Family vacations can sometimes lead to chance meetings that blossom into love affairs. That’s usually not the case in 4th grade, but Andrea Pintimalli is the exception to the rule, as she fell in love with lacrosse on one of the East Coast’s most popular beaches.
While on vacation in Ocean City with family friend Dina Cifelli, Pintimalli was intrigued when her older pal pulled out two lacrosse sticks.
“I asked her what they were because I had never seen a lacrosse stick,” said Pintimalli, who had just completed the third grade at that point. “She said, ‘Here, we’ll practice.’ That day, Dina got me hooked into this sport.”
Pintimalli picked a heck of a role model. Cifelli, a Robbinsville native, was a standout at Notre Dame High and as a senior at West Chester University has 77 goals and 210 assists in her career.
After Cifelli’s introduction, Pintimalli began playing in the Robbinsville Lacrosse Association but tore a ligament several games into her first season. The affair seemed over before it even began.
“That discouraged me to go back to play, until the RLA coach, Sherrie Johnson, stopped me in the hallway at school in seventh grade asking if I would come back for the upcoming season,” Pintimalli said. “I talked to my parents and they told me to give it another shot. After my first game back, I questioned why I ever stopped.”
As a junior, Pintimalli is in her second year as a starting defender for the Robbinsville High varsity after spending her freshman season on JV. Ravens coach Jennamarie Colicchia has watched Pintimalli undergo a wonderful metamorphosis over the three years.
“She’s definitely physical, she’s very good at one-v-one defense,” said Colicchia, herself a standout defender for Freehold Township High School and The College of New Jersey. “She’s always very solid and very good at intercepting passes. She’s gotten very good at getting around the ball and swatting it down. The first time she did it, she was almost shocked, but now it’s just second nature. That ball goes up, she’s going to get in the air and go get it. It was so fun to watch how it went, because now she’s not shocked by herself being good, she’s just good.”
She’s also popular, to the point where people can’t do without her.
“She’s hysterical,” Colicchia said. “She’s one of those kids that everyone gets along with. She’s goofy but she’s very focused. She’s focused in school, she’s a great student, always on top of her studies, doing the right thing. She’s just very fun to be around. When she’s not around, you’re like ‘Where’s Andrea?’ You miss it. Sometimes she’s a pain in the butt, but you definitely miss her.”
After returning to RLA, Pintimalli’s lacrosse career was fully underway. The summer prior to her freshman year she made the Garden State Elite travel team (which she still plays for), and began to hone her skills. Despite not making varsity in ninth grade, she made the most of the experience.
“Freshman year, I gained mental toughness,” she said. “It was hard, originally, but it only made me strive to get better. This was just the beginning of my journey. I knew I had to prove myself and earn my spot. Our motto for field hockey this year is ‘Always earned, never given,’ and I couldn’t think of a better way to explain the game of lacrosse.”
The goal for her sophomore season was to make varsity. During the offseason she played with girls from other schools to gain experience and learn techniques. She also worked on conditioning and skills by using the rebounder in her backyard and running to build endurance.
When Pintimalli returned as a sophomore, she was converted from midfielder to defender in order to gain a starting berth.
“I told my coach that she could put me anywhere she needed me, and that’s what she did,” Pintimalli said. “There was a spot open on defense, and I saw that position as a new challenge for me. To learn the position, I went to upperclassmen and sought out their advice.”
Whatever she did worked, as Colicchia never runs out of superlatives for Pintimalli, who also plays field hockey for the coach. Playing defense means she’s not putting up big numbers, but her value is underscored in one sentence from Colicchia.
“Maybe she does get overlooked sometimes but I can never take her off the field—that shows her importance to the team,” the coach said.
“She has become one of the most consistent players on our team,” Colicchia said. “She worked her butt off after freshman year and became a starter. This year, she’s not only a starter but just one of those consistent players that demands a lot from herself and her teammates but never more than she’s willing to sacrifice herself. She’s become such a vocal leader and a leader by example.”
It helps that Colicchia was a defender. She knows what it takes, not only physically but mentally as well. She praised Pintimalli for gaining an ability to put negatives behind her when a goal is scored on the Ravens. The coach also sees a little of herself in the junior.
“When I was at TCNJ playing, I always wanted to pick up whoever the best player was on the other team because I wanted to shut her down,” Colicchia said. “The other day we were talking about a team, and she said, ‘Well, this player has the most goals,’ so we decided to face guard her and have one player take her. She immediately said, ‘I’ll take her.’ She was just the first person to step up and say, ‘I’m gonna make this my job, I’m gonna do it because I can do it.’ She never shies away from that. I’d never want to tell her she’s like me. But I definitely see myself in her.”
Even in the part where she’s sometimes a pain in the butt?
“Of course!” Colicchia said with a laugh. “I was the worst. My high school and college coaches knew I was a pain in the butt. But she’s like that in a good way. She just likes when everyone is together and happy. She’ll organize pasta parties, do stuff with the girls together.”
Pintimalli is so team-oriented that she will take time to advise the Raven attackers on how to beat her, or how to beat a defender in general. They, in turn, have told her how to defend an offensive player.
“I am very happy they do,” she said. “I always want advice and insight that would help us as a team improve. I believe that teams benefit from constructive criticism, and I am proud that I have this relationship with my teammates.”
As for her approach to playing defense, Pintimalli feels it is important not to let one play get stuck in her head, especially if it leads to a goal.
“If you get in your (own) head early in the game, it is almost impossible to come back,” she said. “You can’t put all of the pressure on yourself. It doesn’t come down to one person and one play, you work as a team. Yes, you will get beat but you need to be positive and ask yourself, ‘What did I do wrong that I can fix for next time?’”
When it comes to understanding an opponent, Pintimalli assesses the girl she will be covering the moment she steps on the field, trying to gauge her speed, stick skills and agility. This gives her a great understanding of what to deal with, and then she puts it all in motion.
“When going man-to-man, I have quick feet to defend cuts to the middle,” Pintimalli said. “I have my head on a swivel to slide for teammates, and I always try to mark the girl’s stick, not just their body, in hopes of intercepting a ball.”
She also takes immense pride in shutting down another team’s top scorer, saying, “I always want to challenge myself so that I can improve. There are a lot of strong teams this year, and by experiencing great players, it can only increase my defensive skills.”
Pintimalli is as good in the classroom as she is on the field. An honors student, she is part of Robbinsville’s ONE Project club, the executive resource manager of the gardening club and a member of student council. She hopes to play lacrosse in college, and if mindset means anything, she’s got a good chance.
“She just has such an intense energy,” Colicchia said. “That’s what she brings to every practice. She’s really one of those players that you look forward to seeing every day and her teammates feel her presence. She’s not one of those kids who just shows up and goes through the motions. She shows up like, ‘How are we going to make the team better?’”
In other words, she may have been introduced to lacrosse while on vacation, but when she is playing the sport, rest and relaxation is the furthest thing from her mind.