Long before Catonsville High’s Mike Mohler got a chance to coach Lauren McDonald on the varsity basketball team, his wife, Bridget, a teacher at Catonsville Elementary School, knew he was going to get a special athlete.
“She told me, ‘You’ve got to stick around for this one, she is going to be one of the best athletes in the school,’ ” Mohler said.
McDonald was in the second grade at the time. And Bridget was correct.
McDonald was selected along with classmate Jenn Nonn, as the Catonsville Times Female Co-Athlete of the Year.
Both juniors played soccer, basketball and lacrosse, and both plan to play lacrosse in college.
McDonald will play at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Nonn plans to attend Virginia Commonwealth University.
Mohler is happy to have McDonald for one more season after she tore an anterior cruciate ligament in a preseason soccer scrimmage before her sophomore season. “Not having her that year was a huge loss to us,” Mohler said.
What he got this past year for the 22-14 Comets who lost in the regional finals at Paint Branch was a hard worker who often guarded the opposing team’s top scorer while doing all the little things to help the team win.
“Whatever she is going to do she is going to give 120 percent,” Mohler said.
Whether it was a key rebound, defensive stop, deflection or three pointer McDonald was capable of delivering it a key moment.
Assistant coach Rich Hunt saw that in the Comets’ 40-37 regional basketball quarterfinal playoff win over Western when she made what he said was “the best rebound I’ve have ever seen.”
McDonald got the carom among the trees and converted a putback to give the Comets a 39-32 lead with just over four minutes left.
“That was an unbelievable rebound she got against Western that iced the game,” Mohler said.
When Mohler asked her to guard the toughest scorer, she never backed down.
“It was a badge of honor for her,” Mohler said. “Not everybody wants to take that role, but she relished it.”
Mohler also enjoyed watching her play lacrosse and feels she will excel at the next level.
“She has a sense and understanding of the game and when she goes to college to play lacrosse, she is going to be a real leader,” he said. “And she brings a great attitude.”
The coach admits he’s thankful to have her on the basketball team for one more year before she starts her collegiate lacrosse career.
Although James Fitzpatrick retired from coaching, after leading the Comet soccer team to its best season in school history, he will surely be around to watch McDonald play her senior year when he takes over for Bill Nelson as the new athletic director.
McDonald proved she could handle various roles last season when she moved from midfield to goalie after starting keeper Natalie Croom suffered a concussion in early October.
After moving to goal, she was part of a defense that had five shutouts and allowed just eight goals during an 18-2 season that included county and regional titles and a berth in the state championship game which they lost to Walt Whitman 2-0.
One of her signature saves came in the final 10 minutes of a 2-1 win over Sparrows Point when a ball caromed off the post and she was there to corral it.
“Lauren was always the backup goalkeeper and one of the reasons was basically the good hands she had,” Fitzpatrick said.
She also showed no fear despite coming back off the knee surgery.
“She really trusted her surgery and rehab so that she could go out and play as she did before she had the surgery,” Fitzpatrick said. “She had reckless abandon, which is crucial for a goalkeeper and she had a willingness to throw her body at the ball.”
Her combination of athleticism and smarts also put her a cut above most keepers.
“She has the mental toughness, in addition to the physically ability and it takes a different breed to go out and do that,” Fitzpatrick said.
In lacrosse, her job was to make the opposing goalies miserable and she was right on point, leading the Comets in scoring (49 goals, 31 assists) and helping them reach the state championship game, which they lost to Severna Park, 15-5.
When second leading scorer Brooke Stevens went down with a torn ACL in the waning moments of the first half of the state semifinal game against Sherwood, McDonald was a key contributor as the Comets rallied from a 5-4 deficit with six unanswered goals.
“She (Stevens) runs everything, she starts everything and we all look up to her, including myself, so losing her just kind of turned into looking to each other because that was all we had, was just to play as a team and play for Brooke because we wanted to win more than anything after she went down,” said McDonald after the game.
“Lauren had such great stickwork and she has go a lot more confidence in herself,” coach Becky Clipp Cassilly said. “She wanted the ball in her stick and made things happen and she just kept getting better and better.”
Late in games when the Comets were trying to preserve a lead, it was McDonald who handled the ball the most.
“She does not crumble under pressure,” Cassilly said. “She was awesome.”