pressure on the Pandas.
“We knew we had to come out strong because sometimes, in the first half, we get in our own heads a little bit and don’t play as well as we should,” Ferraiolo said. “If we came out strong in the beginning, we knew the second half would be a lot easier.”
Jackie Deuber-Peterson stood her ground in the cage, making five saves to go with two groundballs and one interception. Rylee McGowan added three goals for the Lions. Katie Shallow (two interceptions) and Rosie Defeo (five groundballs) excelled on defense.
Can O’Hara be the team that eventually unseats Archbishop Carroll’s 17-year championship reign? With a strong nucleus of sophomores and juniors — they have only two seniors on the roster — the Lions could be the ones. With Coach Duckenfield running the show,it would be foolish to bet against O’Hara in the long run.
“We are building confidence,” Cram said. “We know we’re going to be a contender … but we know that it’s going to be a process. We can’t just come out in the first year and think we can beat everyone. We have everyone working toward the same goal and everyone is improving.”
In nonleague action:
Archbishop Carroll 12, Notre Dame 9 >> Rachel Matey dominated from the faceoff circle with 14 draw controls and Katie Detwiler posted five goals, five draw controls and one assist to pace the Patriots, who have received an automatic bye to the Catholic League semifinal round Friday.
Amber Germer chipped in with four goals and two assists, while Margeaux Pawelec had a goal and assist. Julia Dellarate made five saves in goal.