June 19, 2024

Buoyed by Culture Change Under New Coach Chrisman, Hun Girls’ Lacrosse Produced Winning Campaign

COMING THROUGH: Hun School girls’ lacrosse player Olivia Kim, center, looks to elude two Lawrenceville defenders in the Mercer County Tournament semis. Senior star and Williams College commit Kim enjoyed a big final campaign, talking 57 goals and 11 assist to help the Raiders go 9-8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Although the Hun School girls’ lacrosse team ended the spring by losing nail-biters to local foes Princeton High and Princeton Day School, Geoff Chrisman appreciated the intensity and skill level displayed in the rivalry clashes.

“It was a lot of fun, it was definitely good Princeton crosstown lacrosse which is always awesome,” said Hun first year head coach Chrisman, a 2003 PHS alum who played lacrosse and football during his high school days. “You want to see it doing well. There is so much on the line, it feels like. Having played in games when I was here and now coaching in them, you get to feel that emotion. You are going to see those kids at Hoagie Haven. The girls are neighbors, they grew up with each other. They play club together.”

In the 14-10 loss to PHS, Hun was tied 6-6 with the Tigers at halftime but couldn’t close the deal in the second half.

“I think the team needs to learn how to finish,” said Chrisman. “It was a learning experience again in seizing our moments when we have them.”

In the finale against PDS, Hun rallied late before falling 16-15 to the Panthers.

“It was to just go out and have fun and sell out,” said Chrisman, whose team posted a final record of 9-8. “We didn’t end up winning, but being down a goal with a minute left we were able to force the turnover and score that goal. The girls showed that they were going to fight to the last minute and then PDS came up with that goal with four and a half seconds left in the game. It was an awesome game and PDS was able to finish. but we fought every minute, every second of that game , so I was really proud of them.”

Chrisman was proud of how his players came together this spring in his first season at the helm.

“I think the creation of our culture and the growth of our culture was tremendous,” said Chrisman. “Like I tell the girls, it is not about the school name, it is not about any coaches, it is about what they create. They created this tremendous culture. We talked about R-A-I-D which is responsibility, accountability, initiative, and determination. They lived up to that 100 percent with the things they are talking about in the offseason. They voted for their captains next year and they are already taking a leadership role.”

The squad’s senior group — which included Ava Olender, Olivia Kim, Kaia Diaz, Norah Kempson, Katie Borgstrum, Lauren Larkin, and Zoey Palmer — took a lead role in creating that culture.

“I think that they have created a legacy, especially with the fact that I think we have only had five or six winning seasons since 2000,” said Chrisman. “So for this senior class to have had winning seasons the last two years is awesome. It says a lot about the foundation that they built and the legacy that they are going to leave. It is here is the effort that you need to put in. Now the next group of girls can grow with that and take it to the next level.”

Senior stars Olender and Kim took their games to a higher level this spring as Olender tallied 69 goals and 31 assists while Kim contributed 57 goals and 11 assists.

“The way they play, the way they lead, is amazing and then you take into account that both of them are top scorers,” said Chrisman, noting that Tufts University commit Olender is in the top 5 all-time in scoring for Hun (238 points on 181 goals and 57 assists) while Williams College commit Kim is in the Top 10 (216 points on 180 goals and 36 assists).

“You are talking about players who are not selfish and are awesome leaders and then they have the stats to back it up. Those are the players you want in your program. They are girls who are going to hold other girls accountable the right way.”

Hun boasts a good group of girls coming back in sophomore standouts Aspen Swanson (32 goals, 25 assists in 2024), Emma Stowe (16 goals, 5 assists), Keaton Vales (11 goals, 5 assists), Arielle Knapik (4 goals, 3 assists), and goalie Julia Wolfe (148 saves) along with junior defender Dana Trotter.

“That core group of sophomores is going to be such a tremendous group, it is everything you want moving forward,” said Chrisman. “The girls voted and they picked Trotta, Swanson, and Stowe as captains for next year. They all bring different things to the table. Even beyond those three, there is so much leadership, especially in that rising junior class with Keaton, Arielle, and Julia. There is just such a core of girls that are committed to making the program special. All of their priorities are culture. They know that spending the time together, doing the things in the offseason, and how they treat each other is critical.”

Stowe emerged as a rising star this spring. “We had switched her from defense to midfield, I think she was a little nervous in the beginning,” said Chrisman. “Once she realized her athletic ability and her strengths, she took off. She became that do-it-all player for us. She is very athletic, big, and strong. She can clear the ball well, she assisted, and she scored some goals. She was great. She has a huge ceiling. I think she is going to keep exploding the next two years.”

The play of Swanson this season was a revelation as she also capitalized on her athletic ability.

“We moved her from the defensive side down to attack,” said Chrisman. “Her vision is unreal, being able to read things coming up. She hit cutters all the time. Once other teams realized that she could feed, it left a lot open for her to cut, to catch, and to finish. She is going to be an absolute special player.”

In goal, Wolfe made great strides in her first varsity campaign.

“Julia had a tremendous season, I didn’t know what the goalie situation was really going to look like coming in, and then I got to see her a little bit in the winter,” said Chrisman. “We put out a plan in the beginning — this is what we need to work on. She embraced it and then down in Florida I was like, ‘She is going to be special.’ She is still learning to be a goalie and really the big thing is that she just continues to get better and get comfortable and get reps. She has already set out her goals for the offseason and is doing those things.”

The main goal going forward for the Raiders is making the most of every moment in the heat of competition.

“The idea is that we now need to create consistency, this year we played moments at really high levels,” said Chrisman. “The big goal for them is that we need to develop so we can play consistently all of the time. We can’t miss those big ground balls. We can’t screw up on a clear. It has to be ‘now let’s create consistency, let’s welcome our new girls in,’ and begin to push that.”

For Chrisman, the welcome he got from his players as he took over the program was a sign of good things to come.

“Everywhere you go, kids are kids and you hope that they are going to buy in,” said Chrisman, who has previously coached at PHS, WW/P-South, and North Hunterdon. “They bought in so quickly and more than I could have ever ask for in year one, especially the seniors. It is difficult as a senior when you get a new coach. They were great. When we talked about their goals for the season, they basically matched up with what I wanted to do. They helped take that to the next level. I think the program is going to be in a better place because of this.”