It was truly a season of change for Verona on many levels, starting with filling the holes left by the departure of three senior starters from 2017 to Division I programs: midfielders Ava Anderson (to Cornell) and Dana Pena (Rutgers) and defender Giuliana Frizzi (Vermont). If that wasn’t enough, the team also lost their starting goalie from 2017 right before the season started. But the team adjusted and answered the bell, with senior defender CC Courter moving to midfield for the first time and senior attack Maggie Ashley returning from injury to help fill the void on offense. Sophomore goalie Skyler Freedman started her first varsity game in the season opener on the road at Columbia, a 10-8 win for Verona. Freedman was a pleasant surprise, coming from JV last year to starting varsity this season and amassing 121 saves in her debut season.
The Hillbillies finished the 2018 campaign with a 10-8 overall record and a 5-1 Freedom Conference South finish, good for second place in the league. But a deeper dive into those numbers reveals a much stronger season than what meets the eye. Verona, as a Group 1 school, plays, pound for pound, a very difficult schedule of opponents each season and 2018 was no different, with four Group 4 schools–Columbia, Morris Knolls, Essex County power Montclair and Mount Olive (17-2 this season); two Group 3 schools–West Essex and Roxbury (15-6); and three Group 2 programs–Caldwell, Lakeland (14-5) and Madison (13-6) and Essex County Champion Glen Ridge, which spent a few weeks ranked #18 in the Star Ledger Top 20 for the state. Seven of Verona’s eight losses were by three goals or less, against some of their toughest opponents, including Glen Ridge (13-11), Montclair (9-8), Mount Olive (11-8), West Essex (10-8) and Roxbury (13-10).
The girls showed a high compete level all season especially in the losses, many times battling back from large deficits to almost pull off the upset in in these hotly contested games. Despite the tough overall schedule, the Lady Hillbillies won six of their first seven games and by mid-May were ranked as the #7 team in all of Group 1, earning them a #3 seed for the Group 1, Section 2 state playoffs.
The signature wins from this year were a 9-8 road win over a 14-5 Lakeland team, a 15-3 romp over Cedar Grove in the Essex County Tournament (the first ever meeting between the longtime rivals in the sport of girls lacrosse), a commanding 11-7 win over Montclair Kimberley after losing to MKA, 9-8, just two days before in the ECT, allowing them to clinch second place in the Freedom Conference South in front of the Cougars, a dominant 18-10 win over Caldwell on Verona’s Senior Night which saw all five VHS seniors score goals in the contest, and a 15-8 conquest of a good Morris Catholic team that made it all the way to the Semifinal round of the Group1, Section 1 state tournament.
One of the trademarks of this team, compared to previous seasons, was a more balanced, team-oriented offensive approach that produced an increase in goals from 2017, 201 to 205 this year, and more noticeably in team assists from 54 in 2017 to almost double the amount with105 in 2018, reflecting an offense that spread the ball around and had many more players find the score sheet in games throughout the season.
Senior captain Cecilia “CC” Courter, playing midfield for the first time after starting the previous three seasons on defense, led the Hillbillies in goals with 54 and overall points with 74, while also adding 20 assists. Courter tallied three or more goals in 12 of Verona’s 18 games, providing a consistent offensive threat throughout the season, while also forming one of the most dominant draw circle duos in the area with sophomore midfielder Maggie Lonsinger to give the Hillbillies a decided advantage in the critical draw control component in just about every game this season. Fellow senior captain Maggie Ashley returned from a knee injury after missing all of her junior season and was a vital part of the offense, despite still not being 100% healthy, scoring 33 goals while leading the team in assists with 25 to total 58 points overall. Lonsinger filled the role of Super Soph with unofficially over 170 draw controls to her credit, while scoring 30 goals and 17 assists for 40 points. Seniors Ashley Nigro (17 goals, three assists: 20 points), Jenna Staranka (six goals, 1 assist: 7 points) and defender Clare O’Farrell (one goal) made contributions throughout the season as well.
Though the Hillbillies lose just two senior starters from this year’s graduating class, they are big losses as both Courter (headed to St. Francis University) and Ashley (Bucknell) will be playing Division I college lacrosse on scholarships next season. “Strength in Numbers” could be the team motto in 2019 as seven junior starters will return to bring a deep and experienced senior class next year to provide a nice core to build around. On offense, Sarah Carlucci (17 goals, three assists, 20 points), Emily Coppola (12 goals, two assist, 14 points), Julia Mackey (11 goals, 17 assists, 28 points), Ally Madigan (14 goals, 13 assists, 27 points) will return while Lara Tole ( 4 goals, two assists, six points), Maeve McGinley and Erin Kiernan (four goals) will solidify the defense.
Lonsinger will likely take on an even bigger role after her standout sophomore campaign and, in two years, she will be joined by her sister, Bridget
, an incoming freshman, potentially creating one of the more dynamic sister combinations in New Jersey high school girls lacrosse next year. Another rising star out of the sophomore class this year was defender Clara Frizzi, who seemed to get better with each game, playing with confidence and speed and helping fill the void left on the defense when Courter was moved to midfield at the start of the season. Jenika Ying, who saw time on varsity in several games this year, and Maddie Gallagher, a standout on the junior varsity, are two other names that could see bigger roles in 2019.
Photos copyright Andy Yeates. Used by permission.
NOTE: A previous version of this story said that Bridget Lonsinger will be a freshman this fall. She will only be an 8th grader.