The Mendham girls lacrosse team will have a new look this season.
Jessica Shoulberg, who coached the Minutemen for the past 12 seasons, stepped down in the offseason and was replaced by former player and JV coach Lauren Yee. The team also lost a number of pivotal players, including Mariah Salerno, Devon Russell, Paige Russell, Gia Padavano (54 goals, 29 assists), goalie Abby Witczak and defenseman Lara Guida from a team that was a Morris County Tournament finalist, the North Group III champions and a Group III finalist.
“I think that the change has probably been the best thing for us,” senior midfielder and captain Becky Gohsler said. “We have big shoes to fill and we’ve just been working hard and we’re not intimidated about change, it’s just a better start for us.”
Yee, who graduated from Mendham in 2006 and won two county titles under Shoulberg in four seasons, is the new head coach. She’s very familiar with the program and is looking forward to giving her players a season of success, and she’s willing to do anything to get there.
“I know how great it feels to be a part of (championships) and I want the same for these guys and I know that they’re willing to work for it, so I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that they get that,” Yee said. “Fundamentally (Shoulberg and I) we’re pretty similar, we both preach the same things, we both want hard work, we both want players who want it, at the end of the day we just want to win and we’ll do whatever we can to help them make sure that we get there.”
Despite the loss of a number of starting players, Yee believes that the players she has this season will have no problem stepping up and filling the holes. Attack Christine Graziano had 42 goals and eight assists last season as a sophomore, while junior midfielder Carly Maita scored 27 goals last season. There are a number of upperclassmen who have experience and a solid group of underclassmen who are fitting right in.
“We lost some very crucial seniors last year, but overall we have a great group of underclassmen. Some are sophomores, our juniors have stepped up huge from their sophomore years, our seniors have come out and they’re just hungry, they’re ready to lead,” Yee said. “The great thing about our program right now is that freshmen, sophomores, seniors, they’re all buying in to what’s going on and they’re all willing to do what it takes and they’re willing to follow our lead and they’re fitting right in with the program.”
Senior captain Mackenzie Mantione will anchor a defense that consists of seniors Meghan Cooper and Emma Bargiacchi and juniors Elizabeth Tolley, goalie Guilianna Durso and sophomore Grace Gaffney. Newcomers include senior Sam Smith and sophomores Maggie Mantione and Sam Terwilliger. Sophomore midfielder Christine Long had 11 goals and nine assists last season while senior attack Amanda Robshaw chipped in four goals and two assists. Sophomore midfielder Kira Lopes (four goals, one assist), junior attack Hailey Meigh (one goal) and junior attack Carrie Speicher (two goals) will look to step up and lead the Minutemen in the right direction.
“Coach Yee has a lot more confidence in the younger kids and improving everyone has a whole,” Gohsler said. “She wants us to be better as a unit and for the future and she’s been through the program so she’s been in our shoes, she knows the expectations, she knows how we’re going to work, how much we want it, so she has a lot of confidence in us and we have so much confidence in her to lead us as far as she possibly can.”
Mendham will remain in the Stars and Stripes South Division this season, along with Kent Place, Oak Knoll, Summit, West Morris and Westfield. Chatham is no longer in that division, having moved to Stars and Stripes North. Yee believes the Minutemen compete in the toughest division in the state, and hopes that the level of competition her team will face every game will prepare them for the postseason.
While Mendham plans on taking it one game at a time, everyone still has eyes on the postseason and championships.
“Ultimately we’d love to win our conference, we would love to get back to the county finals and retake that title, same thing with states, we would love to take our Groups and then we’d love to go on and compete for our Group and be in the championship,” Yee said. “Our goal is to be the best in the state and I know they’re going to do everything to get there.”