May 31, 2023

Sparked by a Balanced, Talented Attack Unit, Hun Girls’ Lax Ended Season on a High Note

ABBY ROAD: Hun School girls’ lacrosse player Abby O’Brien heads upfield in a game this spring. Senior attacker and Stevens Institute of Technology-bound O’Brien scored a team-high 66 points this spring on 50 goals and 16 assists to help Hun go 10-6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

After the Hun School girls’ lacrosse team fell 8-7 in overtime to Notre Dame in the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals, the squad could have got through the motions as it ended the season with two regular season contests.

Instead, Hun saved its best for last, topping Robbinsville 13-9 on May 10 and then defeating Princeton High 18-11 in its season finale on May 16.

“I think the game against Notre Dame was so strong and so even keeled, those two games afterward felt like a celebration,” said Hun head coach Kathleen Jaeger, who guided the Raiders to a final record of 10-6. “It was, ‘you worked so hard all season, here is a time to have fun and see what we could do in our last two efforts.’ It was really nice to see a lot of different things happen, a lot of assists, and a lot of different types of goals.”

In the win over crosstown rival PHS, the Raiders featured a lot of different offensive weapons as Olivia Kim scored six goals with Ava Olender tallying five goals and an assist, Maggie Maffia chipping in three goals and an assist, and Abby O’Brien contributing two goals and two assists.

“Both teams score a lot, it was one of those where it was pretty quick back and forth,” said Jaeger. “It was a nice day to see the seniors go out with a bang. You saw a lot of different goal scorers that game. It was what we wanted to get out of it, just trying some different things, running some plays that maybe we didn’t go to during the season so that they really got to experiment and have fun and learn.”

Capping the season with two victories was a lot of fun for Hun.

“You would hope that the end of the season is the peak of your team,” said Jaeger. “We are very lucky that even though the county and state tournament didn’t go as well as one could hope that we were still able to end on two wins. That doesn’t really happen very often.”

Hun was lucky to have an attack spearheaded by the trio of senior O’Brien (50 goals, 16 assists this season), junior Kim (52 goals, 12 assists), and junior Olender (36 goals, 5 assists).

“I think one of our biggest positives is that we didn’t have just one key person, especially on our attacking end,” said Jaeger. “We were able to rely on a bunch of different people with our leaders being Abby, Olivia, and Ava. It is nice that those attackers in addition to the others all play different roles. If one girl is hot one day, then the others can switch and be more feeders or playmakers that day. It is definitely nice that they had that skill and lax knowledge to make it all happen.”

The squad’s senior group of O’Brien, Angelina Vitale, Tylr Neely, Maggie Maffia, and Kaitlyn Kigin set a nice tone for the season.

“It is a very strong group, we are going to need to do a lot of work to replace them,” said Jaeger. “Playing for four years, you are a
seasoned player at that point. They were really fortunate and I was really fortunate that they played a similar role the three years that I was their coach. They were starters from their sophomore year. The poise that they carried this year was something that taught the underclassmen how to deal with a lot of challenges.”

Senior goalie Vitale faced a lot of challenges this season as she was sidelined in the early stages of the campaign.

“Angelina started out this season where she was dealing with an injury so she couldn’t be on the field to really help the team and support everybody,” said Jaeger. “She had to learn a new role of being on the sideline and being that leader from not being able to play. She played the second half of the season. She came back in the end of April, she just decided that she was ready to play and ready to do what she could to finish out the season. We were really glad that she was able to do that and step up because she is a very strong goalie.”

On the back line, star defender Nelly gave the Raiders some strong play. “Neely is a force, I think her size and her height are going to propel her into that college level,” said Jaeger of Neely who is headed to the Coast Guard Academy where she will be joining its women’s lax program.

“Knowing that she is going to a military academy is a small percentage of who she really is. She is definitely that leader. She is the one that when we have players who have never played before on the first day of the year, she was there helping them rather than jumping right in herself. She is a great character and a hard worker.”

Able to go full speed this spring, O’Brien saved her best for last.

“O’Brien was dealing with an injury last season that took a toll,” said Jaeger noting that O’Brien is a Stevens Institute of Technology commit. “She was ready this season to jump back into it and give it her all. She is one that got the attack going in different times. She had that energy, that spark.”

Maffia, who tallied 21 goals and nine assists, gave the Raiders a spark with her versatility.

“Maffia is so reliable, she is definitely somebody that consistently plays on both ends of the field,” said Jaeger. “She was a huge draw taker. She would switch up what she was doing based on what we needed, that is nice to have.”

The fifth senior, Kigin (8 goals, 2 assists), played an important role as well.

“I would say that she is the energy,” said Jaeger. “We relied on her for that. She got everybody going. Although her stats don’t reflect it, she was also consistent on the field. She was a nice addition to the group.”

Returning the one-two punch of Kim and Olender going forward gives Hun a solid foundation to build on at the offensive end of the field.

“Knowing that they are playing on the same club team this year as well that will continue to really bond them,” said Jaeger. “They work well together and they read each other really well which makes my job a whole lot easier.”

A pair of freshman, Aspen Swanson (8 goals, 8 assists) and Arielle Knapik (5 goals, 4 assists), did a good job this spring.

“I feel like Aspen is a really important one to note, she has really excelled,” said Jaeger. “You would never know by watching her play that she is a freshman, you could see that the other girls felt that way too. Arielle has good potential. This year was all about her learning how to play at that higher level. I am really excited to watch her now have that confidence and bonding with other girls.”

The way the Hun players have bonded has Jaeger fired up about the future.

“Something that I am really big on is building that team environment and that team chemistry because ultimately that is the basis of anything we are going to accomplish,” said Jaeger. “I am excited that most of the returners have had at least one year all together so we have that already established. Then it is just being willing to take risks, that is a huge thing moving forward, and something that is really important to continue build our program. I am excited and the girls are excited about it too.”