Despite NJSIAA loss, that win and 14-5 record exceed expectations
Coming into the 2023 season, the Cinnaminson High School girls lacrosse team had a major goal: a win in the Burlington County Scholastic League (BCSL).
On the totem pole of achievements and success, the Pirates had yet to capture the BCSL title, but the season held promise before the team traveled to face Holy Cross Prep on opening day, April 3.
What had stood in Cinnaminson’s way for five seasons were Rancocas Valley’s Red Devils, the reigning five-time league champions. But with their move to the Olympic Conference, a golden opportunity presented itself, one the Pirates didn’t want to squander.
“I knew that I had such a core group of great young workhorses,” Cinnaminson head coach Laura Curran said. “I knew they were led by such great seniors last year. Our ultimate goal has always been to make a run at the division. Last year, we really started speaking it out loud that we’re getting to that point now …
“The division was now more real than it had been in the past.”
Cinnaminson didn’t just win the BSCL title, it dominated, going a perfect 7-0 in league play to secure itself a spot in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Group I South Jersey playoffs.
The Pirates came in as an underdog, seeded 10th and facing seventh-seed Woodstown in the first round. But the underdogs turned into top dogs, taking down the Wolverines, 8-7, in overtime.
Cinnaminson’s postseason run ended in the second round against No. 2-seeded Madison, but a 14-5 record and a league title exceeded the expectations of many.
“We worked toward it as a team, motivating each other to reach that goal,” rising junior Megan Nelson explained. “Once we reached that goal on April 25, it felt really good … We all stormed the field and jumped around, celebrating with each other.”
Nelson was one of a number of Pirates to take on larger roles this season, after the team lost nearly half its scoring with the graduations of Veronica Campbell and Jenna Averil. But Nelson stepped up, notching 57 points as a precursor to her 2023 achievement.
The 2025 class for Cinnaminson girls lacrosse led by Nelson is a strong one. Any worries about scoring trouble dissipated as five of the team’s players – four of them sophomores – recorded at least 30 points.
“Last season, our veterans set the tone on the field,” Nelson recalled. “A lot of my teammates this year stepped up into bigger roles. There were big shoes to fill and I think everyone did a good job of filling those shoes. …
“For me, I told myself that I needed to have a bigger leadership role this season because I was one of the freshmen who played varsity last season.”
Nelson was top scorer, with 58 goals in 19 games and a seventh-place finish in the BSCL with 78 points.
“I think what’s so special about Megan is that she’s such a student of the game,” Curran observed. “She is always willing to accept criticism or accept advice from anyone at any level of experience. Megan is so open to learn and to get better. She wants to get better.
“You can see that she’s very determined, very focused.”
Behind Nelson was Ava Sztenderowicz, who scored 36 goals en route to a 50- plus point season. Fellow sophomore Eva Barbich had 32 goals of her own, creating a three-headed monster of talent.
That doesn’t even account for additional depth in players like Sophia Gonzalez, who recorded 36 points; Suri Horner, another 30-plus scorer; and Madelyn Hubbard, with 13 goals.
“Of my starting 12, I think nine of them were in new positions,” Curran pointed out. “I really had to change a lot structurally what the field looked like and I had players who barely got any time playing varsity as a freshman playing every minute as a sophomore …
“We were all on the same page.”
It was a perfect storm of success that led Cinnaminson lacrosse to this year’s run, even while a second-round NJSIAA loss to Madison left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. But despite being the underdog coming in, the Pirates had a new goal in mind once they achieved their preseason goals: a sectional title that would be the first in program history.
With a stacked roster headed into 2024, optimism is high.
“I’m feeling really confident about next year,” Nelson said. “The majority of our starters this season were sophomores. I think it’s really cool, because we’ve all been playing together for years. We’re all friends on and off the field. It’s cool to be a part of. …
“We all push each other to get better and we all have a desire to better ourselves,” she added. “Working during the season and in the off-season, we’ll be really strong next year.”