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Defensive-minded: Cinnaminson’s switch pays big dividends

Last year’s move has junior goalie Brooke Sztendowicz excelling in the net

MATTHEW SHINKLE/South Jersey Sports Weekly
Cinnaminson junior Brooke Sztendowicz is in the midst of her second season in net for the Pirates, having allowed the fewest goals of all teams in the Burlington County Scholastic League. Coaches and players say part of her defensive success is thanks to a recent change in the team’s scheme.

Coming into the 2021-’22 season, Laura Curran already knew what Cinnaminson’s strength would be during the season.

Before the start of her ninth season as head coach of the Pirates girls lacrosse team last year, Curran decided to shake things up and reshape the team’s defensive scheme. Having traditionally played a man-to-man style defense throughout her time at Cinnaminson, much like most other teams across South Jersey, Curran looked to think outside the box for a defensive scheme that might better suit the team’s new goalie. 

“We went from a man-to-man style defense like most teams typically play in the area to a zone, so we had to completely change the way that they thought about defense and how to defend in general,” Curran said.

“They went from marking one girl to marking an area, and it took a lot of time to get it right,” she added, “but I’d say by mid-season last year we had it down, and we only lost two seniors from last year’s team, so we already had that down coming into this season.”

The change was necessitated, the coach said, in part due to the team’s new starting goalie last year, then-sophomore Brooke Sztenderowicz, a basketball player by heart. She had the chance to learn from Julia Charest, the team’s three-year starting goalie before COVID canceled her senior season. Charest now plays at TCNJ. 

Curran said she was admittedly unsure of what to expect with Sztendowicz in net for her first season last year, but that the defensive scheme change would make it easier for the first-year varsity goalie to read defenses better while cutting down on potential shots. 

“Having a new goalie in there would obviously be something that other teams would try to capitalize on,” she added. “She and a few other players on our defense are basketball players so they have a good understanding of a zone defense, and implementing the scheme we did would try to limit high-percentage shots coming her way.” 

In essence, the change would limit the number of isolation plays each game that might see a veteran or highly skilled offensive player beat a newer goalie. After an 11-4 season last year, Cinnaminson has picked right back up where it left off, going 12-2 in the season’s first 14 games as the regular season winds down. 

As of the end in its 14th game, Cinnaminson has allowed just 50 goals all season, good for the fewest in the Burlington County Scholastic League. Rancocas Valley, the only team ahead of Cinnaminson in the BCSL standings, has allowed the second-fewest goals so far this season, with 97 in 16 games. 

After getting comfortable at the high-school level last season, Sztenderowicz said coming into this year was much easier because she already understood how a zone defense is  implemented on the lacrosse field, as opposed to the basketball court.

“It definitely helped, it’s the same kind of concepts so it was easier already knowing where the ball is going to get swung around from and where the shots will mostly be coming from,” she said. 

While Cinnaminson has allowed the fewest goals in the BCSL so far this season, they’ve also scored the most on the other side of the field, making their goalkeeper’s job even easier, something the junior said has been reassuring. 

“It’s so much easier knowing that the balls in good hands when we’re on offense and we as a team don’t make stupid turnovers or mistakes that often,” Sztendowicz said. 

Senior Veronica Campbell leads the team in both goals and assists and is the team’s leading contributor to success on the offensive side of the ball. Following the team’s recent 19-6 win over Delran, she also set the program record for draw controls, something she didn’t know she was close to. 

“I was pretty caught off guard by it to be honest,” Campbell said. “I know that Grace [Frasso] was the one that had it before me, and I always thought she got so many draws. So it’s crazy to think that I somehow got more than she did now.” 

While the personal accolades and statistics come over the course of a season, Campbell said what’s most important is winning, and she’s tried to just play the best she can in the offensive and defensive system the Pirates currently play.

“Our defense has gotten a lot stronger the past two years, and that’s created in us giving up fewer goals and getting a lot more turnovers for us to move into transition and implement the plays that we have,” she added. “That’s really been a help for us.

““We’re good at working together and making the best of our opportunities, so I hope we keep doing that moving forward.”

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