LINCOLN — It was pretty much on a whim that Jillian DeSimone even picked up a lacrosse stick.
As a Lincoln High freshman back in the fall of 2008, she played girls' varsity soccer, and even earned a letter for her rather solid play. A few months later, as spring approached, her dad, Louis, suggested she try out for the school's lacrosse program.
“I wasn't really into it; he wanted me to try it just as a way to stay in shape for the upcoming soccer season,” DeSimone stated Tuesday afternoon. “I really didn't want to, but then I started thinking about signing up for track or lacrosse. I finally chose lacrosse because a lot of the girls I played soccer with were on the team, and I've always enjoyed the concept of team.
“I didn't know anything about it,” she added. “I knew it was played with a stick, but not much more.” During April Vacation 2009, varsity head coach Susan Renzi approached DeSimone, then a JV player, and explained she needed her help, as a couple of players were missing from practice.
“She asked me if I had played before, and I just said I had thrown the ball back and forth with my dad in our backyard,” she continued. “She then told me, 'Alright, we're going to put you in a varsity game, and we'll see how you do.'”
DeSimone mentioned Renzi placed her at the defensive wing position, and she played OK, but it was nothing special.
“We lost the game, and – during that season – I think I only had six varsity goals,” she noted of the winless campaign. “I thought I could be better.”
What has occurred since is, in a word, stunning.
As a sophomore, she moved from defensive wing to center midfield, and ended up notching 46 goals for the Lions, who finished the Division II-North season with only two victories.
Last spring, as a junior, she became the talk of the regional lacrosse world, recording a whopping 108 goals in only 17 contests. With a 6.4 goals-per-game average, she led the state in that category, and also helped pace the Lions to a perfect 14-0 regular-season mark.
The bad news: After capturing a pair of playoff victories – 18-9 over Narragansett and 12-10 over Portsmouth – second-seeded Lincoln dropped a 12-8 decision to previously-unbeaten and top-ranked Tiverton in the R.I. Division II Tournament final, that held at Rhode Island College.
It closed the campaign at 16-1.
What hurt the most, she said, was the Lions girls' soccer squad had lost in the state D-II championship tilts in her junior and senior seasons; Exeter/West Greenwich leveled both defeats.
“All three of those state finals were at RIC, and we lost each time,” she stated with a sad grin. “I've got a lot of classmates who play other sports, or they're on the same teams as I am. My junior year, I had friends on the softball team go to the state playoffs, and they lost, too. Of course, that was at RIC.
“I don't get it, but there's just something about that campus …,” she added. “The lacrosse loss last spring was much harder than the first soccer (championship) loss (in 2010), just because we had been there already in soccer. The defeat in lacrosse was tougher to take because we had gone winless two years before, and then we went 14-0.
“I remember walking up to one of the other girls, a senior and co-captain, Nora Winslow, after we lost the lacrosse championship; she also was a soccer teammate. I just said, 'I'm sorry. I know you're a senior, and you wanted this so badly.' She just told me, 'Don't worry. You'll win it next year.'”
DeSimone is hell-bent on garnering at least one state crown before she's through as an LHS student-athlete, but also revealed she's feeling the stress.
“One of my best friends is Aidan Cullen, a senior who's a co-captain for the soccer and lacrosse teams like me, and we've been talking,” DeSimone indicated. “We grew up playing soccer together, and we were really happy about coming back this year to try to win either a soccer or lacrosse title, or both. Now we're down to our last chance.
“It's awful; it's pretty nerve-wracking, especially because we don't want to let our teammates down. With each game, it's going to be a struggle. We know the other teams are going to be gunning for us, as we were undefeated last year … at least until the state final.”
There's good news on the horizon, however. Lincoln lost only three seniors, all returning starters, to graduation, and that gives her more confidence about what the immediate future holds.
Returnees include DeSimone; Cullen, whom she calls Lincoln's premier defender; junior attack wing Brittany Redding, who registered over 40 goals last spring; junior attacker Ashley Moreau, who had over 30 tallies; and junior goalie Nina Fournier.
The Lions also will rely on sophomore Sarena Balon, a freshman starter who has superb speed and stick control.
“You know, I'm surprised I was able to score so many goals last season; lacrosse came very easy to me, and I don't know why,” she said. “I used to play tennis because my whole family does, so maybe that's got something to do with it.
“When I became a freshman, girls' soccer and tennis were both in the fall, and I had to choose between them, but that was easy, because I've always loved soccer,” she added. “I wasn't even going to play soccer as a little kid. My parents were going to sign me up for (the Lincoln Youth Soccer Association) when I was six, but I wasn't interested.
“Then I went to see one of my sister (Jessica's) games with my father; it was a LYSA rec league game, and it looked really fun. Every time they practiced, I'd tag along with my dad, and I'd ask him to kick the ball at me. I had a great time, and I'm surprised I didn't end up a goalkeeper.
“The next year, I was really excited about playing, so I asked (my parents, Louis and Lori) to sign me up. I'm sure they thought I was pretty strange.”
That first season, she represented an Under-8 recreation team, one her father ended up coaching.
“That year, the only team we lost to was Blockbuster Video, and the coach was a guy named Steve Sorkin,” she mentioned. “He suggested to my dad that I try out for the Under-8 travel team, which I guess is similar to an All-Star team.”
DeSimone has been a goal scorer ever since. During her senior soccer campaign last autumn, the Lions' striker/center midfielder mustered about 30 tallies and 10 assists. When it comes to her offensive prowess in lacrosse, she claims she's shocked by her success.
“It's never been one of my dreams to go out and score so many; I just want the team to win, that's all,” she said. “I'm very competitive in everything I do – soccer, lacrosse, gym class, board games, even cards, but I hate playing 'War.' It doesn't matter.”
Renzi indicated she has a lot of freshmen girls who opt to play lacrosse, as they want to take part in something new.
“Many of them have never played before, and we don't have a feeder program (in the middle school), so I'm getting them from scratch,” Renzi said. “It's remarkable what Jillian has done, but – unfortunately, the way it's set up – only Division I players get credit for scoring when it comes to All-State (status).
“When you look at those All-State teams, they're all D-I players, and those in D-II don't even get a look,” she added. “I really don't think that's fair, as we have some very talented girls in our division. We're in D-II only because of the size of our (female) enrollment.
“I think Jillian, and some of our other players, should have been considered for All-State, but D-I is what it is. She's a really good kid. I love Jillian dearly, but I'm hoping she doesn't come down with 'Senioritis.' These girls have talent, and – if they use it – they can go far this season.
“She's going to be a very important piece to the puzzle. The thing about Jillian is, she's a lot like my daughter (Alexandra, who starred in field hockey and lacrosse at LHS and currently plays for the Rutgers University women's field hockey squad). She's what I call a gamer.
“There are certain kids who will take it easy at practice, joke around, but put them in a game and they'll blow your mind,” she continued. “They don't pick up the pace three notches but 10. They'll just get it done. That's Jillian.”
DeSimone, also a premier student, already knows where she'll further her academic and athletic careers. She has verbally committed to Brown University, where she'll play soccer.
“That's kind of weird because I've been going to Brown youth soccer camps for, like, my whole life,” DeSimone laughed. “I play on the New England Wave Under-18 travel team, and I started with the Under-15 team. That club was founded by Phil Pincince, who's also the Brown women's coach.
“I had no intention on going there. I knew when I got to high school I wanted to play soccer in college, but then I picked up lacrosse, so I thought that was an option, too. I figured I'd be happy playing either one in college. I talked to the Brown women's lacrosse coach, and I just thought the opportunity was better in soccer.
“I had been between Brown and Connecticut College, which has a beautiful campus in New London,” she added. “But I've known Coach Pincince for such a long time.”
She indicated she's known since fifth or sixth grade that she wanted to play soccer in college.
“I wrote a health essay my freshman year, and I found it when I was doing my Portfolio (assignment, necessary to graduate),” she offered. “You were supposed to write about goals you had to follow a healthy lifestyle as you got older, and I wrote I wanted to play Division I soccer on the collegiate level.
“I knew that Connecticut College was in D-III, and I always wanted to play D-I, so that's another reason I chose Brown. The other aspect of it was the education, which obviously is excellent. I'd like to study some type of engineering, though I'm thinking environmental right now.”
With a chuckle, she added, “My ultimate goal professionally is to be an 'Imagineer' at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. It's like being a creative engineer to come up with new rides, stuff like that.”
First thing's first, however. DeSimone and Cullen desperately want to snag the state D-II lacrosse title.
“All of my girls are soccer players; it's the same group that has lost the state Division II championships the last two years,” Renzi said. “I've already told them, 'If you make it to the (lacrosse) finals again, you've got to change it up. Just win this time! You're going to have to work harder than you ever did before, but you are capable of winning it.'”