Cunningham shines in a rough season for women’s lacrosse

Junior attacker Olivia Cunningham (left) turns on the jets against a Colgate defender. (Photo courtesy of Athletic Communications)

During a loss to Army last weekend which dropped the team to 0-5 on the season, junior attacker Olivia Cunningham posted a game-high seven goals for the women’s lacrosse team. It was the highest scoring output for a Lafayette player in over four years.

Although the team has struggled to be competitive this year, Cunningham is one of the bright spots for the Leopards, posting a team-high 19 points on 16 goals and three assists. Despite the program’s struggles, Cunningham said her seven-goal game was a team effort.

“Our attack had been working on a new motion the week leading up to the game to try and break down Army’s zone defense,” Cunningham said. “I think my seven goals just resulted from our offense working well in our system.”

“We knew how to beat their defense and I think my shots just came from my teammates creating opportunities to get me open to put the ball in the net,” she added. “It definitely was an entire unit effort because in order to beat a zone defense, every offensive player has to be bought into the system.”

Cunningham’s success comes as no surprise after her performance last spring before the season was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, Cunningham started all seven games for the Leopards, leading the team with 28 points on 19 goals and nine assists. Even quarantine couldn’t prevent Cunningham from getting extra reps.

“I stayed in shape by running distance on a local trail, running sprints at my high school field, and lifting in my home gym that my dad built when we first got sent home last spring,” Cunningham said. “I followed a lot of what our strength coach sent us in our workout packet [over the break], but I looked to get in extra reps with my friend who is an aspiring strength and conditioning trainer.”

Her discipline translated onto the field as the lacrosse season started without any setbacks. Although Cunningham has been adjusting to playing a new position, her point totals have skyrocketed in recent games as she has consistently put up multiple goals and assists.

“I play attack and this year I was moved from playing behind the cage [crease attack] to in front [on the elbow], so my position this year has been fairly new to me,” Cunningham explained. “I think I’ve performed well this season adjusting to my new position and capitalizing on opportunities for my team. I think I had a slow start to the season, but I’ve definitely gained some momentum in the last few games.”

Cunningham’s willingness to continually hone her craft is a large factor behind what makes her a successful lacrosse player. This work ethic was developed far before she arrived at Lafayette, however, and she has been a star player ever since she stepped foot on the field in her early years.

“My parents got me started playing lacrosse at a pretty young age,” Cunningham said. “I went to lacrosse summer camps so that my parents could go to work, and I just happened to love it. I spent most of my life playing soccer, and there was a big shift in what I wanted to play in college. When I got to eighth grade, I decided lacrosse was what I wanted to do and I committed less than a year later.”

Choosing a college so early in high school may be daunting for some, but Cunningham knew Lafayette was the school for her as soon as she visited. Like many athletes that chose Lafayette, the opportunity to get both a great education and participate in Division I sports drew her to the school.

“I chose Lafayette because it presented a great opportunity both educationally and athletically for me to succeed,” Cunningham said. “I knew that I wanted to go to a small school, and when I visited Lafayette I knew I would fit in great. It was important to me to go to a Division I school where I knew I could step on the field all four years and be an impact player for that program.”

The team itself has gotten off to a slow start and is still searching for its first win this spring, but Cunningham and co. will look to change that narrative against rival Lehigh tomorrow at home.

The game starts at 4 p.m. in Fisher Stadium, but attendance will be restricted due to surging COVID-19 cases on Lafayette’s campus.

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