When she talked about the strategy for coaching against her niece, Julie Catrambone smiled, and with a little bit of her trademark edge, she noted, “Some people might think this is pretty sick. But it’s just how we are as a family.”
Last Saturday marked the final time that Catrambone, head coach of the West Deptford girls’ lacrosse team, will coach against her niece, Erin Renshaw, a senior captain for Washington Township.
The game was filled with storylines and history and connections that went beyond even a coach and her niece. The afternoon was a reflection of the tight-knit, interwoven South Jersey girls’ lacrosse community.
It was perhaps even a glimpse into why area teams are so successful over generations.
On that front, it started with how Catrambone approached the game.
“Some people might think that we would try to go easy on her,” she said. “But we do everything we can to shut her down. This is what we’ve always done to her because we want to push her. And guess what? She is probably the toughest person I know, to be honest.”
Most say, at least personality-wise, that Renshaw has some of her aunt in her. So her response wasn’t surprising.
“It’s my favorite game of the year,” the senior attacker said after her Minutemaids topped West Deptford, 17-13, even though Renshaw did not score. “It’s just like any other game, but it’s always more fun because we have such a close connection.
“At the same time, she’s messing with me on the field she wants to crush me, and I wouldn’t expect anything less from her.”
Besides their personalities, there’s another thing Renshaw and Catrambone have in common. They both played high school lacrosse for Sandy Stockl.
Catrambone — in another testament to a fiery personality — said she first met Stockl at Saturday detention her freshman year of high school at Washington Township in the mid-1990s.
Stockl went on to coach Catrambone in freshman basketball. Later that year, Stockl was organizing the new girls’ lacrosse program at Washington Township, and she asked Catrambone to join the team.
Catrambone said she hadn’t even seen a lacrosse stick at that point in her life.
But she was a natural. She went on to a sensational career that landed her in the Washington Township Sports Hall of Fame. And, more than that, she ended up falling in love with a sport that still plays a central role in her family’s life.
“If it was not for [Stockl], I would not be standing here coaching this sport,” said Catrambone, who coaches the Eagles with her husband, Jason, as her assistant. “It’s because of her guidance that I’m here and that I got to spread the love to my niece as well. And believe me, we put the stick right in her hand, right when she [was born].
“It really is a cool thing. I’m really happy that Erin gets to have such a great coach and mentor in [Stockl] and that I had such a great mentor and coach in Sandy Stockl as well.”
Stockl, one of the true torchbearers of the sport in South Jersey, was a teammate of the legendary Deanna Knobloch at Trenton State College, now the College of New Jersey. Knobloch retired last year after a run at Moorestown that placed her among the most successful coaches in the history of scholastic sports in the United States.
Stockl helped land Catrambone an assistant coaching position with Knobloch after Catrambone’s all-American college career at Rowan. Catrambone won a state title in each of her 10 seasons as an assistant at Moorestown before taking over West Deptford in 2010.
Watching two generations of players thrive with roots in a program she helped create is gratifying, Stockl said.
“You have to kick back and smile at the whole thing. It’s really a blessing,” she said. “I’d have to say that some of my closest friends and even family members are involved in this [sport]. When it’s like that, and it’s all because of the game. You really respect each other, and you respect the sport. You want to see it grow because it has affected so many people in a positive way. And, yes, you become almost protective of it.”
Stockl said she sees similarities in how Renshaw and Catrambone play and approach the game.
Renshaw is an attacker and one of the top scorers on the team, and Catrambone was a midfielder.
But both play with an edge and attitude. Both are ultra-competitive.
Both appear to have a hard exterior when it comes to lacrosse, but both are just as quick to display real affection for the sport.
As Catrambone was speaking — partly tongue-in-cheek — about her desire to take down her niece, she was also holding a gift bag that she had prepared for Renshaw to mark the occasion.
Multiple family members were in attendance, including parents and grandparents. Among them was Catrambone’s brother, Jack, who is Renshaw’s father.
It was easy to see how special this was for everyone involved, how much the game means to the family.
Erin Renshaw added afterward, that, yes, she did take some time to reflect on it. She’s proud to carry on her family’s legacy and feels blessed that this sport brought her even closer with her aunt and uncle.
And yet, her final statement felt most fitting.