History denied, but head held high

Anacapri Slack (far right) was eager to join fellow seniors Ava Dahan, Kelli McGroarty and Riley Fisher in leading Eastern’s lacrosse program to its first championship in 2020. Instead, she’s taking the lessons learned to Occidental College, where she’ll play for her older sister. (Photo provided)

This was supposed to be perhaps the most memorable month of Anacapri Slack’s life.

As the youngest of four daughters, two of whom starred before her on the lacrosse field at Eastern Regional High School, she was ready for what was to come because she had a lifetime of practice. As someone who started as a freshman on a stellar defensive unit that included one senior, one junior and one sophomore, she watched her teammates progress through the program and learn to lead as seniors.

Anacapri Slack was supposed to take all of those lessons, all of that momentum, and help lead the Vikings to a historic 2020 season. Eastern’s girls lacrosse program has never won a state title, but after appearing in two of the last three Group 4 title games, this was supposed to be the year.

Unfortunately for Slack, her fellow Eastern seniors, and the Vikings program at large, COVID-19 had other plans. Like every other high school sports season, Eastern’s hopeful run at a state title this spring was halted before they got to the starting line: the pandemic arrived in mid-March, shutting schools down less than three weeks into the lacrosse preseason.

Last week in Voorhees, Slack and her fellow seniors gathered for one last time to commiserate in their shared spring experience but also to look toward a positive future as they go their separate ways.

“It was really sad,” Slack said. “It was definitely good to see everyone, but it was sad to see all of the people that I could have been playing with all of this time, and missing out on all of the stuff we could have had during the season.”

Unlike the rest of her teammates, Slack at least will have the opportunity to resume her lacrosse career in college. Later this summer she will enroll at Occidental College in Los Angeles, following the footsteps of her older sister, Sierra, who is an assistant coach.

Slack is majoring in psychology and could eventually pursue a career in sports psychology. But on the lacrosse field, she’ll take an important lesson she learned this spring into collegiate play.

“Having this (senior year) experience taken away from me, I can’t ever take anything for granted,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to college and always playing hard no matter what, because you never know what’s going to happen, whether it’s an injury or something else that’s out of your control.”

Eastern was so close to making history 12 months ago. 

The Vikings were playing as well as just about anyone in the state throughout the spring, winning 14 of their final 15 games entering the state championship game against Ridgewood. Eastern held a one-goal lead at the half, but lost 9-4.

Still, it was an important step forward.

“Last year was just so much fun,” Slack said. “My freshman year we went to the state championship and we lost terribly (16-4 to Bridgewater-Raritan). But last year we were so close and we just had so much more practice with each other and knew each other so well, I was definitely looking forward to continuing our season this year and seeing how far we could get.”

With Slack leading the way, it was supposed to be state title or bust for Eastern.

After watching her sisters, Sierra and Savannah Slack, come up through the program, and seeing Eastern improve with each passing year, Anacapri Slack was eager to take the Vikings across the finish line to a state championship. Because in addition to her skill and experience, Slack brought another important intangible to the team, one that, while difficult to quantify, is a crucial ingredient toward building a championship team: positive energy.

“One of the first memories I have of her was showing up in preseason to a run test and she was just so smiley and happy,” said Eastern coach Gretchen Kiep, who took over the program from Katie Lee after Slack’s sophomore season. 

“I’ve never seen a kid so happy and ready to get the season started,” Kiep continued. “That’s always stuck with me and I’d told her that a thousand times. She’s always eager to be there, happy, and wants to help her teammates. She’s just an all-around great player, leader and teammate … She just loves the game of lacrosse and you can’t quantify that. And it rubs off, especially as a senior with underclassmen looking for their seniors and to the players that have been here. It was great for our program. She had taken the underclassmen and made them feel comfortable.”

Slack’s positive nature and team-first approach should serve her well at Occidental. And although she wasn’t able to bring Eastern’s program that elusive state championship, which would have been a fitting ending for a family that fielded three four-year players over the last decade, not everything was lost in 2020.

Slack’s role as a leader was still intact.