By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
To reach its athletic peak, the human body needs blood pumped quickly to the arms, legs, fingers, toes, brain. When blood is flowing to the muscles and oxygen is filling the lungs, there are few limits to what the human body can accomplish. But in order for this athletic symphony to happen – arms and legs working in harmony to allow the body to run, jump, twist and throw – there has to be a strong heartbeat.
The same holds true for a lacrosse offense. With a strong heartbeat, an offense moves swiftly and smoothly, like an amoeba engulfing
a confused defense. Without a strong heartbeat, an offense often resembles commuters trying to get onto a subway train at rush hour.
The Mainland Regional High School girls lacrosse team has a strong heartbeat. Her name is Anna Gordon.
At first glance, Gordon doesn’t look anything like one of the most dominant players in the Cape-Atlantic League. Standing about 5-foot-3 with a bright smile and flowing blonde locks, she looks more like a member of the homecoming court than a scoring machine on the lacrosse field. Maybe that’s why opposing coaches are left scratching their heads after Gordon puts up five, six, seven goals on their team. She’s not tall, she’s not powerful. But she is smart and quick, and her ability to change direction and distribute the ball makes her the ideal player to run the Mustangs’ offense.
A wide smile crosses the face of Mainland coach Bernadette Daley when she talks about Gordon, because Gordon has realized the potential Daley knew was there all along – both on and off the field.
“When she came in as a freshman we thought she had a lot of potential and we were trying to figure out where her best fit would be,” Daley said. “She was playing third man, which is mostly defense, but she was doing midfield work, too.”
As a freshman, Gordon was a member of a powerful Mustangs team, so Daley could afford to play her in the back and not force the pressure of becoming a scorer on her too early in her career. But during her sophomore year, Gordon was thrust to the forefront due to a rash of injuries.
“She only had seven goals her freshman year, and her sophomore year I really wanted her to step up and become a leader,” Daley said. “I knew that she had the potential, but I don’t know that she knew she had the potential in her. I think she had the desire to be a dynamic scorer, but I think she gets more enjoyment out of passing the ball than she does scoring.
“As far as her progression, her freshman year we wanted more out of her, but we didn’t need more out of her. Her sophomore year we needed more out of her and we weren’t getting it. I took her aside midway through the season and I said, ‘we have a couple injuries here and I need you to start stepping it up.’ And she did. I think it was that year that she decided to do travel lacrosse and that lacrosse was going to be her gig, and she really spent a lot of time going to camps and clinics and finding a good travel team for herself.”
As Gordon began to assert herself offensively the goals started coming in bunches. She scored 29 goals as a sophomore, 59 as a junior, and has 68 this year heading into the first round of the playoffs, where the Mustangs (12-2) will travel to Lanoka Harbor today to take on Lacey Township, 9-1 and ranked 7th in New Jersey by Maxpreps.com. Gordon currently has 163 career goals and will graduate in June as the school’s all-time leading scorer, a distinction she may only hold for one year, as current junior Riley Dolan is hot on her heels with 119 goals. Gordon also is the school’s all-time leader in assists with 73.
“I was nervous my freshman year, so it was kind of a nice learning and building year, same with sophomore year,” Gordon said. “I started to gain a lot of confidence junior year from a lot of help from the team and my coach. We worked a lot on my shot and moves to goal.”
Daley decided to put Gordon at center, perhaps the most important position on the field, during Gordon’s sophomore year. The center takes the draws at midfield and sets up the offense, much like a point guard in basketball.
“It’s still really nerve-wracking at times. The draw is really important. I have to figure out how to get the ball to my teammates in the best position for them,” Gordon said.
Teammate – and best friend – Miranda Lamey said what makes Gordon such a good center is her ability to read a defense and wait for the right time to strike.
“Her technique is great. She doesn’t force the ball,” said Lamey, an 18-year-old senior defender from Somers Point. “She is patient and waits for that opportunity to go to the net. She doesn’t try to go through eight people just to score.”
Gordon said she doesn’t think much about how many goals she scores, and it caught her by surprise when a big deal was made about her breaking the school’s scoring record. Coby Briglia, a 2010 graduate, previously held the school marks for career goals (147) and assists (54).
“I didn’t really know I did that,” Gordon said. “I guess Daley told my dad, and my brothers walked up with flowers and I was like, um, this is really weird. Thanks.
“It was pretty cool though. The girl who had (the record) before me was a senior my freshman year, so it was cool to be a part of it.”
Gordon said she views her role on the team much differently than she did even just two years ago.
“(As a senior) you realize that you’re looked upon by all the younger girls way more than you were your previous years, and you
have to make sure that you’re a good role model for them and help them become the best that they can be.”
Daley said that Gordon has become an exemplary role model, in the school and community as well as on the field.
“She is the nicest, sweetest kid, and I’m not just saying that. She’s the pretty girl, the cool girl who doesn’t have any problem saying hello to any kid in the school or even sitting down and having lunch with them,” Daley said. “She’s a mentor to a lot of the special education kids here at Mainland, she works with the kids who have Down Syndrome. She’s just an all-around good person, which is a lot of girls on this team. A lot of them are just like that. She’s a great kid.
“She is hilarious. The best part is she has a wonderful personality, and she doesn’t mind laughing at herself. What high school kid has the confidence to do that?”
“She’s an excellent teammate and friend. She’s always willing to help other people. She’s always there whether it’s with lacrosse or not,” Lamey said. “She is just a ball of fun. She’s awesome. We literally do everything together. We’re attached at the hip.”
Gordon, an 18-year-old Linwood resident who plans to continue her lacrosse career at La Salle University this fall, said she will carry fond memories of the four years she has spent at Mainland Regional with her as she goes through life.
“I’ve grown a lot. Daley and my teammates have helped me a lot, both on and off the field,” Gordon said. “It’s all been just an amazing experience. I’ve met a lot of great people along the way who have helped me through a lot of good times and bad times and made me the person I am today.”