The Memory of Maureen O’Shea Leads Garnets to Paradise Island

When she’s out on the field, beating defenders with dizzying spin moves and scoring goals at a prolific clip, Molly O’Brien of the Rye girls’ lacrosse team can still hear Maureen O’Shea’s voice echoing in her ears. “Fake high, shoot low!” barks the former head coach, who passed away at age 56 March 13 after a battle with cancer. O’Brien listens, and another goal is tallied on the Garnet scoreboard.

“She is the sole reason I stand where I do today,” said O’Brien, a senior captain. “When Emma Tucci (O’Brien’s co-captain) and I first found out Maureen was sick, we were overcome with sadness. I personally couldn’t fathom the idea of playing a game without her shouting for me to ‘catch, control, shoot’ from the sideline, and – as expected – it was really rough at first, as with any death.”

Molly O'Brien

O’Brien began playing lacrosse in the fifth grade, and O’Shea was there every step of the way. Their relationship began in the FairChester Lacrosse Association and continued at Connecticut Lacrosse Futures. O’Brien cites O’Shea’s 2007 hiring in Rye as a watershed moment for the girls’ lacrosse program.

Of the many lessons O’Brien absorbed in her eight years under O’Shea’s tutelage, “Get to Paradise Island” may be perhaps the most vital to her game. As with most high school fields that have both boys’ and girls’ lacrosse lines painted on, the boys’ crease falls a few feet in front of the girls’. O’Shea dubbed the boys’ crease “Paradise Island” because it’s the perfect place to shoot from.

“It helps me a lot,” said O’Brien. “I constantly find myself looking down right before I shoot making sure I’m in Paradise Island.”

After beginning the 2010 season 0-1-1, O’Brien, along with Tucci, her great friend, touched down on the island April 12 against Somers and led the Garnets to a 14-7 victory. The co-captains combined for nine goals and three assists, with the majority of scores coming during a torrid 6-0 run in the final nine minutes of the first half. Tucci ignited Rye’s fire with her blazing speed. The southpaw rocketed through a cloud of four defenders and then sped past one more for a difficult cross-goal shot from the left side that connected right to put RHS up 5-3.

“After years of playing in the midfield, I have learned that speed is crucial,” said Tucci. “The game of lacrosse is extremely fast to begin with, but the midfield demands an even faster level of play because our job is to transition the ball from one end of the field to  the other. And to be honest, I love running. It sounds crazy, but it’s the reason I chose to play midfield from the beginning.”

Emma Tucci

Although a hard fall after a collision sidelined her minutes earlier, O’Brien returned to the game like the warrior she is and proceeded to score consecutive goals. Then, with the scoreboard reading 7-3, she fired a pass in heavy traffic to Tucci, who snared it effortlessly and cashed in. O’Brien, a righty, says that she and Tucci, the lefty, have a knack for finding one another because of a shared confidence that the other will get the job done.

The duo was at it a mere 41 seconds later, as O’Brien drove from left to right towards the goal. When she fumbled the ball, Tucci, coming the opposite way, intersected at the spot, scooped the ball and scored. A Tucci dish to O’Brien with 23 seconds left made the halftime score 10-3.

“Emma is amazing,” said O’Brien, who has played with Tucci since each first held a lacrosse stick. “On and off the field I consider her a presence … as a leader, Maureen couldn’t have chosen a better captain. Emma knows what to say to the team when their heads are down and possesses an optimism that no one can walk away from. She’s a great captain, enough said.”

New head coach Lisa Zweigenhaft was delighted to pick up the first win of her coaching career, and was impressed with the way her Garnets face everything together. The growth on the tight-knit team is evident even after just three games, from O’Brien and Tucci on down through a talented roster including players like Emma Brinkman, Michelle Mulhearn, Brittany McCormack, Natalie Moore, Laurel Kennedy, Vaness Pierot, Lauren McRedmond, Rachel Franchella, Maddy Chabot and Maddie Kinker. The driving force, said Zweigenhaft, has been dedicating the season to O’Shea’s memory.

“Maureen has been and will always continue to serve as an inspiring, motivating and important figure in my life,” said Tucci. “I can’t even begin to explain all of the things she has taught me. She was my toughest critic, biggest fan, loving supporter and trustworthy friend. She taught me to play with confidence and made me realize that anything is possible if you are willing to work hard and believe in yourself. I admire her strength and passion for lacrosse, and hope to continue her legacy for many years to come.”


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