McKenna played through tough times and is now key to CGA's success in women's lacrosse

Coast Guard Academy's Daria McKenna, right, attempts to get past Springfield defender Amanda Picozzi during Saturday's 17-6 loss in New London. McKenna, a senior from Fitch High School, is on the cusp of scoring 100 career points and is a major part of the Bears' first winning season in program history. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Coast Guard Academy's Daria McKenna, right, attempts to get past Springfield defender Amanda Picozzi during Saturday's 17-6 loss in New London. McKenna, a senior from Fitch High School, is on the cusp of scoring 100 career points and is a major part of the Bears' first winning season in program history. (Tim Martin/The Day)

New London — Daria McKenna has refused to let anything extinguish her competitive fire during her Coast Guard Academy women's lacrosse career.

A Fitch High School graduate, McKenna stuck around through hard times while others left the program.

McKenna remained positive when the Bears struggled, winning just nine games in her first three seasons and going winless in the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference.

Now Coast Guard is finally where McKenna, the first four-year player in the program's short history, always believed it would be.

The Bears are enjoying their best season, already setting single-season records for wins (eight) and conference wins (two).

"We had a lot of chemistry right off the bat," McKenna said Saturday. "It's been great to see it all come together my senior year."

McKenna had an assist in a 17-6 loss to Springfield in NEWMAC action, moving her within two of 100 career points. She leads the team in assists with 21, ranks second in points with 38 and tied for fourth with 17 goals.

"We're always really impressed by Daria," coach Mary Heneberry said. "Now that she has players around her that have risen to that level, she's shined even more as a player. They really look up to her as well as the other two captains on the field."

Coast Guard (8-3, 2-1) ran into a tough foe in Springfield (7-5, 2-1), which never trailed and roared to a 10-2 halftime lead.

A talented freshmen class helped spark the attack for the Bears. Newcomer Brenna Farrington scored two goals to increase her conference-leading total to 48. Haley McCue also had two goals and fellow freshman Marietta Davis scored one. Junior Carter Sanderson had a goal and an assist.

The result showed how far the Bears still need to go to beat a strong NEWMAC team and how far they've come as well. In the previous three meetings in the series, they only managed a combined four goals.

When McKenna arrived at Coast Guard, the women's lacrosse program was entering its first season at the Division III level. The losses quickly piled up, as the Bears won four, two and three games overall in the first three seasons.

"I didn't know what to expect coming into a program that went from club to Division III," McKenna said. "I had no clue how competitive the conference would be.

"It was tough especially being around a team that winning doesn't really matter to them. People would take the loss and it wouldn't fuel them to win the next game. But I always had that fire where if we lost, I'd want to win the next game.

"That's what makes me the only senior who came back this year, because I believed the team would get there with everyone believing that you could push through."

The culture began to change when Heneberry, a former Division I lacrosse player and assistant coach for Division III power Washington & Lee, took over the program in 2017.

"We did a lot of work on team culture and team attitude and how to get every person on the roster on the same page," Heneberry said. "That's been huge. Our captains do a really good job of reinforcing our team values and what our goals are for the season.

"So we do a lot of refocusing on that every time we kind hit a loss, or a roadblock, or just need a temperature check."

The Bears also developed a positive mindset, playing to win instead of playing not to lose, and built some confidence.

Perhaps most significant win this season came on March 24 when CGA won at Smith College, 21-15, and earned the program's first conference victory.

"That was an amazing feeling," McKenna said.

McKenna, one of three captains, has embraced the leadership role. She enjoys serving as a mentor to her young teammates. The Bears started seven freshmen on Saturday and also have seven other underclassmen on the roster.

Her biggest team goal for the remainder of the season is for the Bears to qualify for the NEWMAC tournament for the first time.

It certainly would be a sweet accomplishment for McKenna, who's been determined to help turn the program into a winner since her first game.

"Daria is a tough kid," Heneberry said. "When she puts her mind to something and something is really important to her, she'll make sure she gets it done. She's really good at balancing a lot of different things and being successful at it."

g.keefe@theday.com

Coast Guard Academy's Daria McKenna receives a pass behind the Springfield goal during Saturday's women's lacrosse match in New London. The former Fitch star is closing in on 100 career points for the Bears. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Coast Guard Academy's Daria McKenna receives a pass behind the Springfield goal during Saturday's women's lacrosse match in New London. The former Fitch star is closing in on 100 career points for the Bears. (Tim Martin/The Day)

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