SUMMIT, NJ - Just days after the Summit High School Girls Varsity Lacrosse Team had captured their first-ever New Jersey Tournament of Champions Title, the town threw them a parade.
In a resulting circumstance that can best be filed under 'rite of passage', the procession continued a couple of months later, as nine members of the team -- the 'super seniors' -- all filed off from the Kent Place Boulevard campus and matriculated to fulfill their academic futures and continue their 'LAX dreams' at the collegiate level.
Departing were Summit's all-time leading goal scorer, the school's record-holding assist machine, a chunk of their defensive unit, and a phalanx of dynamic 'middies'. All told, eight headed to Division I programs.
The group that inherits the mantle of 'State Champs' is talented but -- while not across the board, rather in relative terms -- lacking a degree of experience in terms of big game situations. After all, and in phrase that would make Yogi Berra proud, "You haven't done it until you did it."
The 2017 Hilltoppers are undertaking their task with a blue collar attitude, adopting a season theme of 'Earn It'.
Last year's motto -- 'One More' -- proved prophetic. The team had to win 'one more' game to get over the TOC threshold and did just that, in heart-stopping fashion, coming from behind to score 'one more' goal than Ridgewood in the final as then-senior Callie Humphrey fired 'the shot heard 'round the 07901' to beat the Maroons in double overtime.
If Summit's players are looking for a touchstone of how to accept the challenge that awaits them individually and collectively, they but have to glance over their shoulders and peer at the relatively diminutive young lady who serves as their last line of defense.
Maddie Collins -- who along with Cecily Stabler and Stella Spotts have been named the team's captains -- in 2016 stepped out of the shadow of All-American goalie Kady Glynn, who graduated and headed off to Loyola Maryland, and into the breach, inheriting the responsibility of backstopping a team that literally was ensconced in an 'all or nothing' season.
Shouldering the pressure and enjoying every minute of it, Collins stood on her head, consistently delivering 10-bell saves at key moments. Entering the 2016 season, some pundits felt the goalie position was a bit of a question mark, but Collins' play changed that question around to 'How 'bout that Maddie Collins'?
As previously mentioned, Summit is not devoid of experience, and Stabler is poised to have a massive year in attack, blending the rare combination of talent, tenacity, and toughness into a relatively small package.
Spotts will see time at both midfield and her previous position of defense, her athleticism a key in the Hilltoppers' transition game.
Senior Delaney O'Dowd and junior Kaleigh Brennan will play major roles in defense, with junior Helen Louise Johnson likely to take the draws and be a big-time presence in the midfield.
Other upperclass team members that will make an impact in attack include seniors Olivia Kull and Anna DiSbio along with juniors Emily Paytas and Ava Spotts.
A cadre of sophomores will be looked on to take the next step and make significant contributions at multiple positions, such as Katia Carnevale and Anna Huntley-Robertson on attack, Anna Griffith and Julia Szynal in the midfield, and Kate Tully and Claire Murdock on defense.
Summit Head Coach Mike Walsh, who was recently enshrined in the New Jersey Lacrosse Hall of Fame, has powered his way through a not-so-prototypical pre-season from a preparation perspective, as Mother Nature wreaked havoc on he and his team's practice schedule.
"We have been in gyms -- our gym and the middle school gym -- and up at the ISP in Randolph, it has been really challenging for everyone, especially the kids and their parents." said Walsh. "It was in no way, shape or form ideal."
Of his team, he says that, "It is a totally different dynamic than last year, but the team has been really good so far" in terms of being engaged in what the coach and his staff have been saying and teaching.
Walsh mentions that there is no talk of defending a title or repeating. "We just have to go out and play."
For the Hilltopper faithful who want to watch their team play, they may have to become best friends with their vehicle's GPS system, as Summit is currently set to play just five home games. The team was supposed to play Ridgewood and Oak Knoll -- acknowledged by Walsh as the top two squads in the state -- at home, but an error committed in the scheduling process resulted in those games being played on the road.
Summit opens the season March 29 at home versus Mountain Lakes. The game begins at 4 p.m. on the Summit High School Upper Turf Field.
2017 Summit High School Girls Varsity Lacrosse Team Roster
Patience Baldacci - Senior #19 - Defense
Maddie Collins - Senior #30 - Goalie (C)
Anna DiSibio - Senior #5 - Attack
Shannon Groskoph, Senior #6 - Midfield
Audrey Hannigan, Senior # 18 - Midfield
Olivia Kull, Senior #4 - Attack
Delaney O'Dowd, Senior #17 - Defense
Stella Spotts, Senior #27 - Defense / Midfield (C)
Cecily Stabler, Senior #11 - Attack (C)
Isabelle Timoney. Senior #28 - Defense
Kaleigh Brennan, Junior #13 - Defense
Molly Driscoll, Junior #22 - Attack / Midfield
Helen Louise Johnson, Junior #10 - Midfield
Amy Martino, Junior #29 - Goalie
Emily Paytas, Junior #9 - Attack
Ava Spotts,Junior #2 - Attack
Anna Turk, Junior #26 - Attack / Midfield
Katia Carnevale, Sophomore #3 - Attack
Anna Griffith, Sophomore #7 - Midfield
Anna Huntley-Robertson, Sophomore #16 - Attack
Claire Murdock, Sophomore #12 - Defense
Julia Szynal, Sophomore #25 - Midfield
Katherine Tully, Sophomore #23 - Defense
Eva Lambrianakos, Freshman #4 - Defense
Sophie Zachara, Freshman #14 - Midfield
(C) - denotes Team Captain
Head Coach - Mike Walsh, sixth season
Assistant Coach - Laura Cataldi
Assistant Coach - Mary Kate Renehan
Assistant Coach - Taylor Albright
Freshman Coach - Kate Martino
2017 Regular Season Schedule
Home Games in BOLD - played at Summit High School Upper Turf Field
Mar. 29 @ 4 p.m. v. Mountain Lakes
Apr. 1 @ 12 p.m @ Ridgewood
Apr. 3, @ 4:30 p.m. @ West Morris Mendham
Apr. 5 @ 4:30 p.m. @ Mahwah
Apr. 11 @ 4 p.m. @ Oak Knoll School - Chatham Fields
Apr. 13, @ 4 p.m. v. Morristown
Apr. 15, @ 12 p.m. @ Smithtown West
Apr. 19 @ 4 p.m. v. Glen Ridge
Apr. 21 @ 4 p.m. @ Chatham
Apr. 22 @ 6 p.m. @ Cold Spring Harbor
Apr. 25 @ 4 p.m. v. West Morris Central
Apr. 27 @ 4:30 p.m. @ Westfield
Apr. 29 @ 11 a.m. - Union County Tournament - Opponent / Location TBD
May 1 @ 4 p.m. - Union County Tournament - Opponent / Location TBD
May 3 @ Union County Tournament @ A.L. Johnson High School
May 6 @ Union County Championships @ A.L. Johnson High School
May 9 @ 4 p.m. @ Mount Olive
May 11 @ 7 p.m. v. Kent Place School - Senior Night
\May 15 @ 4:30 p.m. @ Northern Highlands Regional