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Archbishop Spalding lacrosse’s Kristin O’Neill ‘just wants to dominate any situation’

Spalding's Kristin O'Neill shoots and scores in the first half against St. Mary's in a girls high school lacrosse game.
Spalding's Kristin O'Neill shoots and scores in the first half against St. Mary's in a girls high school lacrosse game. (Paul W. Gillespie / Capital Gazette)

Growing up with three athletic brothers, Archbishop Spalding’s Kristin O’Neill spent her childhood learning how to compete. These days, the senior lacrosse standout still has that competitive edge — even when the games don’t count.

“We laugh at practice. She’s the kid who not only wants to win the game, but she wants to win the drill,” Spalding coach Tara Shea said. “She wants to win the sprint. She just wants to dominate any situation, almost to the point where she gets a little bit upset when she doesn’t, because she’s that competitive.”

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Given that, the past few days for O’Neill have been particularly hard to handle. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, all games in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland are on hold for the foreseeable future, with the entire spring season in serious jeopardy.

With school closed, O’Neill and some of her senior teammates have gotten together on their own, traveling to area parks to run and practice their shooting. Though she plans to begin ramping up her workouts, the change in routine has been an admittedly difficult one.

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“It’s hard, because when you’re in season and have practice everyday, it’s a lot easier to stay into it,” O’Neill said. “Not being able to be together makes you appreciate it more, so that when we do come back I think we’ll all be ready to go. It’s just going to be hard to stay in shape like we were.”

Left to right, Kristin O'Neill, Spalding, moves the ball as Sam Thacker, McDonogh, defends in the first half of a 2019 IAAM A Conference girls lacrosse semifinal match.
Left to right, Kristin O'Neill, Spalding, moves the ball as Sam Thacker, McDonogh, defends in the first half of a 2019 IAAM A Conference girls lacrosse semifinal match. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

The unplanned break might provide opposing defenders with the only respite they’ll get against the Penn State-bound midfielder, who finished with 85 goals and 17 assists last season, never scoring fewer than three in any game. She scored four of her team’s five goals in an early-season 6-5 loss to top-ranked McDonogh, then scored four more against the Eagles in the 2019 IAAM A Conference semifinals

"She comes to play," Shea said. "She's fearless, but she's able to dominate just about anyone she sees. Right- or left-handed, she's able to get to the cage and finish. Kids struggle with getting bumped, getting double-teamed, but she just finds a way to kind of fight through those situations."

A lot of that, no doubt, comes from her earliest days in Odenton, growing up with three hockey-playing brothers. Older brothers Colin (a senior at UMass Lowell) and Jason (a junior at Providence), along with younger brother Cameron (a sophomore at Mount St. Charles Academy in Rhode Island) guided her backyard indoctrination into the world of sports.

"When I was little, they never really let me not try anything, so I've always been super competitive, even at stupid stuff," O'Neill said. "They all played hockey, but they played lacrosse for a little bit too. Just playing random games inside or basketball outside, I was always competing with them. I just kind of took that on with everything else, too."

That attitude also likely helped with her move to midfield from defense, where she spent most of her early career at the club level. One game, she randomly got the call to sub for a teammate at midfield, and almost instantly found her nack for scoring goals.

Now, she's perfected the art of the transition.

"I think defense helps me with my offense," O'Neill said. "It gets me more competitive by being able to be on both sides of the ball and more involved in transition, which is one of my favorite parts."

O’Neill has started at midfield since her freshman year at Spalding, when she also committed to Penn State, traditionally one of the nation’s top Division I programs. She said committing early removed a lot of the stress involved with the college decision process, allowing her simply to enjoy playing.

Even if her intensity at practice may indicate otherwise.

“In practice, you want to win every drill. You get mad if you don’t win,” O’Neill said. “That’s how I try to look at everything.”

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