A year ago, the storyline was about a father coaching against his daughter for the first time. But when Holy Trinity met Friends Academy on the girls lacrosse field Thursday afternoon in Hicksville, the game meant so much more.
The teams played for Mary Ruchalski, a 12-year-old lacrosse player from Rockville Centre who is battling cancer.
The game, won by Holy Trinity, 12-9, was the brainchild of the teams’ coaches – Dave Kotowski for Holy Trinity and Victoria Kotowski of Friends Academy, who have known Ruchalski for almost her entire life.
Dave coached Mary’s older sister, Ashley, who is close friends with Victoria and Victoria coaches Mary on the Team Elevate 2023 squad.
“As soon as I found out from Ashley, I immediately called my dad and said we’ve got to figure out what to do,” Victoria Kotowski said.
The brainstorming resulted in Thursday’s game being in Ruchalski’s honor. Both teams wore white t-shirts in the pregame with “Play for Mary” and the hashtag “YougotthisMary.” Players from both teams wrote her initials on the back of their left calves and they formed a giant ‘M’ at midfield before the opening draw.
Younger Team Elevate players walking through the stands asking for donations helped raise $1,400. An additional $100 is expected from a Holy Trinity bake sale next week.
“One of the most important things for her is that she knows people are thinking about her,” Dave Kotowski said. “A lot of this is about awareness for her, making sure she mentally knows we’re all praying for her and thinking about her. Also, we’re trying to raise money directly for the Sloan Kettering Memorial Center for pediatric cancer research.”
Playing for Mary was easy for Holy Trinity senior Mary Zarba, even though she doesn’t know her personally.
“She’s one of Dave’s players and I’m one of Dave’s players. We have that connection and the connection that we both share the passion for the sport of lacrosse,” the midfielder said. “We’re playing for her so she can get out and do what she loves.”
Mary Ruchalski, who was diagnosed with cancer in early January, has a port in her chest to administer chemotherapy treatments. That was the case on Thursday, which didn’t allow her to be in attendance. She has lost 30 pounds and some of her hair, but Mary is already playing wall ball, looking to get back on the field as soon as possible.
“That’s the first thing Mary wanted to talk about when she found out, which just shows what kind of athlete she is,” Victoria Kotowski said. “I love that and I have no doubt she’s going to back on the lacrosse field better than ever.”
On the field Thursday, both teams battled hard for every loose ball and on every draw. Holy Trinity raced out to an early 3-0 lead, but Friends rallied to tie the score at four on the second of Caroline Carrello’s three goals.
However, Julia Coyle-Romano took a feed from Brooke Snyder and bounced in the Titans go-ahead goal with 29.8 seconds left in the first half.
Carrello tied the score at 5 just 26 seconds into the second half, but Snyder won the ensuing draw and raced in goal to give Holy Trinity a 6-5 lead 10 seconds later. It was her second of three goals. She also had a pair of assists.
Claire Schmitt had six goals, including a pair of empty-netters in the final 1:56, Coyle-Romano had a pair of goals and Zarba added one for Holy Trinity, which improved to 8-3. Ashleen Hughes had two goals, Caroline Wilson had a pair of assists and Juliet D’Aversa made 11 saves for Friends, which dropped to 4-2.
It would have been sweet revenge for Dave Kotowski for last year’s loss to his daughter, but on this day, there was a much more important cause to focus on.
“Today, it’s about Mary,” Dave Kotowski said, “which makes it easy to play the game.”