In the last three years, Claire Schotta has had an almost obsessive pursuit.
Schotta has been intent on making the St. Anne’s-Belfield’s girls lacrosse team better. To return the Saints to the level of the squad that completed the second half of back-to-back LIS title and Division I state final four runs her eighth grade year.
She’s spent hours upon hours on that mission each offseason. Hours of individual work.
Hours recruiting STAB’s campus for other athletes capable of helping spark the Saints or increase STAB’s depth. Hours working out with younger, less experienced players.
Schotta knew she couldn’t do it alone.
“She’d take them outside and she’d shoot with them,” said STAB coach Mary Blake. “A line of seniors came out for their first year and I think a big part of that was Claire. She was there for the strong kids, the weak kids, whoever wanted to be there. She was the face of the program.”
The Virginia Tech-bound senior didn’t get a chance to see that work come to fruition because of school closings and subsequent sports cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, she’s left with the satisfaction of the work and preparation itself and a brief glimpse of the fruits of that labor. The Saints headed to North Carolina in early March as a preseason tune-up and picked up a 12-11 overtime victory.
“We had just played a tournament down in Durham and had a big win over Myers Park,” Schotta said. “I remember walking off the field that day and I knew it was going to be a super fun and successful season for us.”
The Saints were definitely set up for success. Schotta herself has become a more complete player as her career has progressed, going from primarily a goal scoring monster as a sophomore where she poured in 69 goals while dishing out 22 assists to picking up 72 draw controls as a junior while still scoring 36 goals and registering 30 assists. She earned All-America honors during that campaign. With Schotta’s fellow senior Kate Elam and young budding stars like Tilly Matheson and a slew of young players joining the fold this year, STAB seemed primed to make some noise. Perhaps nobody was better suited to mentor and help shepherd those young, talented players through their first varsity season than Schotta.
She’d been one of those eighth graders before and had current Princeton standout Annie Cory and Caroline DiGiacomo setting the standard for her. Both Cory and DiGiacomo were critical mentors for her and helped shape the player she became. Schotta was ready to continue to mentor, to continue to pour herself into that young group throughout this year as she’d done throughout her career.
“I remember it being important to me that I wasn’t treated like an eighth grader because no matter your age if you’re the best you’re going to be on the field,” Schotta said. “I wanted to make sure they felt included but still pushed them pretty hard.”
In fact, even in what was a pretty low moment — finding out her senior year was being cut short earlier this month — Schotta found a moment to influence the program for the better.
“Not until it was over did I know how special high school sports were, and I made sure to say that to the younger kids so that they don’t take anything for granted,” Schotta said.
Now Schotta has to turn her attention to the next step when she heads to Blacksburg where she appears to be an excellent cultural fit for the blue collar Hokies. Tech is home to a program that’s been trending upward, losing by just three goals to eventual national runner-up Boston College late last season before starting this year 7-3 prior to their season also being cut short.
“I wanted to play in the ACC and I wanted to play for a top tier program,” Schotta said. “It’s only two hours from home so it’ll be easy for friends and family to make my games which was important to me. The second I stepped on campus and met my team and coaches, I immediately felt a connection.”
If it’s anything like the connection she’s had with her high school coaches it must be special. Schotta shared a pregame ritual with assistants John Blake and Carrington King as well as head coach Mary Blake, never taking the field without a quick fist bump with each of them.
“All three of them were my biggest cheerleaders and I know they will be forever,” Schotta said. “They pushed me and had so much confidence in me and I’ll forever be appreciative of that.”
Schotta won’t get another year of LIS and VISAA battles under that coaching staff or with the teammates she’s helped bring together and develop over the last few years. It’s a heartbreaking side effect of the protective measures the entire country has undertaken to help reduce the impact of the worldwide pandemic.
“Honestly I was devastated, I couldn’t believe my senior year academically and athletically had ended so fast,” Schotta said. “I was really looking forward to this season because our team had a lot of potential.”
But those cancellations can’t change the fact that Schotta helped reset the trajectory of the STAB girls lacrosse program, leaving it in a better place for her efforts. It simply can’t take that fact away from her.
“I’ve told her, what you’ve left in our program is phenomenal, you left some great footprints on our program,” Blake said.
Footprints that will remain and bear fruit for the Saints for years to come.