When Jillian Cafarchio needed someone to take her place this season, Dawn Harkenrider was the first person she thought of.
Cafarchio, formerly the Millbrook High School girls lacrosse head coach, is taking the season off having just had a baby. Harkenrider came to mind, being a longtime coach of multiple sports, a parent of a former Blazers lacrosse player, and a teacher in the district.
Harkenrider will coach the Blazers this season, although Cafarchio, who is on maternity leave, will make occasional check-ins with the team throughout the year.
“I was excited to be asked,” Harkenrider said. “I have big shoes to fill from Jillian, but I’m going to do my best.”
A year ago, Cafarchio led the Blazers to their first Section 9 Class C title in program history. With a legion of returners — and a bump from Class C to the newly created Class D this year — Harkenrider is hopeful the success continues.
“They’re looking to repeat,” the new coach added. “They want to win the section title and we’re hoping to go a step or two further, in the regionals.”
After winning the section title last year, the Blazers were eliminated by Section 1 champion Bronxville in the New York State regional semifinals, 19-3. Bronxville also made the step from Class C to Class D, as did Section 9 rivals John S. Burke Catholic and James I. O’Neill — the team the Blazers beat, 8-7, to win the section title.
Cafarchio isn’t worried about the move in classification, and recognizes that every game will matter.
“I think (the move) will be good. We’ll have less teams to focus on,” she said. “As we know from last year, non-league games are just as important as league games, and the regular season is important. We’re going in with confidence, but knowing that O’Neill will come back prepared, too.”
Millbrook graduated key players Liz Halpin and Sam Szalewicz, but are returning the bulk of their contributors. Among the veterans are sophomore goalie Claire Martell, junior midfielders Brooke Babbitt and Kaitlyn Daly, and senior defender Kelly Waters.
Harkenrider called Waters an “excellent defensive player” and added that Babbitt is “quick, strong and smart.” She also said she expects a lot from Martell, and feels Babbitt and Daly will be the two of the team’s premier scorers.
“We should do good. We have a lot of returners,” Harkenrider said. “They’re looking sharp and they’re pretty darn confident.”
Added Cafarchio: “We have a lot of committed girls. They’re ready to have a great season.”
Harkenrider coached varsity volleyball at Millbrook in the 1990s, as well as modified basketball, but said she hasn’t coached lacrosse. However, her oldest daughter, Mackenzie Harkenrider, played on Millbrook’s lacrosse and girls basketball teams before graduating in 2015. Most of her players are former students, too, as she has taught biology in the Millbrook school district for 30 years.
The familiarity has certainly helped.
“I taught them all, they’re a great bunch of girls,” Harkenrider said. “At first I was a little nervous to be coaching, but now that we’re going, they work hard for the two and a half hours (of practice each day) I have them. They give me their all and I can’t ask for anything more than that.”
A.J. Martelli: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4836, Twitter: @AJM_PoJoSports