U.S. Naval Academy commit Anna Gotterup, left, has been among New Jersey's leaders with 90 goals and 112 points this season. Courtesy photo
U.S. Naval Academy commit Anna Gotterup, left, has been among New Jersey's leaders with 90 goals and 112 points this season. Courtesy photo

When the Red Bank Catholic girls lacrosse team graduated three All-Shore Conference players from last year’s 16-5 team that reached the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals, expectations for this year were not off the charts.

But with an NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A Tournament first-round game with Somerville’s Immaculata looming on May 23, the Caseys possess a 13-6 record after winning 11 of their last 14 games.

Much of that success has been made possible by the titanic trio of seniors Anna Gotterup and Lauren O’Brien and sophomore Makenna Graham.  

“All three are returning starters,” coach Troy Madison said. “We kind of knew what we had coming back. Lauren and Anna are on the midfield line and Makenna’s an attacker primarily. They’ve all improved from last year.

“I think we’ve overachieved this season. We replaced three three-year starters who would have started four years if not for COVID. So if you’re an outsider you’re thinking, ‘They’ll miss a beat, they’re not gonna be what they were.’ But from my standpoint we’ve had a great year; we’ve over-achieved in certain areas. We are young, but in the 20 years I’ve done this, it’s been one of my most fun years of coaching.”

It starts with Gotterup, who will take her skills to Annapolis, Md., to play for the U.S. Naval Academy next year. Gotterup is among New Jersey’s top 20 players in both points (112) and goals (90), and has 148 career goals after scoring 50 last year.

She has been the beneficiary of strong play from Graham, who has 62 goals and a team-high 39 assists, after collecting 29 goals and eight assists as a freshman.

Then there is O’Brien, who will play for Division II Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., next spring. O’Brien has 24 goals and leads the team with 69 draw controls.

After coming together for the first time last season, the three developed cohesion over the winter.  

“They put a team in a winter league, and I would talk to them on a weekly basis and see how things were going,” Madison said. “Anna would always tell me that the chemistry was improving. She was telling me how McKenna was really stepping up and someone we could rely on a lot playing behind the goal. She said Lauren was doing great on the draws. Since all that kind of fell into place it’s been good.

“They played some last year, but I think we knew we would get more success from junior to senior year, especially with Lauren knowing she would have a more prominent role taking the draws,” the coach continued. “And McKenna broke her collarbone last year late in the season. She recovered very nicely and is a welcome addition to the program coming back.”

O’Brien transferred from Holmdel, so last year was her first with RBC. When the Caseys’ top draw control girls graduated, Lauren was being counted on heavily to gain possession for her team this season.

“She was a jack of all trades last year,” Madison said. “She gave us depth because she could play midfield, attack, and a little defense. She could play anywhere.”

But with her length of nearly six feet, the coach knew she could be effective on the draw and O’Brien worked hard on that in the off-season.  

“We can also utilize her height from behind the net,” Madison said. “She could be a passer, roll the cage and score. She probably should have 10 to 12 more goals. She’s been unlucky. She’s hit a couple posts, some goalies made great saves on her.

“Her stats are maybe not as classy as Anna or Makenna … but Lauren’s had some big games for us. She’s someone who really stepped up and been a third option for us.”

Graham has been impressive as Option 1A behind Gotterup. The sophomore showed promise last year and scored some big goals by rolling the crease. This year, she has looked to be more of a distributor but has also been able to put the ball in the back of the net.

“It’s been a welcome addition,” Madison said. “Her game has grown as far as being a feeder. She’s been looking to be the one who passes from behind the cage and finding cutters as they come through the eight.

“For her to do that and step up has been great. She’s even jumped in a couple times on the draw,” he noted. “She might be someone next year who we look at as taking the draw. … Any type of pick-and-roll set or give-and-go, she’s been great at assisting. I don’t think we’d be as good as we are if we didn’t have someone like her that can see from behind the goal down there.”

And they also wouldn’t be where they were without the skills and leadership of Gotterup, whose work ethic sets an example for the entire team.

“Anna is just non-stop,” Madison said. “With her motor ... she’s always going 100 miles an hour whether in a game, doing practice stretches, doing warm-ups. She’s always the one trying to pump everybody up. There’s no difference from her in practice to game day.”

It boggles the mind to think what Gotterup’s statistics might be had she not missed her sophomore year due to the COVID shutdown. As a freshman she scored a modest eight goals and nine assists, but Madison felt she would make a huge jump the next year until it got canceled.  

“As a freshman it took her a couple games to learn the speed of varsity lacrosse,” the coach said. “She lost that next year, but her skill set has really grown since freshman year. Last year was phenomenal, this year she came back and is even better. She’s so fast. Her footwork, agility, one-on-one ability and the way she shoots it, as hard as she shoots it – it’s incredible.”  

And when she is teamed with Graham and O’Brien, it becomes all the more incredible.