High School Sports

Girls’ lacrosse preview for Miami-Dade, Broward: Title field wide open

Led by star goalie Madison Cunningham, the St. Thomas Aquinas lacrosse team is expected to be a top contender.
Led by star goalie Madison Cunningham, the St. Thomas Aquinas lacrosse team is expected to be a top contender. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Lauren O’Connell had been a gymnast, from ages 5 to 8, and then a cheerleader, until her mother, Lisa, saw a booth with information about lacrosse.

O’Connell, who by the fifth grade had grown bored with cheerleading, decided to follow her mother’s advice and try lacrosse.

“My mom knew I loved running, and in lacrosse you can do that and be aggressive,” O’Connell said. “It wasn’t too girly like cheerleading, but it wasn’t too manly, either.”

Her father, Bill, a retired police officer who for many years worked the gang unit in Hialeah, had a simple reaction when the youngest of his three daughters told him she wanted to try lacrosse.

“What’s lacrosse?” he asked.

That was a half-dozen years ago, and a lot has changed since then.

Bill is now the lacrosse coach at West Broward, and Lauren, 17, is his top-ranked player.

“I believe she is one of the top players in South Florida,” Bill said of Lauren. “When you watch our games, you notice No. 28 [O’Connell].”

Just how good can Lauren, a junior defender/midfielder, can be is open to question. She had been a starter at American Heritage since the seventh grade. But she sustained an ACL injury to her right knee before last season started, which put a damper on her year.

She rehabilitated the knee for four grueling months and was able to return for the final three games, but it was pretty much a lost season for her.

One important thing did happen, however. While she was injured, she started hanging out with her father’s team, and she found out she really clicked with the West Broward players.

“I felt a better connection with the girls at West Broward, and when I told my dad that I wanted to transfer, he was happy,” said Lauren, who has a 3.8 GPA and is interested in studying accounting.

“Lacrosse is just more fun with these [West Broward] girls.”

Just how happy the West Broward girls will be at the end of this season remains to be seen.

West Broward was eliminated by Miami Palmer Trinity, 12-10, in last year’s first-round state play-in game. Palmer was then routed by St. Thomas Aquinas, 14-1, in the second-round play-in game.

Aquinas was the best girls’ team in Miami-Dade or Broward last year, falling just three wins shy of a state title.

It will be interesting to see how Lauren O’Connell’s presence changes things in South Florida lacrosse, but Aquinas, led by star goalie Madison Cunningham, figures to be strong again.

Pine Crest, led by senior midfielder Allie Gershman, who has committed to play for Southern Cal next year, is loaded.

And Douglas, with junior midfielder Selena Lugo, should not be overlooked.

“The Southern half of the state, from Vero Beach on down, is very strong,” Bill O’Connell said. “There’s a lot of competition.”

Girls’ lacrosse preview capsules

CORAL REEF: Coach: Erin Shelow; Last year: 5-6; Top players: Kristen Putz (sr. A); Brooke Reid (sr. M); Emylee Giraldo (sr. D); Noteworthy: This is an experienced team with 17 returners, including first-team All-Dade Putz (69 career goals).

DOUGLAS: Coach: Tim O’Rorke: Last year: NA; Top players: Selena Lugo (jr. M); Nicole Nabridge (sr. A); Jenna Nabridge (sr. D);

KILLIAN: Coach: David Bowers; Last year: 5-10; Top players: Patricia Medina (M/D); Tatiana Martinez (M/A); Andrea Diaz (A); Noteworthy: The Cougars have a nucleus of five veterans, but they also have 20 freshmen.

PINE CREST: Coach: Eileen Plisko; Last year: 11-8; Top players: Allie Gershman (sr. M); Bianca Tedesco (jr. M); Caroline Jordan (jr. M); Noteworthy: Gershman is an All-American player who has committed to Southern Cal.

RANSOM EVERGLADES: Coach: Bridgette Laskey: Last year: 3-10; Top players: Bridgett Turner (jr.); Erik Bakes (fr.); Noteworthy: Turner led the team in assist last season. Bakes led in goals. Ransom is district-eligible for the first time this year.

TARVELLA: Coach: Jen Letizia; Last year: 6-9; Top players: Shiselle Povedano (M); Kaycie Tufaro (M); Tea McFarlane (D); Noteworthy: Povedano had 36 goals last season for Taravella, which is now in its third year as a varsity program.

UNIVERSITY: Coach: Marykate DiBenedetto; Last year: NA; Top players: Jada Preston (fr. M); Caroline Kapp (jr. M); Bryn Tolchinsky (jr. D); Noteworthy: Preston, who has been on the varsity since 7th grade, had 30 goals last year.

WEST BROWARD: Coach: Bill O’Connell; Last season: 7-9; Top players: Lauren O’Connell (Jr. D/M); Juliette Cusano (jr. A); Arielle Jonas (sr. A); Noteworthy: Eight starters graduated, but Cusano and Jonas return after combining for 124 goals last year.