By Andrew Garda
While the recent snow timed itself well for Montclair Kimberley Academy’s girls lacrosse team, Coach Chelsea Intrabartola still had to manage a busy schedule in the weeks leading up to the start of the 2017 season.
Running double practice sessions, including some indoor work, figuring out out which players can contribute where, trying to get some scrimmages set — all are on the list of things crowding the second-year coach’s plate.
Even though the team lost multiple starters to graduation, there’s no let-up in the 2017 schedule, which Intrabartola says is just as tough as last year’s. That schedule, filled with teams like Glen Ridge, Columbia and Millburn, led them to a 9-12 record and an early exit in the state tournament.
Many of the same opponents are back in 2017, along with crosstown rival Montclair High School. The two teams didn’t meet last season, but will clash this year near the end of the schedule.
There are also the Essex County, Prep and New Jersey State tournaments, and each will be packed with some of the toughest teams in the state.
Yet despite the schedule and the departure of multiple players, Intrabartola feels her squad has the talent to make some noise this year.
The Cougars were young last season, Intrabartola says, but a lot of those younger players saw the field on a regular basis. That makes the meaning of the term “young” relative. Young in years, perhaps, but the athletes have already gained plenty of experience.
Five players started for varsity their freshman seasons and have returned this year.
Reilly Hughes at goalie, Claire Linaugh at attack, Lily Pryor and Kirsten Zeug at midfield and Ally Raff on defense represent the sophomore contingent coming back. These players will be the core of the team over the next few years and all will have significant roles in 2017.
Intrabartola says they are an athletic group of kids who have already grown both physically and mentally in the offseason. They already had confidence, and it will only continue to grow as they play more.
Now they have to continue building on that as the Cougars enter the regular season.
They’ll have plenty of experienced help as well, though.
Annie Wallace and Kit Smith, both seniors, are the captains, and both have ample ability to lead the team on and off the field.
Wallace heads up the attack, a unit which also includes Linaugh, fellow seniors Cameron Brady, Dorothy Cucci and Carly Hatfield as well as junior Sophia Garrubbo. They’ll be tasked with generating points against some very tough defenses.
Smith is joined at midfield by Pryor and Zeug. Middies are a tough bunch, often required to play both offense and defense, and the backbone of many teams. A good, deep midfield can save a struggling offense or defense, and be the difference in a tight game.
Much of the heavy lifting on defense will be done by the sophomore Raff as well as juniors Katie Gyves and Alix Talkow.
With those 13 athletes forming the core of the team, it’s now up to Intrabartola to fill in the blanks with the rest of the roster. That group will come from 17 other players who, as of press time, could end up on the varsity or junior varsity rosters.
That leaves the program in pretty good shape, as they can add to what appears to be a very solid foundation. The key will be finding the right combinations on the lines, and making sure the balance between the experienced players and the more raw talent is right.
Five of this year’s starters are seniors, which means five more holes in the roster will be open for 2018. Getting some of the other players some experience, as Intrabartola was able to do last year with the freshmen, will be important going forward.
By the same token, that can’t happen at the expense of this season.
Last year Intrabartola found the balance. Part of the challenge will be doing so again this year but it looks like the talent is there to pull from.