The performance on the field is entertaining.
The numbers it produces on paper are staggering.
As of April 10, in her three-plus years with the Nottingham High girls’ lacrosse team, senior Michaela Donnelly produced goals in every game she played and had scored 53 percent of the Northstars’ goals during her career. She started with 29 out of 53 (55 percent) her freshman year, tallied 28 of 64 as a sophomore (44 percent), and collected 29 of 55 the next year (53 percent). Through the Stars first three games this season, she had 22 of the team’s 30 goals (73 percent).
On April 8, she became the first Northstar to score 100 career goals and the first to hit double figures in a game when she scored all 10 Nottingham goals in loss to Lawrence.
“She broke her own record of six in one game,” coach Matt Paglione said. “She’s just gonna keep breaking her own records.”
What’s truly impressive is that despite the fact Nottingham went 7-25 during her first three seasons, Donnelly never thought about transferring to a prep or private school to increase her visibility, which is common these days. She puts more stock in enjoying the experience than getting recognition.
“Since my freshman year, with the coaches and teammates, we really love each other, we’re family,” Donnelly said. “I wouldn’t want to leave it for the world.”
Paglione feels fortunate that Donnelly has stuck around, and feels it gives her a nice balance between high-intensity club lacrosse and a fun atmosphere.
“I know her travel league is where she’s gonna get the looks for college,” the coach said. “It’s good for her to be able to come out here and be the instructor, let loose a little bit and know it’s not so scrutinized and she’s not so closely followed (by recruiters). She can go out there and maybe take a few more forced shots than in travel because she knows she’s kind of a dominant player for us. It lets her see the game from another angle.”
An angle that she enjoys, but not to the point of slacking off.
“It’s a little more relaxed,” Donnelly said. “But you still want to keep the competitiveness in practice and during the games.”
Donnelly’s career started when she saw a friend playing lacrosse and became interested. She was a softball/soccer player at the time but did some research and began playing in the Allentown Dragons recreation league. To watch her then, no one would believe it was the same player as now.
“I was not too good at first,” she said. “It was a little frustrating. I couldn’t catch the ball, couldn’t cradle the ball. I could really just run up and down the field, that’s about it. About halfway through my first season, I started to be able to catch a little more easily. My throwing started to improve, and by the end of the season I was able to cradle with my left hand. After my first season there, I picked it up pretty quickly and from then on had a history with it.”
The following year, Donnelly successfully tried out for the DEWLAX girls’ travel program and played there for two years. She then tried out for three travel teams and made each one, but decided to play for Ultimate Lacrosse because it was more established and included some of her friends.
Her freshman season at Nottingham coincided with Christie Fink’s first year as head coach. The recently inducted Steinert Hall of Famer, who is now Paglione’s assistant, could see right away that Donnelly stood out.
“She took on a leadership role as a freshman,” Fink said. “Even at practice, she helps out, she’s stepped up and developed into an unbelievable player.”
Most importantly, she has never put herself above her teammates.
“Not at all,” Fink said. “She’s the most humble kid in the world and deserves every honor she gets.”
Paglione inherited Donnelly last year and not only raves about her playing ability, but her knowledge of the game.
“Whether we’re going over plays or talking about different techniques and skills and things to do, she’s the first one to step up and demonstrate and lead by example at practice,” the coach said. “If it’s in a game, we have a lot of things we have to instruct and only get a couple timeouts. She kind of takes over that coach’s role on the field and if the other team scores a goal, she huddles the team together, talks about positioning, which girl’s gotta slide, those type things.”
Much of her knowledge comes from doing her homework.
“She knows the girls in the county really well,” Paglione continued. “She does her own scouting report basically, knows which girls are going left or right, how the defense needs to be oriented, which girls to stop and who to look out for. On offense, it’s the same thing. If she sees one defender is a little weaker than the other she’ll be telling Maddie (Lippincott), ‘Set the pick over here so I can try and get free,’ and take advantage of the mismatch if she sees it.
“She’s got good vision and she’s a very good communicator. She makes my job a lot easier. When she doesn’t score the goal, she probably had the assist or set the screen to get it.”
Donnelly embraces the role of being a leader and instructor. She still remembers rec teammates helping her out at the start and knows how important it is to younger players.
“I like being able to grow the sport,” she said. “There’s a lot of hope here, especially the underclassmen. We have some great talent. Hopefully in the coming years we’ll continue to grow.”
Although Donnelly has outstanding individual skills, she credited her teammates for her 100 goals.
“It’s just a really great milestone, and I couldn’t have done it without their help,” she said. “We really work well together and it just means a lot they go out there and support me.”
Paglione felt the same way. Opponents obviously give added attention to Donnelly, which means the Northstars must find a way to get her into scoring situations.
“Some of the other girls have done a good job to set picks and get girls open,” Paglione said. “They’re good teammates, they look to get her open. They know their jobs are to be a decoy or set the screen or whatever it is to get her open so she has the ball and gets that one on one scenario. Her teammates look out for her and she’s made good relationships with some of these girls.”
When Donnelly has to do it alone, she is fun to watch. Like many players her size (she’s 5-feet tall), she feels her limited height can be an attribute because it makes her hard to track.
“Lacrosse is one of those sports where height doesn’t really matter,” Donnelly said. “I find that quickness, little inside steps really help you get around defenders, especially when they’re so much taller than you. It’s hard to play defense against someone a lot shorter than you.”
It helps that Donnelly has an innate ability to dodge; possesses a powerful shot from the outside and can finesse her shot close to the goal. It is those qualities that have her going to Rowan University next fall, along with Lawrence High 100-goal scorer Sarah Berardi. Donnelly was turned on to the Profs by an assistant coach at Ultimate, who also played and coached at Rowan. Fink played soccer at Rowan and has long been a fan of lacrosse coach Lindsay Delaney.
“I decided to reach out to the coach, see the campus, meet the girls,” Donnelly said. “It just kind of reminded me of Nottingham and my club team and family. It’s competitive, but they’re always doing stuff together outside lacrosse. And I found out a month or two later that Sarah was going there, so I’m excited about that.”
Donnelly plans on majoring in biology and is toying with becoming a trauma surgeon. Whatever she ends up doing, she will have left a legacy at Nottingham.
“Other girls have probably come out for our team just to have the chance to play with her,” Paglione said.
Fink added that, “She has gotten the program to where it is now.”
Which is an attribute that goes well beyond staggering statistics.