That’s the number of freshmen and eighth graders in Agnes Irwin School’s starting lineup this year. No, seriously. Not on the team. In the starting lineup.
So yeah, there are going to be some growing pains for new Owls coach Jen Duckenfield. Duckenfield, who used to coach at Strath Haven and Mount St. Joseph, takes over a team that has struggled to compete with the league’s elite in recent years, but she’s excited about that young nucleus that will be the core of the next several Agnes Irwin teams.
“I think last year, they got off on the right foot, but they had to deal with injuries,” Duckenfield said. “I like both of the previous coaches, too. I think the girls are focused and there’s a good group of lacrosse athletes at Agnes Irwin right now. We’re young. We’ve got some eighth graders and freshmen playing, but our motto this year has been to “Earn the Jersey”. They’re fighting for their spot and playing with great confidence. We do competition drills at practice all the time and they’re responding well.”
While those youngsters will be heavily counted upon, things start with senior midfielder Eliza Moran (Rollins), who missed all of last year with a concussion. Duckenfield expects her to bounce back and be a “prolific scorer for us” and team up with junior Bridget Chakey to spur the Owls’ offense. Chakey scored 46 goals and dished out 27 assists last year, so much will be expected of the junior captain.
Duckenfield’s first priority will be turning around a program that has struggled to string together wins, but AIS is making a commitment to improving its teams.
“That’s what I like about the school,” Duckenfield said “There are great academics, but they’re also trying to improve athletically. They’re putting in two new turfs, which should help.”
So should that oh-so-young group of promising eighth graders and freshmen. Kristen Burnetta, Laura Pansini and Kate White will all be making plays out of the midfield, with White doing so more on the defensive side. Eighth-graders Daniela Wright (attack) and Lila Barker (midfield) will make big contributions, too.
“We know we’re young and we just have to focus on every game,” Duckenfield said. “We’re building our foundation from the middle school program on up and we’re building their skills.”
The Owls will need some experience, though, and they get that in the form of senior captain defenders Sarah Simmons and Amanda Crowley. Duckenfield praised the pair’s leadership and ability to help the diverse team come together so quickly. They’ll be asked to protect an inexperienced but talented pair of goalies who will probably split time all year in freshmen Cam Walsh and Caroline Roncalli.
“They both look good,” Duckenfield said with a laugh. “Cam starts off strong and Caroline is more of my closer. It’s almost like in baseball with having a starting pitcher and a closer.”
Duckenfield knows that it will take some time for her players to mature and progress enough to compete with league bluebloods Episcopal Academy and Notre Dame, but it’s about helping Agnes Irwin make steady progress. The Owls creamed Shipley, 16-1, in their season opener. In that game, Agnes Irwin had nine players score goals and both goalies had the chance to make some key saves, so that’s a good first step for Duckenfield’s program.
“I don’t think anyone else in the league has beaten Episcopal or Notre Dame in the past five years or so,” Duckenfield said, “so that’s our goal. “They’re very good teams and it’s something for us to work for.”
A pretty good goal to shoot for.
– MATT CHANDIK