by Tom Utescher
After running track and cross country in the last few years of middle school at what is now Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, Kitty Morrissey decided in ninth grade that she’d once again take up lacrosse, a sport she’d tried during her lower school days.
Her return to the stick sport went rather well; the graduating senior has received a scholarship to play at Duke University, one of the elite lacrosse programs in the country.
A member of the lax-loaded Atlantic Coast Conference, the Duke Blue Devils (who apparently copied their mascot from SCH) made the NCAA tournament for the 16th consecutive year this season. Duke fell in the quarterfinals to then-undefeated Maryland, who eventually lost the national championship game in overtime to a third ACC school, North Carolina. The Blue Devils have played in the Final Four five times since 2005, most recently in 2011.
First-year SCH coach Allison Thomas has little doubt that Morrissey is ready for this level of play.
“She’s an amazing competitor and overall her athleticism is outstanding,” Thomas said. “Her speed and strength set her apart, and those are things she’s worked hard on improving since middle school, which shows her dedication. Aside from the stick skills, she’s done the agility work, the lifting, the conditioning.”
Although Duke recruited her as a defender, the same role she fills for her Ultimate Goal club team, Morrissey scored 69 goals for SCH this spring, netting the 100th of her career in the process.
“She also had 15 assists,” Thomas noted, “and she was all over the board with draw controls, caused turnovers, you name it. It was an interesting year, because it showed her already developing into a college player.”
It almost seemed inevitable that Morrissey would return from the track to the lacrosse pitch, given her family history in the sport. Her mother played both lacrosse and field hockey at Princeton, and her sister Annie was a lax standout at Germantown Friends (Class of 2012) and was recruited by Dartmouth.
In addition Morrissey’s stepsister, Alex Kahoe, is a former All-American goalie who was an assistant coach at Duke for five seasons (2007-2011). Kahoe moved on to join the staff at the University of Vermont, but during her tenure with the Blue Devils, a young Kitty Morrissey found herself increasingly drawn not only to Duke’s formidable lacrosse program, but to the school and its surroundings.
“I love the South; I always have,” the SCH senior said. “I started going to lacrosse camps at Duke the summer after my freshman year, before I knew I was going to play lacrosse in college. The campus is beautiful, and there’s such a great atmosphere. I went to a basketball game there my sophomore year and the place was just insane.”
Before Morrissey began to believe she had the makings of an impact player on the collegiate level, someone else at SCH did. Liz Harris, then the school’s Director of Admissions and a former head coach at Lehigh University, did some one-on-one work with Morrissey when the ninth grader turned her attention back to lacrosse.
“She gave me a lot of help in the winter to get my stick skills up to a higher level,” the senior recalled. “Then I also started playing club for Ultimate, and the winter of my sophomore year I got pretty serious about conditioning. I realized how much of an impact that has on your game, how much more of a force you can be if you put in that extra work.”
During her freshman season, she had looked up to seniors such as Courtney Caputo, Nicole Lombardo, and Lindsay Yang, who would accept scholarships to Georgetown, American University, and Lafayette College, respectively.
“It was inspiring to see players from my team going on to play Division I lacrosse in college,” she said.
By the summer following Morrissey’s 10th-grade year, the recruiting process was ramping up. She soon narrowed down her choices to Duke, Penn, Dartmouth, and Boston College.
“When I went on my visit to Duke, it just felt like home,” she related. “I almost didn’t want to leave. The other schools were all great schools, but I kept coming back to Duke as the place I wanted to be.”
She made a verbal commitment to the Blue Devils on November 13 of her junior year, and signed a Letter of Intent a year later.
The preparation for her final lacrosse campaign at SCH began, as usual, in the off-season.
“We lost a lot of seniors from the year before [half-a-dozen], so we really needed our younger players to contribute on varsity,” Morrissey said. “A lot of the young girls worked hard over the winter, and that helped them compete for starting spots in the spring.”
Her coach, Thomas, revealed “This year Kitty stepped up so much as a leader. She was really concerned about making the team better, and she made sure that everybody was doing their off-season workouts.”
SCH administrator Jenny McHugh, whose office window looks out on the girls lacrosse field, related, “Sometimes I’d look out and Kitty would be out there with a ninth-grader and a bucket of balls, working on shooting with her. It was wonderful to see.”
Of course, with the big step up to top-grade college ball looming in the near future, Morrissey was looking to raise her own level of play, too.
“I worked on my confidence, both in myself and in my team, and having good communication with everybody,” she revealed. “I also wanted to really tighten up my defense so I’m ready for next year.”
At the same time, she wound up scoring more goals than ever.
As Thomas recounted, “We worked on her shooting a lot outside of practices. She changed her shooting technique to be more precise and accurate. She was very coachable in that way and she definitely became more disciplined as a shooter.”
For Springside Chestnut Hill, the 2013 campaign did not turn out quite as hoped, with a record of 10-12 overall, and 4-8 within the Girls Inter-Ac League. However, those figures reflect a tougher non-league schedule than in the past, and a total of four games where the Blue Devils lost by a single goal (a fifth setback was decided by two points).
“Our record doesn’t really show the level of our team,” Morrissey stated. “The program has come a long way since my sophomore year, when we didn’t win a single Inter-Ac game.”
Off the field, the SCH standout enjoyed English and math, but right now she’s not exactly sure where these and other predilections will lead in terms of a college major.
“I’m going in with an interest in sports medicine and personal training,” she said. “I’ve been working at Balance [the personal training gym in Chestnut Hill] since November, and I’ve really enjoyed it.”
She’s well aware that she’ll have to buckle down in traditional classroom subjects, as well, and feels Duke has an arrangement that will help her handle her various academic and athletic responsibilities.
“I liked the fact that they have academic supervisors for all athletes,” she explained. “It’s also good that they have a study hall with a mandatory number of hours that all freshmen have to participate in.”
She expects to receive her summer workout packet shortly, and she’ll join her fellow freshmen lacrosse players at a camp down at Duke next month. Then it’s back home for just a few weeks prior to move-in day on August 20.
“Kitty already has the mindset to contribute as a player at that level,” Thomas said. “She should move right into the college setting with no problem.”