For the third time in the three-year tenure of head coach Rick Cassara, St. Edward’s varsity girls lacrosse team finished the season on an upbeat note playing as an independent. That meant no postseason tournament to extend the season or test just how far this program has progressed toward more elite status.
That could change next year, however, and that was admittedly a central component for formulating the big picture paradigm. The Pirates finished 10-4 in 2019 – making it 26 wins in the last 31 games under Cassara – and the best may be yet to come.
“I would say this season went pretty much as we expected,” Cassara said. “We increased the degree of difficulty of our schedule this year because we thought we needed to after last year (13-1 in 2018). We had a couple of games that were pretty difficult for us. We worked through some injuries and we were nicked up here and there, but everybody has that. The flu really hurt us more than any year I’ve seen; it affected more kids and lingered longer with some of them.”
That’s the overview of 2019 in a nutshell. Those difficult games were losses to Cardinal Newman and Benjamin, both ranked in the top 10 statewide. Jensen Beach and Martin County hung the other defeats on the Pirates in close, competitive contests that attested to the worth of the schedule upgrade. The stage is now set for a leap forward next year.
“One of the things we did this year was try to prepare as best we could for next year,” Cassara explained. “If things go according to plan with the FHSAA, we will be in the playoff mix again. I did not want our players to look ahead this year, but I was thinking about the kind of things we needed to consider to get us ready for playoff competition at the end of next year.
“More than upgrading our schedule, we had some three-game weeks where we stretched the players out physically. Even in the games where we were undermanned, there were opportunities for some of the other girls to step up, get some playing time, and accept the challenge. I think what we did this year will prepare us for what I hope will be a playoff season in 2020.”
Cassara said the details of that playoff format are sketchy at this point, but one definite downside when looking ahead to next year is already set in stone, i.e. the four seniors he will lose. Then again, he speaks glowingly of those eligible to return.
“All four of these seniors were team captains. Not only are they very good lacrosse players and athletes, they are very good leaders. Lauren Savage (28 goals, 7 assists) played attack and was a rock of the offense. Elizabeth Zoltak (23 goals, 15 assists) was all over the field as a pure midfielder. Katy Rodriguez (19 ground balls, 14 caused turnovers) was a very aggressive defender always looking to steal the ball or do something like that. Our goalie Jane Callaghan (40 percent save rate) has been our starter in the cage for two years, and she will be difficult to replace.
“Losing those girls is going to be tough. To ease the transition a little bit I had two freshmen start this year – and my first two off the bench were also freshmen.”
Nevertheless, what truly ramps up the anticipation for next year is the incoming senior class.
“The junior class was the core of the team this year,” Cassara told us. “They are that little nuclear reactor that has been inside of us essentially since they came on the field as freshmen. These are kids you can trust with the ball. They are really good with the stick and don’t commit turnovers.
“If such records are kept, I would expect that Hailey Rhymes (49 goals, 24 assists) would be very competitive for all kinds of career scoring honors. Right behind her in the scoring department is Raleigh Cooper (40 goals, 22 assists), also a huge impact player. Our primary center is Catalina Pratt (25 goals, 17 assists). All of these girls are very good ball handlers.”
Cassara cited the “quiet excellence” of Bridget Nelson and the “energizer bunny” qualities of Elise Mallon among the rising senior class talent he is counting on in the coming season.
St. Ed’s experienced a steady climb in the 2019 state polls. Max Preps jumped the Pirates from No. 37 to No. 34 just last week.
“I’m cautiously optimistic, how does that sound?” Cassara summarized. “The seniors that are leaving were key players. But yeah, the juniors are like a little nuclear reactor in there. We had a very good wrap-up to this season, finishing with three very nice wins. We’ll go from there.”