After taking a center draw, SCH junior Maddie Aslansan (left) and Mount St. Joe sophomore Izzy Balcer follow the flight of the ball. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

After taking a center draw, SCH junior Maddie Aslansan (left) and Mount St. Joe sophomore Izzy Balcer follow the flight of the ball. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

As in 2013, Mount St. Joseph travelled to Springside Chestnut Hill Academy for its first scrimmage of the lacrosse season. The encounter took place last Friday on the Blue Devils’ artificial turf, where three days earlier SCH outscored Abington High School in its first interscholastic skirmish.

Because of PIAA rules (and the condition of the Mount’s grass fields), the Magic have not been training together as long as the Devils. Although
both teams find themselves in relatively similar circumstances in terms of personnel this season, Springside Chestnut Hill was able to reverse last year’s 10-18 outcome against the Mount, coming away on the winning end of 12-6 final reckoning this time around.

Each team lost a large senior class from 2013, and has a very small one this season. SCH sent eight seniors on their way, including All-American Kitty Morrissey, who is already seeing some action at Duke University. The lone senior for the Blue Devils is attacker Winter Chernak; she’s team co-captain for 2014 along with junior midfielder Sinéad Brierley.

The MSJ co-captains are the only two seniors on the roster, attackers Natalie Bohner and Summer Thomas. Last spring seven Mount sticksters departed with their diplomas, including three headed for Division I programs; attacker Olivia Gannon (Villanova), defender Dom Nyzio (Drexel), and goalie Alex Lista (William and Mary).

Each school was missing a co-captain for last Friday’s practice run. Brierley and SCH sophomore stand-out Mikaela Watson (who has already made a verbal commitment to Stanford) were held out due to minor injuries; the Blue Devils wanted to be sure both players would be ready to go for this week’s Inter-Ac League opener against Germantown Academy.

The Mount’s Bohner was sidelined last Friday due to a temporary complication, and her sister Meredith, a sophomore, will miss the entire season due to an ACL injury. Their mother, the former Leslie Gillin, had an outstanding high school career at the old Springside School.

Allison Thomas is entering her second season as coach of the SCH Blue Devils, and this year she’s sharing the responsibility with Alex Kahoe, a former Agnes Irwin standout in the Inter-Ac League, and well beyond that level.

An All-American collegiate goalkeeper, Kahoe graduated from the University of Maryland in 2000 with four NCAA championships to her credit. She then served as an assistant coach for Division I lacrosse programs up and down the East Coast. She started out at her alma mater, Maryland, then moved on to the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Delaware.

Next, she spent five seasons with Duke University, an ACC power and always an NCAA tournament team. Morrissey, the former SCH star now playing for Duke, is her stepsister. After leaving Duke in 2011, Kahoe passed by her hometown on the way north to the University of Vermont.

She was an assistant there for the 2012 and 2013 seasons, but then decided to move back close to her family and lifelong friends. She is now full-time at SCH, working in the school’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL) before heading out to the field in the afternoon.

Kahoe is actually one of two former Maryland All-American goalies who are currently coaching in Chestnut Hill; the other is Episcopal Academy alum and Lacrosse Hall of Fame member Brian Dougherty, the head men’s coach at Chestnut Hill College.

In addition to her collegiate coaching, Kahoe helped develop the Ultimate Lacrosse Club in the Philadelphia area, whose ranks include many top athletes from local schools.

A current coach in the Ultimate Lacrosse program, Lindsey Colferai, is back to head the Mount St. Joe squad for a second season. She also has returned as an assistant coach for the women’s team at Chestnut Hill College. Her new assistant at the Mount is one of her former CHC players, Megan Shaughnessy. A defender in lacrosse, Shaughnessy also played on the Chestnut Hill basketball team.

In Friday’s scrimmage at SCH the scoring was initiated by Mount freshman Margot Biamon, who was also a starter from the get-go on the MSJ hockey team last fall. A second MSJ marker was furnished by junior Christie Mischler off of an assist by sophomore M.K. Maloney (just three days earlier, Maloney was still suiting up for the Mount basketball team).

SCH forged ahead with a three-goal run that included two markers by sophomore Natalie Schwartz and one by junior Carlin Rode. In the last two minutes of the first period, the Magic were able to gain a 4-3 advantage for halftime, thanks to goals by junior Amanda Steinberg (assisted by sophomore Audrey Ezzo) and the senior co-captain, Thomas (asst. Maloney).

The two sides battled up to a 6-6 tie over the first 10 minutes of the second half, then SCH pulled away, finishing the day with a 6-0 surge. Schwartz scored a total of four times, and there were hat tricks for Chernak and junior midfielder Maddle Aslansan. Rode and junior classmate Allie Billick each scored once, and 12 saves were recorded for sophomore goalie Elsa Rall, who has been playing on the varsity team since she was an eighth-grader.

Following the graduation of Lista, the Mount has a new young goalkeeper in freshman Maddie McDonald, who made 10 stops on Friday. A sophomore goalie, Maddie Ferraro, returns from last year’s squad. At SCH, the Magic recorded one goal apiece for Biamon, Mischler, Steinberg, and Thomas, and also for Maloney and sophomore classmate Courtney Target, who both scored in the second half.

In their scrimmage against Abington earlier last week, the SCH Devils had both Brierley and Watson on the field.

Three days later against the Mount, Coach Thomas noted, “With the players we had out today, we had sort of a different look, and the girls who got some more playing time as a result of that took advantage of it.”

Praising the efforts of her lone senior, Chernak, on the attacking end, Thomas added, “Natalie Schwartz and Maddie Aslansan shot the ball with confidence, and it was nice to see the way they worked together all the way down the field. I also thought Mason Rode [Carlin’s freshman sister] was very strong for us in the midfield. She gave us a lot of energy, she helped out on the draw control, and she really got us started a lot of times when we went down on offense.”

Thomas complemented another ninth-grader, deep defender Morgan Fitton-Zellers, and said that an older athlete who has been moved into the back is also working out well.

“Lexi Prochniak is a sophomore who was a low attacker on JV last year,” the coach related, “but when she came up to varsity this year we tried her out at a low defense position, and today she did a phenomenal job, like she’s been playing there all along.”

Thomas observed, “It’s been great to see the enthusiasm the girls have shown in this early part of the season, and to see the way they’re working together and pulling for each other.”

At the other bench, the Mount’s Colferai pointed out “This only the second time we’ve actually been outside, so we’ve been focusing just on conditioning and stick skills, and we haven’t really been able to work on movement on the field, spacing, and things like that.”

She said, “When Springside made that run in the second half I think we let it get to us a little bit. We’re definitely missing the seven seniors from last year and the lacrosse IQ they brought to the team. I think we’re actually deeper this year in terms of raw talent, but the young players need to develop. We have 18 freshmen this year [varsity and JV] and a lot of them have played club lacrosse, so it will be interesting to see how they progress.”

Ninth-graders Biamon and McDonald already earned starting roles last Friday, and Colferai noted, “Izzy Balcer, M.K. Maloney, and Abby Aita are sophomores who just keep getting better and better. We have a solid group of juniors with Christie Mischler, Jenna Zoldy, Allie Hoffner, and Kaitlyn Meister. Another one is Amanda Steinberg, who is playing with a lot more confidence than in the past.”

The coach continued, “We’ve only got the two seniors, Natalie and Summer, but they’re going to be good leaders for this team. I wasn’t really concerned about the outcome today, because the mistakes we made were just due to lack of experience. It’s just a matter of harnessing all the energy that we have with these young players.”

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