The organizers of Laxers vs. Lung Cancer at Mount St. Joseph Academy are (from left) Dominique Nyzio, Olivia Gannon, and Alex Lista. At right is Donna Lista, Alex’s mother and a six-year lung cancer survivor. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Mount St. Joseph won a hard-fought 10-8 lacrosse victory at Gwynedd Mercy Academy back on April 12, but that wasn’t the only reason that the two teams were looking forward to last Thursday’s rematch at the Mount.

The game also served as a fundraiser for an organization started by three juniors on the MSJ squad, Laxers vs. Lung Cancer. The group began selling hair ties to benefit lung cancer research last year, and more recently they’ve come out with custom-designed T-shirts that were sold in school and at Thursday’s game. Proceeds were donated to the Pennsylvania Lung Cancer Partnership (PLCP).

During the game, special versions of the shirts printed with individual uniform numbers were worn by the Mount team, and by Gwynedd, which participated in the worthy project.

The game itself was not as close as most onlookers expected, in light of the two-goal margin in the first meeting between the teams. Still smarting from a 18-14 league loss to Villa Maria two days earlier, the Magic responded with a masterful all-round effort against Gwynedd. They scored early and often, building up an 11-0 halftime lead and then remaining in control until they’d secured a 16-1 victory. At the start of the second half, sophomore Noelle Buscarino deposited the lone goal of the afternoon for the Monarchs, who saw their record in Catholic Academies play slip to 4-6.

For the Magic (9-3 AACA), junior Olivia Gannon broke the ice in the game and wound up with five goals, and the winners got two goals apiece from senior Laura Pacheco and juniors Emilee Ehret and Marley Breslin. Another 11th-grader, Alex Lista, made four saves in goal for Mount St. Joe.

The cause of lung cancer research hits close to home for several of Mount

players, including Lista.

“In 2006 my mom, Donna Lista, was diagnosed with lung cancer, and it was pretty traumatizing for me as a fifth-grader,” the MSJ junior related. “My grandfather and Olivia’s (Olivia Gannon) grandfather died of lung cancer.

“My mom is now a six-year survivor,” she went on, “but while she was going through it I noticed that there were so many events about breast cancer awareness and almost none dealing with lung cancer. Lung cancer kills a lot more people, but the victims are sort of stigmatized. It’s like, you must have lung cancer because you smoked a lot.”

In fact, Donna Lista never smoked and neither did PLCP president Nancy Gatschet. A survivor of the disease herself, she was on hand to address the crowd before Thursday’s game.

Gatschet pointed out that the number of daily lung cancer deaths in the U.S. could be represented as a 747 jet crashing with total fatalities. She said the affliction claims more lives each year than breast, prostate, colon, liver, kidney, and melanoma cancers combined, but proportionally, the research funding for lung cancer is quite low.

Interestingly, Gatschet played lacrosse at the College of William & Mary, where Alex Lista plans to continue her athletic career.

The Mount goalie explained “Olivia and I got the idea of combining our love of lacrosse with raising awareness about lung cancer. We asked Dom [junior classmate Dominique Nyzio, who attended Norwood Fontbonne Academy along with Gannon] to be a part of it, and she was very enthusiastic.

“We started with the hair ties, and of course that was a big hit at an all-girls school,” she continued. “We also got wrist bands and magnets. Olivia’s sister Caroline designed the “Attack for Air” T-shirt logo with the lacrosse sticks. Our new coach, Jen Duckenfield, got right on board with what we were doing, so this season we scheduled a game devoted to raising money for lung cancer research.”

An usually large crowd turned out for the contest in the MSJ stadium, and the school’s president, Sr. Kathleen Brabson, participated in the pre-game ceremony.

Lista noted, “We pretty much sold out of the shirts at school, and so many girls came out to the game today to support us. That means a lot.”