Lauren O’Mara is the unsung hero of Penn women’s lacrosse’s stingy defense.
No, she doesn’t normally cover the opposing team’s best attacker. That duty usually lies with senior Katy Junior, who was awarded second team All-Ivy for her efforts last year. However, this role has allowed O’Mara, also a senior, to flourish as a helping defender.
O’Mara is used as a Swiss Army knife, playing multiple positions on defense and wreaking havoc from wherever she’s stationed.
“Since I’m not usually covering the other team’s best player, it’s allowed me to be a much better helping defender,” O’Mara said. “I can hedge for [Junior], slide, just be ready to help other players when they need it."
O’Mara didn’t get playing time her freshman year. Instead, she took it upon herself to be a leader of the scout team, the players who don’t play much during the regular season games, but still remain a vital part of the team.
“My role was to be the best scout defender. Often times I would face guard the best players on our team,” O’Mara said. “Getting those extra reps on scout allowed me to be able to see and learn the game. That repetition got ingrained into my brain, my body, my movement. Now it’s just instincts.”
These instincts have allowed her to flourish on the defensive end. An excellent on-ball defender has athleticism and strength. They can keep the attacker in front of them at all times, not letting them get space to get a shot off. A great help defender, like O’Mara, has excellent anticipation. They have to know when to help, when to stay back, when and how the attacker will make their move.
“I feel like I can read the offense pretty well and predict things before they happen, which helps me to be able to slide fast enough,” O’Mara said. “Reacting based on what the attack is doing, you won’t be able to get there and help in time. Reading the play and understanding what the offense is trying to do is how I can get there to help effectively.”
O’Mara doesn’t have the accolades that some of the other players on the team have. She didn’t get much playing time until her sophomore year. She’s never scored a goal. On the field, she lives in the shadows, only coming out when necessary. This doesn’t change the fact that her defensive presence is felt all over the field.
None know this better than Julia O'Mara, Lauren's twin and teammate. After a series of concussions forced her off the field, Julia still remains with the team and by Lauren's side, cheering her on week after week.
The Quakers sit at 10-4, with a 4-2 record in the Ivy League. They’ve beaten three top-25 opponents this season. Though they’ve slowed down slightly in their most recent matchups, they’re undeniably an excellent team, and their success starts with defense.
O’Mara’s next chance to build on her success comes this weekend against Harvard. She likely won’t cover the Crimson's leading goalscorer, Keeley MacAfee. She might not score, but she’ll make her presence felt, quietly, like always.