By Rich Fisher | Contributing Editor
One day before its opening season, the Notre Dame High girls’ lacrosse team got terrible news – and turned it into motivation.
One hour before the 2nd-seeded Irish’s NJSIAA Group III Central championship game, the team got wonderful news – and turned it into a celebration.
The result was a 10-6 victory over top-seeded Red Bank Regional May 24, giving the Lawrenceville-based school its second sectional title in three years.
Throughout the season, the motto was #SeibelStrong in honor of senior teammate Lauren Seibel. On March 2, Irish coach Brian Fisher was stunned to learn that Seibel was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and would miss the season while undergoing treatment.
“You feel like you’ve got all this positive stuff going on, and you’re ready to go and it’s a new season with a great bunch of kids,” Fisher said. “The day before we start preseason, we find out Lauren is sick.”
Using their friend’s battle as impetus, Notre Dame grinded through the regular season and rallied for a 9-4 CJ III semifinal win over Allentown.
“It was something that’s bonded this group all season long, and we got great support from all around the state, with other teams reaching out to us,” Fisher said.
On May 23, the Irish made the hour bus trip to Red Bank only to find out the game was postponed due to weather. The next day, one hour before the rescheduled game was set to be played, Fisher got a text photo from Seibel.
“She sent it to us at 4 o’clock for a 5 o’clock game,” Fisher said. “She told us she was done with the treatment. She’s done chemo, done radiation. Her mom [Kim] said, ‘We have no more treatment and are feeling blessed.’ I pulled the team in and showed them the picture of Lauren getting a transfusion, which was why she couldn’t be there. And I think it really inspired the girls. You could see how it lifted them.”
The timing could not have been better. With the game tied 2-2, senior Jess Pisani scored four of her career-high six goals consecutively to give the Irish a 6-2 lead. The Bucs never got back in it as Notre Dame improved to 16-4 entering the May 28 Group III semifinal with state power Moorestown.
The CJ III title was the culmination of a season that started with high hopes but was riddled with adversity. While dealing with concerns for Seibel, Notre Dame lost seniors Jess Layton (torn ACL) and Cassidy Meidling (broken elbow) to season-ending injuries with two weeks remaining.
“It just felt like things were piling on us,” Fisher said. “But instead of using it as an excuse, they were strengthened. I knew we had it in us to do it because of the character of our seniors. They are really special kids.”
The senior group also includes High Point-bound Ava Scudillo, who Fisher said is one of the top defenders in the county and “has been everything for us for four years, and was one of the girls who really willed us to victory in the semis and finals.” There were also senior twin-sister midfielders Nikki and Sabrina Phillips, Danni Losier, a 200-point scorer, and reserves Erin Olenchalk, Morgan Doonan and Ryan Besler.
Pisani came alive offensively at the right time. With Notre Dame trailing Allentown 4-3, she won the second-half draw an scored 12 seconds into play to start the Irish on a run of six unanswered goals.
It has been an emotionally charged season for the Irish in good ways and bad, but faith kept things balanced.
“We say a prayer before every game, which is something we all do at Notre Dame,” Fisher said. “This season there was more reflection before games, and I think the whole aspect of what we do at Notre Dame just meant more to these kids.”