Coach Braniecki: We’re pretty deep with talent
(March 17, 2017) The Stephen Decatur girls’ lacrosse team made it to the 3A/2A state championship game in 2015 and the semifinal round last year. This season, the Lady Seahawks are hungry for a state title and they have the talent to win it.
“It’s definitely the deepest team we’ve had in a long time,” said Coach Sara Braniecki, now in her second season at the helm. “We have a ton of talent, from the freshmen to the juniors and seniors. The girls are working hard because they want to be on the field. It’s another level of work ethic and desire.”
Sixteen of the 23 players on Braniecki’s roster are returners from last season when the team went 15-2. The Seahawks captured their third consecutive 3A/2A East Regional championship and second straight Bayside Conference title. They lost 11-10 to Oakdale in the state semifinals.
While the Decatur attack and midfield is solid as usual, Braniecki said the “defense looks stronger than it has in the past.”
“I also think a strength is that we have even more talent on the bench. We’re pretty deep with talent,” she said.
The team is led by nine experienced seniors. Six of them have signed a National Letter of Intent to play either Division I or Division II lacrosse for their respective colleges.
“They’re totally committed to Stephen Decatur lacrosse,” Braniecki said. “We have a lot of leadership. They have big plans and they lead with that in mind.”
Returning on the attack are seniors Claire Porter, Logan Figgs and Brigitte Ardis. Senior Victoria Kerkovich recently had foot surgery and hopes to be back in action at the end of the month.
Porter led the Seahawks last year with 108 points (48 goals and 60 assists) and she hopes to do the same in 2017. Porter, who will play for Div. I Old Dominion University next year, received All-Bayside South First Team accolades for her performance during the 2016 season.
“I’ve been playing with most of the starters my whole life since club lacrosse so we’re all very experienced together and we all work very well together. I think that will help take us pretty far this year,” said Porter, a four-year Decatur lacrosse player. “We have a few new girls and I think we’re all clicking well.
“It’s my last year and I’m going to miss playing with all these girls,” she continued. “We definitely want to make it to states. We made it sophomore year and last year we made it to the semis. I think we want a little bit of redemption this year.”
Kerkovich (Div. II, Indiana University of Pennsylvania) and Ardis also earned Bayside South First Team honors last year. Figgs was named to the Second Team.
Senior midfielder Lexie VanKirk hopes to start playing in a few weeks. She has been sidelined with a broken hand, which happened during the basketball season. VanKirk (Bayside First Team) led the team in goal with 52 last year. She had 28 assists as well. She has committed to Div. I James Madison University.
Senior Christina Romano (First Team) would also like to return to the field soon as she is battling a hip injury. She is headed to Div. I George Mason University to play lacrosse.
Freshman midfielder Sarah Engle is a newcomer who will “add something big to the team,” Braniecki said.
Juniors Chloe Sass (Second Team) and Lily Belle Baker, who is new to the squad, will play defense and in the midfield.
Senior Jillian Mitrecic (First Team) will help lead the defense along with her twin sister, Sara (Second Team), who will play in the goal. The have both committed to Div. II Queens University of Charlotte.
“I’ve been a goalie almost my whole life,” said Mitrecic, a four-year member of the team. “As a goalie, you see pretty much the whole field. I talk to [the defense], communicate what we did right, what we did wrong, what changes to make, slides, and stuff in that aspect to help my defense out.
“Even in practice if there’s an attacker who drives to goal and maybe they don’t make it or I save it, I try to pull them aside and [give them some advice],” she added. “We have some new girls and they’re getting used to everything.”
Braniecki said the Seahawks have the potential to get back to the state championship game.
“It’s a big goal, but I don’t think it’s out of reach,” she said. “I’m excited. We have high expectations and we’ll see where it goes.”