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GIRLS' LACROSSE NOTEBOOK

Nicola Donlan’s Lincoln-Sudbury lacrosse teammates advocated for her captaincy — even though she’s just a junior

As a junior, Nicola Donlan has impressed her coaches and teammates with her leadership skills -- enough to be named a team captain.
As a junior, Nicola Donlan has impressed her coaches and teammates with her leadership skills -- enough to be named a team captain.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

On Monday, May 3, at 9:31 p.m., Lincoln-Sudbury girls’ coach Kaillie Kelly received a lengthy and heartfelt text from her senior captain, Catrina Tobin, who advocated for junior midfielder Nicola Donlan to be named the team’s third captain.

Kelly, Tobin, and co-captain Sophia Brindisi had floated the idea around before, but after reading ‘The Hard Hat’ and fully realizing that Donlan embodies the exact same leadership values as George Boiardi, the late Cornell lacrosse player —Tobin knew it was time to make an even stronger pitch.

“She works relentlessly hard, and I know if you decide to name her captain or not, she’ll still do what she does,” Tobin wrote. “But I think it would be great to give her the well-deserved position. She’s just built different.”

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That was all Kelly needed to hear, and she officially named Donlan captain the next day at practice. Donlan was “genuinely shocked,” according to Kelly, but those around her weren’t in the slightest. While Donlan had a new title, her behavior was largely unchanged. It was technically a different role, but she had essentially been a captain all along without the badge.

“Regardless of whether we called her captain, Nicola was going to be a leader on the field and act the same way,” Brindisi said. “The way she carries herself and leads the team is pretty amazing to watch.”

Part of the reason Donlan is able to inspire others so effortlessly is because she’s been around the game for years and knows how much hard work can pay dividends. Her mother, Catherine, played at Tufts and was a youth coach in town, and Donlan called her mother her “biggest fan and biggest supporter.” Her older siblings, Anna and Ryan, also played throughout their childhoods and helped her progress quickly as a kid.

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“The love grew within our family,” Donlan said, “and I picked it up right away.”

Donlan started playing in third grade, sharpened her skills at the youth level, and quickly embraced a role as a starting defender her freshman year. She said she was surprised she made the team initially, but it was a no-brainer for Kelly and Co.

“Nicola is a one-of-a-kind kid, and it’s been that way since she arrived as a freshman,” Kelly said. “She’s the only kid from her class that made it from the tryouts because she was an obvious starter for us on defense from an ability standpoint. What I didn’t know about her at the time was the type of human that she is.”

Kelly said Donlan has a knack for empowering those around her, which she said is so important as a female leader. Even as the team’s youngest player during her freshman year, she was already one of its role models and was the “most relaxed” player in Brindisi’s eyes.

Donlan worked on her game during the pandemic and was ready for an increased role this spring. She transitioned to midfield for the seventh-ranked Warriors (8-2) and has totaled 15 goals, 13 assists, 26 draw controls, 25 ground balls, and 17 caused turnovers. Donlan, who recently won a national championship at the US Lacrosse women’s national tournament with the top MA/RI team, is considering continuing her career at a NESCAC school.

The stats and accolades tell part of the story, but there’s a lot more to her than what one sees in the scorebook.

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Whether it’s a simple text before tryouts, or a friendly tip after a play, she’s always there to lift her teammates up. One game, when Brindisi hit the post three straight times, Donlan pulled the Stanford-bound senior aside reminded her to keep shooting and that it would eventually click.

Kelly praised her for handling life with more maturity than most adults and building authentic relationships with her teammates. Donlan said she always tries to go out of her way to make those around her feel welcome and appreciated, and her teammates and coaches have taken notice.

“She’s a joy to coach,” Kelly said. “She’s the connector of our entire team. Our team culture is at an all-time high, and I have to assume that her leadership is the foundation for that. We’re super grateful to have her with our squad.”

“She’s the connector of our entire team. Our team culture is at an all-time high, and I have to assume that her leadership is the foundation for that. We’re super grateful to have her with our squad.” KAILLIE KELLY, Lincoln-Sudbury coach on Nicola Donlan
“She’s the connector of our entire team. Our team culture is at an all-time high, and I have to assume that her leadership is the foundation for that. We’re super grateful to have her with our squad.” KAILLIE KELLY, Lincoln-Sudbury coach on Nicola DonlanJim Davis/Globe Staff


Quick sticks

▪ The Middlesex League Tournament final between Lexington and Reading marked the meeting of two familiar faces in the faceoff circle. Reading’s Kiara Tangney and Annabel Cincotta, as senior at Lexington, took the majority of the draws against each other. But the pair will have to get used to playing on the same side; they’re set to be teammates and roommates at Wesleyan next year.

“She’s a great leader on and off the field, and she’s one of Lexington’s biggest threats,” Tangney said of Cincotta. “It only makes me more excited to play with her in the future, because I mean she’s wicked good, and I just think that us working together on the team at Wesleyan is going to be great.”

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The No. 10 Rockets (12-1), the regular season champion, won the inaugural tournament title with a 17-13 win. After sharing league champion honors with Lexington in 2018, followed by claiming sole possession in 2019, Reading is on a roll.

But after splitting the regular season series with the Minutemen, Reading was in for a battle in the final. Still, Tangney was hesitant to call it a rivalry game.

“I know a lot of the girls on Lexington, so I almost think it’s less of a rivalry because we’re friends outside of going head to head,” Tangney said. “We want to win, but we also want to be good teammates off the field.”

▪ After battling to a one-goal win over Bedford early in the regular season, Boston Latin coach Tegan Avellino opted to keep her game plan almost entirely the same for the Dual County League championship — counting on the growth of her players to carry the Wolfpack (10-2) to a victory. Her team delivered with a 23-13 win.

“We focused on playing our own game and playing hard for our teammates,” Avellino said. “If we made a mistake, we knew it was OK as long as we backed each other up.”

▪ With 17 juniors on the roster, Dartmouth has no shortage of upperclassman leadership. But after missing last season, many made the jump from junior varsity bench as freshmen straight to starting on varsity as juniors. Still, the youth was not an obstacle. The Indians (9-2) captured the Southeast Conference title with a win over New Bedford.

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Among a handful of current juniors who earned a varsity spot two years ago, Sorelle Lawton and Meredith Sylvia were pivotal. The former reached 100 career goals and the latter hit 100 career points in the final.

“From that group of juniors, half of them start and are required to play some really important minutes for me,” coach Chris Tresca said. “But Sorelle and Meredith have been starters for me since day one when they came in freshman year, and they’ve definitely made their impact felt since their first day in the program.”

▪ Duxbury won the Patriot Cup with a 15-8 win over Hanover, Norwell clipped Cohasset, 9-4, in the South Shore Cup, Austin Prep topped Bishop Feehan, 14-11, in the Catholic Central League Cup, and Malden beat Medford, 18-4, for the Greater Boston League crown.

Correspondent Emma Healy also contributed to this story.