June 19, 2024

With All Hands on Deck Due to Limited Roster, PDS Girls’ Lax Showed Skill, Grit in Going 15-6

QUICK ON THE DRAW: Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse players Kelly Christie, left, and Shelby Ruf go after a draw in a game this spring. Senior star Christie and junior standout Ruf starred in the midfield this year for PDS as it went 15-6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

As Lucia Marcozzi took the helm of the Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse program this spring, it was all hands on deck.

“It was so much fun, I am lucky with such a good group of girls,” said Marcozzi, a former Bucknell University women’s lax standout who has been coaching in club programs for several years. “It was such a small team that everyone had to do anything.”

That lack of depth hurt the Panthers as the fifth-seeded Panthers fell 14-9 to fourth-seeded to Saddle River Day in the quarterfinal round of the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Non-Public Group B tournament.

“In the second half, we were gassed, we didn’t have enough legs on the sideline,” said Marcozzi, noting the senior star midfielder Jesse Hollander and junior goalie Grace Ulrich were sidelined for the game due to injury and illness, respectively. “The girls fought hard, it was a fun game. It was an exciting game, it just didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to.”

The squad’s seniors — Tessa Caputo, Kelly Christie, Hollander, Katie Zarish-Yasunas, Maddy Flory, and Adriana Salzano — led the fight this spring as PDS went 15-6.

“All of them set such a huge standard for the program,” said Marcozzi. “I was pumped to be there that year for them.”

Fairfield University commit Caputo has set an incredible standard offensively, tallying 100 goals and 61 assists this year and ending her record-breaking career with 435 points on 275 goals and 160 assists.

“Tessa raised the bar for whoever is going to come in to try to break the scoring record” said Marcozzi.

The pair of Christie (48 goals and 24 assists in 2024) and Wesleyan University commit Hollander (47 goals, 18 assists) helped power the Panther midfield.

“Kelly and Jesse really had their shining year, I am sad that it was their senior year because I would have loved to have them again,” said Marcozzi. “They didn’t even realize how much they contributed to our offense, making the momentum go our way most of the time with their grit. They always wanted to be in. If they wanted water, I couldn’t afford to take them out because I needed them every minute. They were so competitive and so hungry on the draw. It was like that raw competitiveness that you don’t see all of the time in high school sports. It made me happy that they found their way and they started feeling like they were stars on the team.”

Zarish-Yasunas, who will be playing at Muhlenberg College next year, helped make the PDS attack go.

“Katie is so relaxed and calm,” said Marcozzi of Zarish-Yasunas, who had 17 goals and four assists this spring. “She knows the offense so well, she knows how to get the ball in the back of the net. She was a great source of calm that we had on our offense. During the Montclair Kimberley game in the Prep B final when things got crazy and we needed someone to control it, she was who we looked to.”

On defense, Flory helped calm things down. “Maddy is soft-spoken girl and she has a quiet confidence,” said Marcozzi. “She totally found her voice this year. With Shelby [Ruf] moving into the midfield after being a dominant defender, I think Maddy realized that this is my turn to step up, this is my senior year. She did a great job of it.”

Soccer star Salzano, who joined the program after PDS couldn’t field a softball team this spring, made an impact in her first year in the sport with her competitive spirit.

“Dre didn’t know how to hold a stick yet but she was still cheering people on, keeping the energy up, making sure that girls were running through plays and running through the line,” said Marcozzi of Salzano, who will be joining the Monmouth University women’s soccer program this fall. “With her competitive nature, I have never seen somebody like that. It is going to translate huge this fall at Monmouth. She is big, she is strong, and she is loud — everything that makes a great athlete. I am happy it translated for the year that we had her.”

Junior Ruf displayed her competitive nature this spring, tallying 38 goals and 12 assists as she moved up to the midfield.

“This was a huge transformative year for Shelby, just feeling like, ‘I can score and play defense, I can do anything at any side of the field,’” said Marcozzi. “I am really excited to see what Shelby can do next year. I look for her to be a leader and take the reins.”

Another junior, Natalia Soffer (11 goals, 6 assists in 2024), figures to be taking a bigger role in the midfield next year.

“Nat is great on the circle, she is very graceful,” said Marcozzi. “She is very smart, she knows exactly what she has to do. I think in her senior year, her confidence is going to go up. She is filling shoes of some of her best friends that are leaving.”

A trio of juniors — Cass Salas, Eliza Bailey, and goalie Ulrich — will need to step up on the back line.

“As for our defense, we have Cass there and we still have Eliza she is a seasoned defender,” said Marcozzi. “I think our defense is really going to help us next year because we have so many seasoned varsity players stepping into those open roles. The leadership of Cass, Eliza, and Grace will be key.”

Freshman Ava Fairbanks (20 goals, 8 assists) should help spark the attack next year.

“Ava is going to be a great player. She is young, so her ability to play with a team is still evolving,” said Marcozzi, who will also be looking to sophomore Lucia McKee (12 goals, 2 assists) to make a bigger impact on offense going forward. “She is going to come to next season with a different approach. She will have a little more confidence and play a little more team offense.”

For Marcozzi, taking a more flexible coaching approach helped her get the most of out her players.

“When we entered preseason, I had my brain on how I always coach, the offenses I run, the defenses I run,” said Marcozzi. “Coaching a whole high school season helped me evolve into playing personnel, playing to the group’s strengths. That worked well over the course of the season. It is going to be an even bigger challenge next year with a bunch of holes to fill. I think they will do a great job again because we have so many coming back and they are eager.”