It’s not often that a coach raves, unsolicited, about a rival player, but that’s exactly what happened this week when Pine Crest’s Eileen Pliske spoke about St. Thomas Aquinas goalie Madison Cunningham.
“She’s the most amazing goalie I’ve ever seen in South Florida,” said Pliske, who is in her 14th year as a coach. “She stuffed us left and right. She had a presence for a freshman that I’ve never seen before.”
That freshman is now a 16-year-old sophomore.
Cunningham, who has already committed to Penn State, leads a loaded Aquinas team that could be the first Broward County school to win state.
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She made 11 saves in last year’s district final as Aquinas eliminated Pine Crest 13-8. The score was tied 7-7 at the half, and Cunningham was virtually impenetrable thereafter, allowing only an insignificant goal in the final minute.
“As a player, I don’t try to think of myself as the best,” said Cunningham, whose team was eventually knocked out in the regional finals. “But it’s an honor and incredibly humbling to hear another coach talk about my skills.”
Including Cunningham, Aquinas has a program-record five players committed to Division I colleges, which is surely the envy of most any school in the state.
The other four D-I recruits are seniors: midfielders Lauren Morando (Louisville), Jenna Tolzman (Iona) and Mary Ann Skubal (William & Mary) and attacker Chloe Mudjwit (Virginia Commonwealth).
The good news for Pine Crest is that Aquinas — which has a new coach in Sarah Paul-Hus — has moved out of its district this year, although the rivals will likely meet in the regional playoffs.
However, Pine Crest, which advanced to the state semifinals in 2011 and 2012, will have to replace two All-Americans who are now playing at powerhouse college lacrosse programs — Carli Marsh (Florida) and Jasmine Docal (Northwestern). Marsh had 100 goals and 19 assists last season, and Docal had 43 goals and 26 assists.
Pine Crest’s go-to scorer this season figures to be junior Allie Gershman, who had 38 goals and 28 assists last year. She is a Southern Cal recruit.
Two other juniors star for Pine Crest — goalie Alexa Eskenazi and defender Nikki Marsh. The sophomore class includes midfielders Caroline Jordan and Bianca Tedesco and attacker Izzy Lopez, a transfer from Aquinas.
Put it all together, and Pine Crest and Aquinas figure to be two of the deepest and best teams in the state. And if they do meet again in the playoffs, it could come down to Cunningham in goal.
“She’s a great goalie,” Gershman said. “She was aggressive against us. She came out and stopped us high and low. Wherever we put it, she was there.
“I think we need to fake more and make her move so we can pull her to one side of the cage and maybe get one in. It’s going to take a team effort. But I think we can come out on top next time.”