by Tom Utescher
Annie and Iris. Since middle school, Iris Williamson and Annie Morrissey have been easily identifiable standouts on the lacrosse fields at Germantown Friends School. After one last season of stickwork with the Tigers this spring, they’ll both head off to play Division I college lacrosse, while receiving excellent educations at Ivy League schools.
Williamson, a Mt. Airy resident, will play for the University of Pennsylvania, the 2008 NCAA runner-up and a final four team in 2007 and 2009. Morrissey, a Chestnut Hill native, is northbound for Dartmouth, the defending Ivy League champion.
“They’ve come from being simply talented athletes to being really complete lacrosse players,” commented GFS varsity coach Katie Bergstrom Mark. “They’ve worked hard to get there and it’s been fun to watch their progress.”
They’ve both been midfielders throughout their careers, although when Morrissey was in middle school she played goalie for a year because no one else was willing.
“They’ve both become strong in their decision-making,” said Bergstrom Mark. “They take center draws for us; they have different techniques but they’re both successful. On defense, they’ve reached the point where they can just take an opposing player out of the game.”
The two took somewhat different paths to becoming outstanding student athletes at Germantown Friends. Williamson is a GFS “lifer” whose father works at the school, while Morrissey arrived in the seventh grade from the Miquon School near Conshohocken. Morrissey has played field hockey during the fall sports season, while Williamson’s autumn activity was always soccer.
Morrissey’s mother played lacrosse at Princeton, her step brother and step sister were elite college lacrosse players, and her younger sister Kitty, a junior at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, has already made a verbal commitment to play for Duke University. Williamson’s parents weren’t of an athletic bent, and although her two older sisters were multi-sport athletes at GFS, neither played college lacrosse. They did receive some powerful athletic genes from somewhere – exceptional ones in Iris’ case.
The two girls were actually lacrosse teammates before they were school classmates. While still in fifth grade at Miquon, Morrissey began to play for the Springfield Spartans lacrosse club, and Williamson joined her. More recently, Williamson has been playing for the Phantastix organization and Morrissey is a member of another high level club program, Ultimate Goal.
While Morrissey noted, “lacrosse is definitely a family sport for me,” it took some time for Williamson to settle on lacrosse as her primary athletic pursuit.
“I liked the fact that it’s a fast game and that you could get a good start just with raw talent, and then work on your skills as you went along,” recalled the Penn recruit. “I didn’t really make a conscious choice for lacrosse over soccer, it just sort of happened gradually where I started to play club lacrosse and really enjoyed it. I think playing on those select teams really helped Annie and me raise our level of play.”
In the classroom, Morrissey said, “I’ve really enjoyed math and English; I’m taking calculus right now. I’m also interested in languages, and I’ve been studying Spanish. I could end up majoring in something to do with economics or business, but I’m not nearly ready to decide yet.”
In her college search she looked at several Ivy League schools besides Dartmouth, and considered Duke and Lafayette, as well. Again, her family background played a role, this time in regard to Dartmouth head coach Amy Patton.
“I’ve kind of known Amy for awhile, because her aunt coached my mom in high school,” she explained.
The clincher was her visit to the campus in Hanover, N.H.
“I know it sounds like a cliché, but the moment I got there I fell in love with the whole setting and I felt so at home,” she recalled. “The team was amazing and I felt a true sense of community when I was there.”
She’s the only current recruit from Philadelphia, but former Penn Charter player Blaine Steinberg is a member of this year’s freshman class.
The college “short list” for Williamson included Brown, Syracuse, Drexel, and North Carolina, in addition to Penn.
“The closeness of Penn was a factor, because my family and my friends will be able to see a lot of my games,” she said. “I think that GFS has instilled a thirst for knowledge in me, and to me Penn offers a really stimulating academic environment.
“I love lacrosse,” she continued, “but I don’t want my college experience to just be all-lacrosse, all the time. You still have great lacrosse at Penn, with a program that knows what it takes to compete at the top level. I feel they can help me be the best I can be, and I want to help them win a national championship.”
The future Penn Quaker is interested in art history, and also enjoys the creative process herself, developing her drawing and painting talents by participating in the advanced Senior Studio at GFS. Several English courses she’s taken have also interested her but, echoing Morrissey, she explained “I think it’ll be awhile before I choose a major – I want to explore first.”
She knows that college lacrosse will challenge her to elevate her level of play, and she’s starting that process this spring in her final season at GFS.
“I’m hoping to hone my defensive footwork and my other defensive skills, and also bring up my draw controls and my shooting. I try to take 100 shots every day before practice. I hope that doing a lot of the little extra things will help me next year.”
In the same vein, Morrissey has gone so far as to cast off her customary brand of lacrosse stick to play with a model used by the Dartmouth squad.
“It feels a little different and I think it’ll take longer to break in,” she reported, “so I’m playing wall-ball and having catches as much as I can outside of practice.”
She revealed “I’m working on my speed a lot with training and conditioning, and I want to get stronger. I’m hitting the weight room because a lot of the girls I’ll be playing against will be bigger than I am. I’m also working on my dodging, and just my overall confidence in one-on-one situations.”
Bergstrom Mark commented “I think in college both of them will continue to learn to use their speed and skill to create plays, and to increase man-up opportunities for their teams. One of the things that makes them so good is their desire to keep improving in the sport.”
The Tigers have been the runner-up in the Friends Schools League for the past two seasons; the last time they won the championship was in 2009, when Williamson and Morrissey were freshmen and Williamson’s sister, Avery, was a senior co-captain. The two future Ivy Leaguers are now team tri-captains along with defensive ace Alex Clarke, a fellow senior. Another classmate, Isabella Didio, starts in the midfield along with Morrissey and Williamson.
“We’ve got a pretty deep bench this year,” Williamson said, “and if we play together and know our roles on the field we should do well.”
“We have some strong freshmen who came up from middle school,” pointed out Morrissey, “and I think overall we have a lot of speed and athleticism.”
Bergstrom Mark noted that her senior standouts “are awesome working with the younger players. They’re very approachable as captains, and they want to help the other kids learn. I’m looking forward to this last season with them, and I know I’ll miss them when it’s over.”