Wayland's Cunningham carries comrades
With just over a quarter to play and Concord-Carlisle cutting into Wayland’s lead, the Warriors’ sophomore superstar stepped up and forced her way to the net to regain control on the match.
Amy Cunningham may be young, but with 59 goals through 12 games, she is well on her way to becoming one of the top players in the state. The sophomore’s ability to take over a game was evident with her 10-goal performance in a 17-6 win over Waltham and a nine-goal performance in a 18-6 win over Bedford.
Against Concord-Carlisle Tuesday, Cunningham showed she could take over in a pressure-packed situation against a top team.
After a quiet first half, Cunningham sensed her team needed her to step up and that’s exactly what she did, scoring consecutive goals to push Wayland’s lead to five. After Concord-Carlisle chipped away to get within one, Cunningham again forced her way to the net for two more goals.
With a one-goal lead and less than a minute remaining, it was the sophomore attack who controlled the pace by maintaining possession, allowing the Warriors to hold on.
“For those last couple seconds we wanted to hold on to the ball because we only had a one-goal lead, so that was definitely very big,’’ Cunningham said. “We just wanted to make sure we had the ball for as long as we could.’’
Cunningham is a raw talent, with speed and strength that allows her to push to the net. She lacks the finesse of a veteran, and as a lefty, she is timid about going to her right. Cunningham recognizes these areas of improvement and is working to advance her skills.
“We’re working on wall ball routines [for my right hand],’’ Cunningham said.
Her coach smiles when the conversation turns to Cunningham’s ability to use her right hand.
“You can see her body language change completely when she goes righty,’’ Erica Kluge said. “But she knows to work on that. Also she’s been able to just shoot and score and we’re working with her to make more fakes and kind of mix it up a bit.’’
While her skills still have time to develop, what makes Cunningham so good right now is her work ethic and team-first mentality.
“I think the sky is the limit for her,’’ said Kluge. “I think she has a great work ethic. I think she wants to be the best and you are going to keep seeing improvement.
“Teams are going to recognize her and she’s going to have a bull’s-eye on her back, but I think that’s just going to push her to get even better.’’
The sophomore has the skills to become an elite player. She uses her speed to bolt past defenders in the transition game. In a stalled offense in front of the net, Cunningham’s brute strength allows her to plow through double-teams to get to the net.
“I think her speed and her nose for the goal [are her biggest strengths],’’ Kluge said. “She really wants to score. I think some of our kids are more hesitant, don’t really want to be that assertive with the ball, but she has no problem taking charge.’’
Cunningham has been playing lacrosse since the third grade and has always known that her speed would be her top asset.
“That’s what got me ahead, because at first I didn’t really have good stick skills or anything and it was frustrating, dropping the ball,’’ she said. “But I had the ball and I could run, that definitely helped me because that’s all you can really have when you start out.’’
As she approached high school, Cunningham joined a club team of players from around New England, Revolution Lacrosse, to help develop her skills and allow her to play year-round.
“[Joining the club team] definitely changed my whole entire playing field and changed my game,’’ Cunningham said. “And then I came [to high school] and as a freshman, Coach really helped me adjust to the high school rules and get me into the game and get me playing. She helped a ton and it’s just been going on from there.’’
Cunningham is also on the soccer team and swim team at Wayland, which she says helps when it it’s time to step on to the lacrosse field.
“[Soccer is] the same kind of game. It’s the team aspect and everything,’’ Cunningham said. “Swim team, it’s definitely a very, very hard sport and I think that’s what gets my mental toughness. Because when I’m swimming and I get so tired and I keep telling myself to keep going and going. So that gets me ready for the sprints and you have to go and get the ball and keep running.’’
Like Kluge said, Cunningham wants to be the best. The coach is confident Cunningham’s work ethic will get her there, but her humble, team-first attitude is another asset not all star players possess.
“She’s very valuable to the team because she’s very humble and wants to keep working,’’ Kluge said. ’’She’s one of these kids that really works hard. Even in sprinting she pushes herself. She’s by far the fastest kid, but she’s pushing herself all the time to get even faster and pick up her teammates.’’
Cunningham’s work ethic makes her a leader on the field. As a sophomore, she hasn’t become one of the vocal leaders, but her teammates look up to her for her dedication to the sport.
“She sort of leads by example, she’s less vocal than other people, but with her work ethic and drive, she leads in those intangible ways,’’ Kluge said. “I think next year you’ll see her really step up and direct other people.’’
Last season, Cunningham was teammates with her older sister, which she said eased her transition to the high school game. This season, Cunningham has blossomed in her independence.
“Last year I think she felt like the younger kid where her older sister was playing with her,’’ Kluge said. “I think that she was a little bit more hesitant, but now I think she’s a little more comfortable with the team, more confident in herself.’’
Cunningham’s growing confidence is helping her become the player she wants to be.
“I hope my success keeps going on through the next few years,’’ Cunningham said. “And even though we are losing some key players, I still want the team to do really well. And my goal is to make it to the tournament all four years that I’ve been here.’’
Thanks is large part to her performance against Concord-Carlisle, which qualified the Warriors for the postseason, Cunningham is halfway to her team goal.
Games of the week
No. 10 Masconomet at No. 16 North Andover, Mon., 3:30 p.m. - The Chieftains will look to come out on top against a North Andover team that is coming off a tough loss to Andover.
No. 15 Westford at No. 3 Lincoln-Sudbury, Tue., 3 p.m. - The Warriors are one of the top teams in Division 1 and Westford is coming off back-to-back losses, including a 18-10 setback to L-S. Should Westford pull off the upset, it will have all the momentum it needs for the last week of the season.
No. 13 Central Catholic at No. 6 Andover, Wed., 7 - This is a huge Merrimack Valley Conference tilt. Andover is looking to solidify its place as one of the top teams in Division 1, while the Raiders are looking to get on a roll before the tournament.
No. 8 Concord-Carlisle at No. 7 Reading, Sat., 4:15 - The Rockets lost to Winchester last week, but a win over the Patriots would stamp Reading as one of the top contenders in Division 2.