Entering the 2021-’22 youth lacrosse season, Cherry Hill Wildcats 12U girls head coach Katie Schmidt was most focused on the team’s improvement.
Composed of fifth and sixth graders, the 12U level is the one where teams open up to play across the full field, after a more basic style of play and introduction to the sport at the 8U and 10U levels. After a shortened and unusual season for last year’s fifth graders, who are now the older girls on the team, Schmidt simply wanted to get the players comfortable on the field.
“I wanted to make sure we really get them all comfortable on the full-field experience and, along with that, drill the fundamentals as much as possible to get them comfortable with their stick and moving with and without the ball on the field,” Schmidt said. “Plus, we wanted everyone on the team to feel comfortable out there and feel like they had a role on the team.”
Fortunately, the Wildcats did more than just get comfortable on the field this year; they excelled. For the first time in Cherry Hill program history, the 12U Wildcats had an undefeated year, going 16-0 during the regular season before defeating Kingsway 9-1 in the semifinals and Clearview 7-0 in the league championship title game.
This year’s roster included: Abbie Winters, Amaya Devenny, Amelia Johnson, Audrey Kosmaczewski, Ava Legato, Ella Boyle, Ella Hutchison, Emily Danauskas, Finley Green, Genevieve Lenny, Hayley Hughes, Lily Joy, Maci Bonanno, Maddie Brennan, Madelynn Young, Natalie Longo, Riley Fallon-Lewis, Sloane Schmidt, Sophia Donato and Stevie Ormsby.
About halfway through the regular season, the Wildcats began to play teams they’d already beaten once or twice, since their division consisted only of six teams.
After feeling like the players “went through the motions” in one of their wins, Schmidt and her assistant coaches Dianne Bonanno and Michelle Kosmaczewski adopted a team motto to keep heads in the game and at practice.
“The coaching staff at that point really wanted to focus on them getting better and growing as players, not just winning games,” Schmidt said, “so we kept saying, ‘Expect nothing, earn everything,’ and they really did exactly that this season.
“They pushed each other the entire season, and it was a really fun thing to watch them play together like they did.”
With the season over, Schmidt and her staff are working on ways to ensure that the girls’ accomplishment is properly recognized – potentially by the township council and the mayor – to commend their work and show them hard work does indeed pay off.
“I really want them to be able to celebrate this,” the coach said. “Who knows if and when this team will ever do something like this again, or if these girls will at another level, so that’s why I think it’s important that they get recognized and realize it themselves.”