by Tom Utescher

Mount St. Joe junior goalie Alex Lista (center) stretches to stop a shot as senior Maddie Haas (right) checks the stick of the opposing attacker. At left is MSJ junior Jane Black. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

In the last full week of practice before official games can begin (on March 23), Mount St. Joseph Academy’s lacrosse team engaged in two weekday scrimmages and then played a spate of mini-games last Saturday at Upper Dublin High School’s St. Patrick’s Day Invitational.

The Magic have one more tune-up session scheduled for the middle of this week before opening their 2012 season on Saturday against a league rival, Sacred Heart (away at 11:00 A.M).

Mount St. Joe is coming off of a 2011 season in which an overall record of 11-8 included the Magic’s first win over league rival Villa Maria in several years. The Mount went 9-4 in Catholic Academies contests, falling to Merion Mercy in the playoff semifinals. The campaign ended with a 14-6 loss to Conestoga High School in the opening round of the PIAA District 1 tournament.

The Magic’s new mentor, Jen Duckenfield, did not coach a high school squad last spring, but before that she enjoyed a successful tenure at Strath Haven High School. An assistant for many years, she became head coach in 2010 and guided the Panthers to a tie for the championship in the Central League, one of the strongest leagues in the state.

One of her protégés at Strath Haven was her own daughter, Alex, who is now a freshman on the lacrosse team at Vanderbilt University. Duckenfield, originally from Delaware County, has coached many club players from this area in the Ultimate Goal club program, which is based in Ambler.

Mount St. Joe graduated five members of its 2011 roster, including Stevie Wells, who is now playing at Columbia, and Shannon Zoldy, who has joined the squad at Lafayette.

Although there are only four seniors on the Magic team this year, a total of eight players have already made their college choices. Attacker Burke Brabson signed with La Salle University back in the fall, and defender Maddie Haas is headed to Monmouth. Middie Laura Pacheco plans to play both lacrosse and field hockey at Union College, while the fourth senior, defender Haley Hendel, will attend Penn State and won’t be participating in intercollegiate athletics.

Four juniors have made verbal commitments, with center Emilee Ehret opting not for lacrosse, but field hockey at Penn State. Former Norwood Fontbonne Academy standouts Olivia Gannon (attack) and Dominique Nyzio (defensive mid) have given the nod to Villanova and Drexel, respectively. The Magic’s goalie, Alex Lista, has chosen the College of William & Mary.

The other members of the Mount’s talented junior class are attacker Marley Breslin, defensive mid Meg McCabe, and low defender Jane Black.

Two young attackers have also earned a place on the varsity team, sophomore Natalie Bohner and freshman Christie Mischler. Bohner is the daughter of the former Leslie Gillin, a Springside School lacrosse standout who went on to the University of Virginia.

Following the team’s first few sessions at Upper Dublin on Saturday, Coach Duckenfield remarked “Emilee Ehret was fabulous on the draws, and in the goal Alex stopped some point-blank shots early on to keep us from falling behind.

“Olivia and Natalie Bohner did some nice things on attack,” the new Mount mentor continued, “and Maddie Haas and Haley Hendel were solid back on defense. We also get a lot of speed from Meg McCabe in the back – she’s our chaos-maker. I think we did well with our transition game, and we got after the ground balls.”

Overall, Duckenfield observed, “The girls are very hard-working and very committed to each other. There’s good team chemistry, and that’s important.”

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