Cardinal Mooney is in the first year under head coach Brooke Eisenacher.
Brooke Eisenacher couldn't believe her eyes.
The first-year Cardinal Mooney High girls lacrosse coach moved to the area from Ohio after 13 years in coaching. Eisenacher, who played Division I lacrosse at Ohio University, said she had no idea what to expect in terms of talent level when she took the job. The Cougars were 5-11 in 2019, but did not graduate anyone, meaning no one in a leadership position would have to be replaced. That's all Eisenacher knew about the program, she said.
That's why the first day of open captain's practice was such a pleasant surprise.
"I was like, 'Sweet, these girls can catch,'" Eisenacher said. "They could play. I had a feeling we were in for a good season after that. It's been fun so far."
The Cougars have started their season 4-0, just one win off last year's total. Their most recent victory was their most decisive yet, a 20-7 road win against Saint Stephen's Episcopal on March 3. Eisenacher said her team's transition passes were the best they have looked all season, allowing the team's offense to get down the field quickly and cause disruption.
Senior captain Molly Donaghy said Eisenacher has brought variety and specialization to each practice, focusing on defense one day, the team's attack the next, and the midfield after that (not necessarily in that order).
"She has been going piece by piece, reworking and remodeling," Donaghy said. "She came in full-swing. She wanted us to succeed. I think the chemistry on our team is immensely better this year. We have been working well together. We are all in it until the end."
Donaghy has carved a role as the team's go-to scorer. She had seven goals and an assist against Saint Stephen's, and that isn't her highest-scoring game of the season — she had nine of the Cougars' 13 goals in the team's 13-11 win against Tampa Catholic on Feb. 29. Donaghy, a midfielder, said her focus has been on winning ground balls, which she believes is her biggest strength, and taking draws, something new for her this season. The goals are a product of the entire offense working efficiently, she said.
Her coach was more effusive in her praise.
"You can always count on her hustle," Eisenacher said. "Gaining that possession in the midfield and then being able to get it to our offensive end, it helps us. And obviously she knows how to put the ball in the back of the net. Her intensity overall helps bring everyone else up."
She's not alone as a major scoring threat: junior attacker Chloe Webber had five goals in wins against Saint Stephen's and Lakewood Ranch. Fellow captains Cooper Callahan, a senior, and Cameron Ward, a junior, help keep the team running efficiently. In goal, senior Francesca Tringali has made big saves when the team needs them; she had seven in the 16-14 win against Lakewood Ranch. The team's shooting accuracy continues to improve as well, Eisenacher said, making each opportunity their midfielders create that much more dangerous.
Above all, the Cougars are playing like a team, which is exactly what Eisenacher hoped to instill.
"I'm anxious to see how the rest of the season goes," Eisenacher said. "We have a great group of girls."