Gianna Monaco remembers all too well what it felt like following a 16-10 season-opening win over Cherry Hill West to start her senior year at Lenape this past spring.
Despite registering a game-high six goals in the effort, Monaco didn’t feel right. She didn’t feel as fast, she didn’t feel as strong, and most importantly, she didn’t feel as confident. The senior had spent months rehabbing from a hip injury that she sustained midway through her junior year, but had continued to play on until the end of the season.
Throughout her junior season, the injury only got worse and more painful as time went on, affecting Monaco on and off the field. Each passing day ultimately made the recovery period that much more difficult and intense during the summer before her senior year.
“After I got the surgery after the end of that season, it was a long recovery time, about six months,” Monaco said. “During that first month or so, I was basically relearning how to walk again. It was a long mental and physical game unlike anything I’ve gone through.
“So after that first game (over West), I hit a breaking point, because I felt like it was one of the worst games I’d played just based on how I felt …” Monaco added. “I [had thoughts that] I was never going to be the same player that I was before.
“I couldn’t dodge the same, shoot the same, take draws the same … It was all mental.”
In the long recovery period post-surgery, Monaco’s first game back in her Lenape jersey didn’t feel the same. But reassuring words from her family, friends and coaches motivated Monaco to keep going, and to have her most successful season to date.
For that, Monaco is South Jersey Sports Weekly’s 2021-’22 Girls Lacrosse Player of the Year.
This season, Monaco scored 130 goals – the second most in the state – to break the lacrosse program’s single-season record. She also set the program’s career record marks for both goals (312) and draw controls (293), feats even more impressive given that her sophomore season was lost to the pandemic.
Monaco averaged just over seven goals per game, with her season low for goals in a single game being four, good for the team-high in the one and only game in which she scored four goals this past season.
For head coach Jill McCarthy, there’s no question as to how important the recent graduate was to the team during her three years on the field.
“She has such a unique ability to take over games,” McCarthy said. “If we need a goal, there’s no one else on the field that I want to give the ball to but her, and I know she’ll get it done … There’s things you can’t teach that she just naturally has.”
Having just finished her 15th season at the helm for the Indians, the longtime head coach said there’s also no question as to which player over her coaching career she would most trust the ball with at the end of a game.
“It’s her 100 percent,” McCarthy said. “We just knew she wouldn’t turn the ball over and that she’d make good decisions with the ball, ultimately finding the net. She has a lacrosse IQ that is so far beyond her years.
“It was pretty unbelievable to watch.”
This year, Monaco and her Lenape teammates got revenge for their semifinal sectional exit from the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 4 playoffs last year by defeating Cherokee in a nail-biting 14-13 finish that earned the program its first sectional title since 2015.
Monaco, who will attend the University of Florida this fall, said the sectional title was a perfect ending to a worthwhile season.
“After everything that I went through and our team as a whole, this was our best season yet, both record wise but also chemistry wise as well,’’ she said. “We were all one big family this season. That’s what helped us become so good on the field. Otherwise, I don’t think we would’ve won that sectional title.
“For me personally,” Monaco added, “it felt so rewarding to come off that injury and be able to win that sectional title with my team, too.”