June 24, 2020

As PDS Girls’ Lacrosse Dealt with Lost Spring, Special Group of Seniors Kept Leading the Way

BLUE SKY: Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse player Skylar Mundenar goes after the ball in a 2019 game. Senior star Mundenar was primed for a big final campaign this spring before the season got canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Jill Thomas was expecting her Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse team to experience many special moments at Smoyer Field this spring.

“They really, really had it all going on,” said PDS head coach Thomas, who guided the Panthers to an 8-7 record in 2019 as they made the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals and the state Prep B semis.

“I just knew that it was going to be one of those years. A lot of people are about stats but these guys were all about themselves and their year.”

But after two weeks of preseason, the year took a stunning turn as schools were closed in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the spring season was subsequently canceled.

Although the PDS players have been confined to home, they did get to enjoy a very special moment at Smoyer.

“They got to pick up their gear at school; we put it out on the bench six feet apart,” recalled Thomas.

“Tracy [assistant coach Tracy Young], myself and Kira [Dudeck], who is the JV coach, were there and we sat at Smoyer on the field six feet apart and everyone came and picked up their gear. They did all the social distancing things. That was really special to see. Google Meet is great but to actually see kids and wave and say hi was great.”

Thomas and her players have developed a special Google Meet routine.

“We stay connected all spring, it has been great,” said Thomas. “It is the best part of my weekend to see all the girls. We have Google Meet Saturday and Sunday mornings at 11. We have been doing it like it is a habit. On Saturday, it has just been varsity but on Sunday we include the whole program with the JV players so they have something to look forward to and see the seniors.”

Those sessions have involved both physical and emotional activities.

“Darius Young [the school’s Director of Athletic Performance] put together workouts so we start with that on Saturday and then he has a workout for the week,” said Thomas.

“For a couple of Sundays, one of the parents did yoga with us. We have done all kinds of things, we shared our favorite quote, we shared our favorite athletic moment at PDS. We have a play list every year that play when we are at home and have the speakers so we made a play list. Everyone shared it and Darius put it together. These seniors have been great about it, the team has been great about it. The expectation is that you will be there so they are. That is really cool.”

The squad’s group of seniors, Skylar Mundenar, Julia Lach, Ellie Schofield, Maddie Izzard, Maggie Madani, and Carly Kunkle, had been doing a great job all year long.

“We came off a little disappointment last year, losing down at Trinity Hall [in the Prep B semis] and these kids decided in early fall that you know what, we are going to get back there,” said Thomas.

“They worked out in the winter, they played in the winter league in the bubble. They were working clinics to raise funds for our spring trip. They were just having a really good time with it. They were working out one morning a week and one afternoon a week all winter long so they were really pumped.”

Those efforts will be recognized in writing and on film. “We are going to go to school again and we have prepared a small book for all of the kids with memories of the season and we included all of the workouts, the quotes, and athletic memories,” said Thomas, viewing that as keepsake showing how the players remained as a team this spring despite not getting in one game.

“For the seniors, we had everybody write a thank you or what they wanted to say as a tribute to the seniors. I did our senior videos; Tracy filmed me under the Smoyer scoreboard. I gave kudos to each of the seniors and all of that. My only regret was that I couldn’t hand them a yellow rose and give them a hug as we always do on Senior Day.”

While Thomas regrets not getting the chance to see those seniors go out in a blaze of glory on the field, she will focus on the bonds forged this spring.

“We are in a different time and a different world but sports has stood the test of the time,” asserted Thomas.

“There is nothing like teamwork, being together, working for a goal and being there for one another all the time. I think that is the best part of sport, that is why it is so important. I would say ‘you know what girls, show up, you are making my day. I can’t wait for Saturday at 11, I can’t wait for Sunday, sending out the Google Meets and knowing you are coming and seeing your faces.’ The skills and all of that stuff, you can develop. It will always be a work in progress starting every winter. But that connectedness is the best thing.”