The 2020-’21 season was an atypical one for Bishop Eustace girls lacrosse.
As all spring teams remember, the 2019-’20 spring season was initially delayed and ultimately canceled at the onset of the COVID pandemic, leaving some programs with a larger disparity than normal in student athletes with varsity experience and those without it.
The Crusaders, according to coach Kat Burke-Esposito, found themselves in that uncomfortable situation when spring sports returned.
“COVID really intersects in every aspect of life, and unfortunately at a school like Eustace that relies so heavily on multi-sport athletes, it really hit us hard,” Burke-Esposito said. “Especially with us having that modified season last year, we had some kids that chose to be virtual and other things that were up in the air in general that made that season difficult.”
Despite typically having double-digit wins on a yearly basis, Bishop Eustace had just two wins a season ago. This year, in just six games, the team has doubled its victories to start the young season with a 4-2 record thus far.
The Crusaders pulled off big wins over Cherry Hill East, Haddon Heights and Winslow Township in their first three wins of the season, taking each game by a double-digit margin.
According to the coach, the Crusaders focused mainly on improving this offseason by adjusting the team’s offensive style to include more passing and assists rather than isolation plays and getting players to create a greater dynamic attack.
“We’ve had a wider diversification of scoring so far this year than we did last year, and that’s because a stat that we said we were going to look at very proudly this season were our assists,” the coach said. “Last year we barely had any assists; it seemed to mostly be about running and gunning down the field.
“In a lot of our games now, we have about 60 percent of our goals having been assisted, which I think is really impressive, because that shows that we have a whole team leading this offensive and they’re all a part of it,” she added. “There might be a lead horse in terms of goals, but everybody else is involved and making that possible.”
The “lead horse” is sophomore Jordan Roessler, one of the most talented attackers in South Jersey. As a freshman last season, she led the Crusaders in both goals and assists with 35 and five, respectively.
As a sophomore, Roessler again leads the largely young squad in both goals and assists, with 32 and 12 so far. Freshman Anna Marquadt is second on the team in goals, with 15, while fellow freshman Aislynn Higgins has 10 goals of her own in the team’s first six games.
Entering this season, Roessler said she and her teammates worked hard to form a more cohesive team offense on the field.
“That’s something we definitely saw that we struggled with as a team last year, but we’re showing signs of success in that area so far, with us all contributing more evenly, so it’s nice to see that kind of show itself through the assists,” she said.
“Part of that, too, was making sure that we had a strong team culture both on and off the field, with underclassmen not being afraid to step up where they need to while working the seniors that have been with the program for a lot longer than we have obviously.”
Roessler and Marquadt entered the year without individual goals for themselves, but instead mainly focused on vastly improving the team’s record from a year ago.
“Especially with it being my first season at Eustace, I wasn’t looking for a specific goal for myself, other than to be the best team player that I could be,” Marquadt said. “And that’s something that I feel like the team as a whole has embraced.
“We want people when they look at us to see a team that works really well together, and that’s the main reason why they succeed,” she added
The mix of strong, young talent and senior leadership has Eustace flipping the script on its performance just over 12 months ago. Although the regular season is still in its first half, Roessler is preparing for the Crusaders to make a deep playoff run by the end of the year.
“We’re taking the season game by game at this point and making sure to not overlook anyone, but by the end of the season our goal is still a conference championship,” Roessler said. “I think that would be absolutely perfect, especially after how last year went for us, and I honestly think it’s super realistic with how we’re playing right now as long as we keep working hard.”