Jenny Duckenfield, kicking off her first season as the Cardinal O’Hara girls’ lacrosse coach, has a history of turning programs around. She hopes her time at O’Hara will be no different.
Duckenfield arrived from the Agnes Irwin School, where she led a team that went 2-16 the year before she arrived to a 98-23 record in her five-year stint. She also led the team to two state Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association championships and a No. 1 ranking among Pennsylvania girls’ high school teams by U.S. Lacrosse.
O’Hara appealed to her because of its values, Duckenfield said.
“Both the school and I have identical philosophies with growth and humble and hard-working mentalities,” Duckenfield said. “It’s all about the kids on and off the field. That’s the priority.”
The team got off to a good start with a 19-3 win over Bishop McDevitt on April 3.
O’Hara is coming off of an 11-13 season in 2017. The team graduated a lot of upperclassmen, so Duckenfield is coaching a young squad.
“We’re freshman and sophomore strong in the midfield, attack and defense,” Duckenfield said.
That means that upperclassman leadership is important for this young team. Senior Anna DiRita is a vital leader on and off the field, and junior Jackie Deuber-Patterson is the starting goalkeeper. DiRita is the team’s only captain.
DiRita “is cultivating a growth mindset,” Duckenfield said. “As a senior, she’s all about leaving a legacy, and that’s been our vision. When you hand that jersey off to someone, it means something.”
Duckenfield’s 32-player roster has a lot of girls who hadn’t played lacrosse until this season. So they are not only in coming into a program for the first year but also are still learning the basics of the game.
Some coaches may shy away from taking on such a challenge, but Duckenfield welcomes it. She said the players are learning to have a passion for the game as they pick up the details of it.
“Before, one of the players would get the ball and try to immediately go to the goal,” Duckenfield said. “Now, they’re learning how to play the game with passing and all the x’s and o’s of the game.”
O’Hara has storied programs in basketball, football and hockey. The girl’s lacrosse program has not enjoyed the same level of success, so Duckenfield said she will focus on turning that around.
Each class, from freshmen to senior, is building a foundation to make the team a “premier spring sport” at O’Hara, the coach said. To get there, the only thing standing in their way is themselves, Duckenfield said.
“We challenge ourselves every day on the field to be better,” Duckenfield said. “We take it one day at a time. We set goals every day at practice. Our kids earn the jersey. They work really hard. So right now it’s [up to] ourselves.”