Cutters Clicking On and Off the Field
The Fair Lawn High School Girls Lacrosse team takes on Mount Olive Tuesday in first-round state playoff action.
Update: The Lady Cutters lost 11-9 to Mount Olive on Tuesday, ending their season.
With a win Tuesday against Mount Olive in the state playoffs, the Fair Lawn girls lacrosse team would put an exclamation point on what’s already been one of the most successful seasons in school history.
Head coach Kristin Ray said she believes it would mark the first time the team has ever won a state playoff game – a major step in the right direction for a program fresh off its second-ever league title.
“This would be a big accomplishment and I think that they’re very capable of it,” said Ray, a 27-year-old special education teacher at Forrest School who’s in her fourth year coaching the team.
The 11-4 Cutters are underdogs against the Marauders, but Ray and assistant coach Tori Howe believe the girls can play with anyone. The team’s four losses this year have been by a combined six points.
“I think we’re kind of at the point where we’re like ‘any given day,’” Howe said. “There are some really strong teams, but if they underestimate you enough and you show up enough, who knows what can happen?”
While it’s the team’s sophomores and juniors who receive the lion’s share of the media recognition, Howe said the foundation of the squad has been its four senior captains who really have helped mold the team into a cohesive unit.
“As competitive as you want your high school varsity team to be, I think if they don’t like each other, it doesn’t mesh,” she said, “And that’s our biggest strength is that they really love each other and they enjoy being together.”
“When you gel and you’re friends and you bond off the field, it shows on the field,” added Ray, who said from day one the seniors have made sure to coordinate sleepovers, fundraisers and team bonding activities that have made a huge difference over the course of the season.
While the Cutters have an array of talented players, their most dominant has been Kaitlyn Jones, a junior whom coaches think can play collegiately at the highest level.
“She’s just a natural athlete,” said Ray, who played in college at Monmouth. “She’s very strong, she’s very quick, very coachable. We teach her one or two things and she goes out and she applies it perfectly.”
Besides being physically gifted, Jones also displays the work ethic and drive to succeed.
“She’s always just giving 110 percent,” Ray gushed. “She’s the type of kid that will literally run until she can’t breathe because she just wants to work harder and harder and harder. She gets better every single game.”
After finishing a lackluster 7-10 last season in a rebuilding year, this year's much-improved Cutters squad has caught the attention of opponents, officials and former players alike.
“Someone who knows lacrosse and watched the team that we had last year versus the team that we have this year, there’s a difference,” Howe said.
“We’ve had a lot of officials tell us, ‘This is the best team we’ve seen Fair Lawn come out with,’” Ray added.
Ray and Howe said that part of the team’s improvement can be attributed to smarter coaching – they’ve placed an increased emphasis on scouting other teams and breaking down game film.
Adding that wrinkle wouldn't have been possible, however, if the girls weren’t already proficient with the physical and mental aspects of the game when they entered ninth grade.
Preparing the girls to play before they reach high school is something the varsity coaches praise Fair Lawn All-Sports for fostering through its youth lacrosse offerings.
“That will change the talent of your team,” Howe said. “If your team has already learned the basics, then you work on strategy and other stuff when they get to high school. You don’t have to spend the first year or two teaching them the basics and how to pass and catch and shoot. They already know how to do it.”
As more girls come up through the All-Sports ranks, Ray and Howe believe the program will continue to grow stronger.
They said they’re excited for the years to come, but acknowledge that even with superior talent, all teams still need to possess the will to win to be successful.
“When you have potential, it can go either way,” Howe said. “At the end of the day, it’s 'Are the kids going to step up and get it done?'”
This year, Howe said, they most certainly have.
“All the things that our team has is stuff that you can’t teach," she said. "They're tough, they fight for it, they never give up...They have heart.”