Chatham, Mendham girls are Morris County favorites

By Mark Kitchin


Girls Lacrosse Preview

Introductions weren’t necessary on the first day the Chatham girls lacrosse team took the field for their inaugural pre-season practice. Nearly everyone from last year’s squad that had a 20-5 record, reached the Morris County Tournament final and had another terrific run in states before being knocked out byRidgewood returned with a more determined mindset to take control in what the Cougars believe is their year.

 Mendham, MountainLakes, Morris Knolls, West Morris and a number of others are also looking forward to the upcoming season which begins with a few games on Saturday but will open up in earnest on Monday.

Cat McCutcheon and Lindsay Ford were the only starters from last year’sChathamteam that graduated. Everyone else is back and fiercely determined to make it the “Year of the Cougars”.

 “It’s definitely is a huge motivational force for us,’’ senior defender Brittany Marriott said. “We’re not just settling because were coming off a good season last year. It’s pushing us even more to do even better than last year.’’

The Chatham players are fully aware that they are expected to be the standard this year. 

“It feels like there really is a target on our backs,’’ senior defender Callie Farmakis said. “That’s been driving us to work harder every day in practice and the scrimmages and get ready for the games.’’

The Cougars have a lot of talented players returning starting with Jaclyn Leto an All-American who was among the top scorers in the state with 91 goals and 41 assists. She is an amazing two-way player. On defense, she had 115 ground balls and 56 caused turnovers.

If there’s any pressure on her to repeat those gaudy numbers, Leto doesn’t show it.

Chatham’s Jaclyn Leto is a key figure in the Cougars’ plans of having a banner year in girls lacrosse.

“I never really go into games thinking about topping last year,’’ Leto said. “The only goal I have is to win it all as a team. Personally I hope to have a good season because that would help the team but I’m not looking at it with an individual point of view.’’

She has plenty of proven scorers around her. Kelsey Perselay, who was also their top draw, had 59 goals and 33 assists and Kallan Murray also excelled around the net with 38 goals and 12 assists.

Chathamwill also continue its stellar defensive work. Midfielders, Brittany Marriott (74 ground balls, 52 caused turnovers) and Liz Hyde (77 ground balls, 43 caused turnovers) are back and as stingy as ever when it comes to offensive-minded opponents.

Farmakis, Mary Kate O’Neill, Ashley Perselay and Kit Whitman are also sticklers on the defensive end. Attackers Kate Murphy and Lauren Maiorano bring up the level of experience on offense. There is also a small but strong core of newcomers expected to step up and add some depth and energy to the program.

Don’t expect the same old Cougars either. They have added some wrinkles in their playbook for opponents to think about.

“I think everyone is really fired up to continue what we started last year and just bring it from the first game on,’’ Leto said. “In practice (recently) we went over some new plays but were also bringing in some old stuff, we’re just doing what we did well last year and adding on to that.’’

As always Mendham will put up a fierce battle in defense of its Morris County Tournament title. Aly Messinger, a junior All-American (74 goals, 37 assists), has terrific quickness and should continue to be among the top scorers in the state even though defenses may key on her more than ever before. The Minutemen will miss Nicole Graziano but it just means other members of the Mendham team will have to step up. Carley Horan is a talented athlete who is very versatile. Maggie Sinzer, Hayley Keith, Sarah Gillespie and Meg Curtin all gained experience last year. The Russell twins (Devon and Paige) will put their speed and skills to good use and junior keeper Abby Witczak put together some great games last year. The Minutemen’s four-overtime state tournament loss to Moorestown was a game for the ages but also a punch to the gut. No doubt the players returning from that defeat will be fueled with an added supply of determination. 

Once she gets going Mendham’s Aly Messinger is tough to stop. The Minutemen standout should be among the state leaders in scoring again.

Mountain Lakes has some outstanding players to really around. The Lakes return last year’s leading scorer Ingrid Hermanson.MountainLakes’ strength is on defense where junior defenders Alexa Wilson and Sarah Bozzo roam. Senior midfielder Casey Drollinger is also a key performer for the Lakers. They will need to make full use of her talents in order to excel.  

 Morris Knolls will be playing its toughest schedule in the team’s six-year existence; however the Golden Eagles should be up to the task with a strong core returning from last year’s 14-3 team. Their strength is in the back with three-year starter Amanda Black and speedy Kayla Coutts. Allison Kolacy fills the nets and Camille Rosellini, a 3-year starter, is one of the midfielders the team relies upon for ball control. Their sister school program at Morris Hills is showing signs of improvement, too.

 West Morris has a lot of familiar names returning. Senior Emily Delaney is a talented scorer and a tenacious defender. Megan Monaco is a skillful 4-year varsity player and Erin Gutkind is often seen covering the opponents’ best offensive player step by step. At center Michaela Domaratzky is always in the mix when it comes to winning the draw. Juniors Elyssa Lamperti and Maggie Maroney are also familiar faces. Pilar Gonzalez has been waiting for three seasons to play between the pipes. The senior goalkeeper now has her chance. The Wolfpack also has a strong group of sophomores looking forward to stepping up to the varsity level.

Avoiding a slow start like last year should help Roxbury be more competitive. After a 1-6 beginning, the Gaels practically split the rest of their remaining games. They have a good group coming back in midfield. Rebecca Dobbins (28 goals, 8 assists) has a steady stick and Danielle Wilk (28 goals, 9 assists) knows her way around the net. The defense will rally around 3-year starters Brittany Feith and Emily Krzysik. Their overall success may hinge on the transition game and getting some of the younger sticks at attack to make good decisions and finish their chances. 

Katelyn Shaw, Randolph’s new coach, looks like she’s mixing things up a bit. Mel Durbin, who is the Rams’ soccer goalie and played low defense last year, has been moved up to center and is experiencing success on the draw. Junior Emma Kubert is the team’s new goalie. Dawn Farranetta, a senior who missed last season with a torn ACL, is a strong transition player who will put the offense in motion. One constant is Mallory Grey who will return to the defensive end for her senior season.

 Looking for a sleeper team to take a big step? It might be Mount Olive. The Marauders have some talented juniors working in their midfield. Briana Shakespeare can make plays on both ends of the field. Francesca Verrone is an aggressive defender and valuable on the draw. Nicole Armada is quick, reliable and often triggers the team in transition. Overall,Mount Olive has good experience in spots. Senior goalkeeper Alex Tepper is good in and out of the crease and has terrific field vision. The offense will run through senior Alina Santana who can handle the ball and set the tone.

Morristown graduated 13 seniors from last year’s squad and should have a young but balanced crew. Senior defender Melissa Medina provides tremendous intensity and at attack senior Megan Loughman is being counted on to pick up the offense and turn Karla Winter’s pinpoint passes into goals. Juniors Brady Hehir, Amy Blanchard and Devon DiAntonio have also shown a vast improvement in their skills and expect to lift the Colonials.Morristown may start as many as four freshmen this year so they will get the benefits of youth and exuberance but the drawbacks that inexperience allows. 

 The Mustangs finished up well with an 11-7 record last season. Montville has enough returning firepower this year to equal or exceed expectations. Their strength is in the midfield with able performers Shelby Labe (65 goals) and Danica Witty. Maura Johnston anchors the defensive end and Sarah Levitt has a consistent stick around the net.  They also have an energetic and athletic group of sophomores working for spots. If Jaime Intile and Carly DeNegris are as tireless in lacrosse as they are on the soccer field, the Mustangs might get a boost. Kinnelon is another team capable of making strides. The return of top scorer Heidi Annaheim will help the Colts achieve their goals.

 Pequannock is determined to upgrade its defensive capabilities. The Golden Panthers are solid in the back with seniors Melissa Conklin, Megan Couch and Stephanie Reda. Pequannock also wants to make a concerted effort to create more turnovers and jump start its transitions. Senior Leanna Licitra and junior Jess Rigoglioso are more than capable at creating offense on the fly. Colleen Quinn has also developed into a steady and consistent finisher. Although they may have to wait until April 14th for a home opponent the Golden Panthers can’t get wait to get back to their home turf. There are two artificial surface fields now on campus.

 Depth is always an issue at Villa Walsh, but the Vikings have a good group to rally around. Junior midfielder Candace Pallitto raised some eyebrows with some of last year’s performances. She had 62 goals, 14 assists, 38 draw controls and 12 interceptions to help Villa Walsh on both ends of the field. Senior attack Daria Donato (23 goals) sophomore Taylor Medd (28 goals, 12 assists) and junior Jess Racanelli (11 goals, 3 assists) can only get better around the net. The defense is solid with junior Lucia Smircich (20 interceptions) and senior Mary Forrest anchoring their positions.

Madison is a young squad with a few capable seniors the Dodgers can count on. Winnie Caetta is great on ground balls and is an exceptional 1v1 defender. Siobhan McCulloch stands out on the draw. She has good sticks skills and phenomenal speed. Amelia Murcott is a key player in the team’s transition game. Melanie Green directs the offense and her presence is like having another coach on the field. Overall, Madison should gain some confidence by moving to a different division. How a strong cadre of sophomores, which includes quick stick Brynn Taylor, and freshman, develop may determine the level of the Dodgers’ success.

Jefferson is young and thin in numbers. The Falcons will rally around the skills of midfielders Kara Hodapp and Darby Nolan and attacker Danielle Pini. Morris Catholic will always have offense with Tara Soberajski on the field. She missed time on the soccer field last fall with stress fractures but seems to be healthy now and ready to torture defenders. Shannon Coffey has also been known to generate some offense and midfielder Tina Nassany makes terrific midfield runs. The Crusaders strength is in its young defense led by sophomore Giulia Smith. Kim Woods is the new coach at Park Regional the co-op team which includes athletes from Hanover Park and Whippany Park. Morristown-Beard will look to bounce back from last year’s 5-11 mark. The programs at Boonton and the Academy of St. Elizabeth continue to work at improving their squads.


About mcvbb

Mark Kitchin is a boys varsity basketball writer for the Morris County New Jersey area

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