Penn athletics is seemingly teeming with wunderkinds. Just about every team seems to have their own underclassman superstar. For women’s lacrosse, no player burst onto the scene last season quite like sophomore midfielder Alex Condon did.
The Dunn Loring, Va. native went from scoring one goal as a spot-starting freshman to a program all-time sixth-best 41-goal season in spring 2016 and helped pave the way for the Quakers’ trip to the NCAA tournament.
Rewinding to the beginning of the 2016 season, it was difficult to predict how the Quakers would perform after losing a star-studded senior class the prior spring. On the defensive side, the team had to replace three four-year full-time starting backs and a three-year full-time starting goalkeeper.
That, coupled with the loss of several offensive catalysts — one of whom was the program’s second ranked all-time goal scorer, Tory Bensen — blinded people from seeing the strides that the rest of the team had made.
Nonetheless, Condon admits that most had pegged the team to take a step back in 2016, something that she and her teammates made sure to prevent.
“Coming in last season, nobody really had any sort of expectations for us. To be able to make it that far in the NCAA tournament was a huge accomplishment and none of us really thought that was a possibility coming in,” Condon said.
Unlike many of Penn’s young stars, Condon did not burst onto the scene until her sophomore season. As a freshman, she started just one time and appeared in 12 other contests. Going into her second season for the Red and Blue, Condon was poised to become a mainstay in the lineup.
“At the beginning of the season I knew I was going to be able to play, but I didn’t necessarily know if I was going to be able to start because we did have a lot of girls who are very good players,” Condon said.
As time went on, Condon began to take greater advantage of the opportunity that coach Karin Corbett provided. That is ultimately what turned the tide on Condon’s role in the starting lineup.
“As I got more playing time on the field, and I was able to get comfortable and be able to know that I definitely could hang with everyone out there and I could do well and I could play well, I think that definitely boosted my confidence, and I was able to go out there and really play my game and to not be nervous that I would mess up or have a bad pass or let my team down.”
That newfound confidence worked wonders for the sophomore and helped bring about an air of consistency to an offense that was already tough to stop. In a 12-game span that started before midseason and lasted up to the season finale, Condon scored nine hat tricks. Her 41 goals in 2016 were the sixth most in a season in program history. She was a force to be reckoned with and received the national acclaim that comes with that type of success: a first-team all-Ivy, first-team all-region and third-team all-America selection.
Of course, this means that the secret is out: Condon is no longer that sophomore who just entered the starting lineup and was dishing out hat tricks like they were going out of style. That will ultimately pose a challenge to the incoming junior, but she already has devised a plan to avoid becoming a one-hit wonder.
“As a junior I want to be able to evolve my play,” Condon said. “A lot of my goals last season came from beating my defender on a cut and being able to get that feed in and score inside, but I want to have that and also be able to facilitate goals and look to feed and score off of dodges and be able to create more, so I’m not as much of a one-dimensional player and bring in some more stuff to my game to make me a harder player to mark.”
It all sounds great in theory, but how will Condon, and the rest of the team for that matter, look to produce offense without the Ivy League’s best playmaker of all time in Nina Corcoran? The team’s superstar attack broke the Penn and Ivy League assists record in 2016 and played a huge role in Condon’s success prior to graduating this past spring.
“She was able to find me on the field when I didn’t even think I was open,” Condon said of Corcoran, one of the team’s two co-captains. “Her passes were incredible. It’s going to be really hard to try and figure out how to replace that because she was so good at seeing the field and making things happen and finding those feeds.”
Of course, all great collegiate players have to leave the program at some point, and coaches have to be able to replace them through various strategies. But that doesn’t mean that the task of replacing Corcoran will be an easy one. Condon is confident in her coaches’ abilities to replace superstar talents — rightfully so, since this is the second time that they had to replace a program record-holder in as many years — and offered her own tactics on how to be successful without such an imposing presence like Corcoran.
“We might have to look towards the midfield and dodging to goal instead of looking for assists and feeds.” Condon said, as the first of her two attempts to remedy the offense after Corcoran’s departure. “We also have people [whose] main role wasn’t to look for feeds and assists and we have them coming up so we can look to repurpose them and ask them to do some different things on the field to fill up that gap. I think we’ll have the people we need on the field to create opportunities and score goals.”
Defensively, the team loses one of its pleasant surprises of 2016 in Liz Gully, who assumed a full-time starting role last season after playing the role of apprentice for three seasons to the talented class of 2015 trio of Taylor Foussadier, Meg Markham, and Lydia Miller.
Condon recognized that the coaches have their work cut out for them, but admitted that it is not as daunting a task as last year, when the aforementioned triumvirate of defenders graduated. The defense’s ability to succeed in 2016 brings hope that the 2017 roster will be able to fill in the gaps left by this year’s now-graduated senior class.
“We went from having a couple defenders return to being able to have a strong steady defense and be able to put up a fight against a lot of the better attacks in the country. We had to replace a lot of people last year and I think one or two spots this year is a much easier task than it was last year,” Condon said. “I think we have the talent on our team to find the right people to fit right in and make an impact.”
The defense’s ability to keep up their high level of play was in part due to Condon’s two-way presence, which was a result of her burst that she often used to get back in transition after a failed offensive breakout.
In the same way that she remains modest about her scoring ability, Condon is reluctant to acknowledge her defensive skills, quick to recognize instead outgoing senior and co-captain Lely DeSimone for much of her success.
“She was huge. I would always look to her if I had a question on defense or offense. She was a great dodger so whenever I wanted to work on that she would be more than willing to help me,” Condon said. “She was a huge help and such a leader on both sides of the field.”
Heading into 2017, the goal is to advance further than last year, a season that ended with a heartbreaking loss in the NCAA quarterfinals. And, while the season-ending loss to Penn State was a tough pill to swallow, the overlying image is one of progress. In Condon’s view, this is a great source of motivation for the team.
“Just the fact that we know we can get that far and we have the talent and potential on our team, that really motivates us in the offseason to be better than ever in the fall coming into next season.”
Sure, the team needs to work on its consistency after dropping a few winnable contests in 2016, but the future appears bright for Penn women’s lacrosse. And Alex Condon’s play will play a big part in that.
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