Natalie Fiorilli | The Duquesne Duke
While typically it takes time for a collegiate athlete to make major contributions to his or her team, freshman forward Jill Vacanti has made an immediate impact for the Duquesne women’s lacrosse program this season.
Vacanti holds third place on the team in the points column, and is the top freshman goal scorer with 14. She also leads the Dukes in assists with 13 and has tracked down 16 groundballs. She has scored on 41 percent of her shots this season and has started in every game this season for the Red & Blue.
Vacanti said one of the hardest parts of her transition into college lacrosse has been confidence. Coming into the season, she didn’t even expect a starting position, considering her freshman status.
“In high school you know you’re the best and then you come into college and you’re not because everyone’s just as good as you,” Vacanti said. “I feel a lot of pressure, but everyone has your back all the time. Our coach is super supportive too. He’s always reinforcing how much you mean to the team, and your role.”
Vacanti was introduced to the sport in first grade, and initially assumed the midfielder position. She is from Penfield, New York, the same hometown as senior midfielder Clare Hurley. Four years ago, she and Hurley shared the same campus as a freshman and senior in high school. Vacanti attributes a lot of her success to Hurley’s guidance.
Hurley said she is impressed with Vacanti’s leadership skills and thinks highly of her as a teammate and friend.
“Jill is not the type of player who you consider a freshman even though that is her title,” Hurley said. “With her skills, talent and presence on the field, you would think she was at least a junior. She’s going to do great things over her four years here and I only wish I had the pleasure to play with her for more than just one of them.”
She also explained the difficulty of balancing academics and being a student-athlete. Vacanti is an accounting major in the business school, and is considering attending law school after graduation.
“Time management, balancing everything has been tough, but it helps with this team at least, everyone’s so supportive,” Vacanti said.
Junior forward Lib Lowry is pleased by her freshman teammate’s contribution to the team.
“She’s been an awesome teammate this year as a freshman she’s really stepped up and taken over the role,” Lowry said. “She’s very unselfish. We can always count on her to make a big play.”
One big advantage in lacrosse is the ability to play left-handed in order to throw off the opponent’s defense and Vacanti has that as a natural lefty. She finds her biggest strength to be her ability to feed her teammates the ball in order to find the back of the net.
“That’s my main role, assisting,” Vacanti said. “Getting the shots there. I can see the field pretty well, playing low-attack, I feel like I can see what’s going on with the offense well.”
Despite her success, she continues to seek improvement in her performance. First, she’d like to find more confidence in charging the cage. Despite leading all freshmen in scoring, Vacanti also expressed an overall need for both herself and the rest of the team to learn to recover from mistakes during games.
“We’ve had so many ups and downs, it’s been hard to just move past everything,” Vacanti said. “We’ve had a few bad losses, but we have to move on. I think that’s something that, me and the whole team has struggled with. It’s so hard not to focus on the mistakes you’ve made but you have to just move on from those mistakes and know that you’re going to do something in the next play, even the next game.”
She has been enjoying her time on the Bluff, and especially enjoys the time spent with her teammates both at home as well as on the road.
“We hang out a lot, obviously because we have lacrosse every day and we pretty much have had it every day since we’ve been here, so that helps,” Vacanti said. “Outside of it, everyone’s definitely really close; it’s hard not to be when you spend so much time together. You have to talk to each other, it’s fun. It lightens the mood of the season and makes you feel a little less stressed.”
With only two home games against Davidson and George Mason remaining in the regular season, the Dukes are preparing for the Atlantic 10 Championship. Though the Dukes lost two straight road games to George Washington and Richmond over the weekend, they still have an opportunity to grab a higher seed in the conference championship with wins at Rooney Field this weekend.
Look for Vacanti to be an up and coming leader for the Dukes throughout the next few seasons, and to finish her first season on the Bluff with some momentum.