By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 1/1/16
Agnes Irwin’s Jen Duckenfield has been named the Phillylacrosse.com 2015 Girls’ team Coach of the Year.
In 2015 Duckenfield led the Owls to a 23-1 season, an outright Inter-Ac League title and their first Independent State championship. Agnes Irwin, which closed with 16 straight victories, finished No. 3 in the final STEPS Lacrosse North America Rankings and was the top team in the final Phillylacrosse.com Rankings.
Agnes Irwin was a 2-16 team in 2012, the year before Duckenfield arrived. She used a number of freshmen in her first year (13-9) and then in 2014 the Owls went 22-2 and reached the state final while sharing their first Inter-Ac League crown since 2006.
In 2015, Agnes Irwin scored wins over defending state champions Vero Beach (Florida) and Moorestown (New Jersey) and rolled into the state final where they crushed Episcopal Academy, 14-4.
The win over Episcopal Academy – which dealt the Owls their only loss early in the year – was a near-perfect performance for Agnes Irwin, which dominated from start to finish and clearly played its best game of the year.
“It’s every coach’s dream to have their team play its best game in the last game of the year,” said Duckenfield. “We spent the year improving each game in preparation for the final game.
“The reason for the success was how the girls bought into the concept of a team AND they worked hard.”
Duckenfield said her assistants, Jen Raech and Stevie McNesby, shared in the honor.
“I have a great support system of coaches, between Jen and Stevie, and I have to thank my mentors, Michele DiJuliis (of Ultimate Lacrosse), Phyllis Kilgour (former Radnor coach) and Kim Jackson (former Henderson coach). They have always inspired me.
“I also have to thank the girls for believing in me, and each other, as well as Agnes Irwin and my daughter, Alex, for their support.”
Hannah Keating, the Phillylacrosse.com Co-Player of the Year, said that Duckenfield pushed the team beyond the limits even they felt they could achieve.
“Coach Duck was awesome,” said Keating, now a senior. “She is really tough on us, but just tough enough. We all came in as freshmen and we needed time to jell and learn to work together and she has helped show us the way.
“She took our program and changed it. Our practices are so intense; she teaches us the right way to play. I don’t think any of us knew how to play good defense and she completely transformed us. The credit all goes to her.”
Duckenfield said she is often asked how a team that was 2-16 could become so strong so quickly.
“The answer is ‘team unity,'” she said. “It happened by developing selfless players that have an intrinsic love for their teammates and by maintaining a healthy competitive perspective.
“Of course you, need to have fun, too! We encourage continuous learning and a competitive mindset.”