By Rich Fisher | Contributing Editor
The St. Rose of Belmar girls lacrosse team is proving that one thing definitely leads to another.
Another win, that is.
The Purple Roses have burst from the gate with a 7-0 record to match their victory total from last year’s 7-10 season. St. Rose had five straight losing seasons since a 6-6 finish in 2013, and enjoyed its only winning record of this decade at 8-7 in 2012.
The players are not only taking one game at a time, they are doing one thing at a time.
“They just started from day one improving and improving and improving,” said David Dudzinski, now in his second year as head coach after guiding Shore Regional to two straight state finals. “I told them at practice you can only get better at one thing at a time. If it’s ground balls you want to get better at, work on ground balls. If you want to get better catching with your left hand, then it’s just working on your left hand. So they’ve taken that under advisement, and they do it every day.”
It is those practice sessions that have played a big part in the Roses’ revival, which has been Dudzinski’s philosophy.
“Last year, we set a goal of 10 wins and we didn’t quite make it; we lost three games by one goal and we were in a different division with some really good programs,” he said. “The goal I set for them this year wasn’t wins and losses or titles, it was just to improve every day. I basically said, ‘Come to practice like it’s your job; get your job done.’”
Despite having just one senior (defender Darby Speno), St. Rose is a veteran group as most of them played together last year as sophomores. The Roses began gaining confidence from the first week, as they defeated Red Bank Regional 11-10 in overtime and Middletown South, 5-4.
“When you win those one-goal games it gives you a lot more confidence,” Dudzinski said.
Since the two one-goal wins, St. Rose has exploded, winning its next five games by a combined 81-20. Jill Vescegila is the team’s leading goal scorer with 24, and also has 10 assists and a team-high 42 draw controls. Avery Morgan is the top overall scorer with 19 goals and 18 assists for 37 points. Other offensive threats are Olivia Stoddard (12 goals, 13 assists, 25 points), Oliva Peters (15, 4, 19), Anna Cahill (10, 2, 12) and Keara Reilly (7, 2, 9).
Defensively, Reilly, Grace Webster, Emma Coakley and Speno have led the way in front of goalie Allison Darcy. For the most part, the defense has protected Darby, who only had to make 21 saves in her last five games. But when the goalie had to come up big to start the season, she did by making a combined 26 saves against Red Bank and Middletown South.
Dudzinski had a good feeling about his team coming into this year. “This year, they’ve just been playing really well together.