Two things are obvious when Celeste Friel hits the lacrosse field: she’s as athletic as they come, and she’s going to score on you – period.
But what might be the talented Marian Catholic attacker’s best skill isn’t as easily noticed come game time – it’s her ability to turn loss into gain.
The 17-year-old lost her grandfather to heart failure last December after a long battle with lung cancer. And when Friel and the Spartans took the field for their first game on March 5, the junior put it all on the line for her late granddad.
“This season, after losing my grandfather, I’ve dedicated every game to him,” Friel said. “He was the strongest person I knew. He still gives me strength whenever I think I can’t do something … I just tell myself ‘Papa thinks I can.’”
It’s hard to argue with results.
Friel currently shares the team lead with 30 goals scored this season, which ranks her with the best scorers in Illinois. Her ability to find the net this season has been a terror for opposing defenses forced to spend extra time game planning against her. And seventh-year Marian coach Brian Patterson believes that if it weren’t for Friel, the Spartans’ 8-4 record could look drastically different.
“Celeste is such a big part of our program ... she’s our spark plug,” Patterson said. “A lot of our offense is based on Celeste’s ability to break through defenses with her open field ability.
“In the open field, there’s not a girl in the state that can stop her.”
It took one game during Friel’s sophomore season to prove that point to Patterson and anyone else that had doubts.
In what ended in a tough 18-8 loss to Montini, Friel was called into action from the bench late in the game. And almost instantly, Friel turned garbage time into her time.
“I scored four-straight goals, and I tried doing it as quickly as I could,” Friel said. “There were seniors on that team that weren’t always sure of my abilities as a younger player, so I was determined to just prove to them and even coach Patterson that I belonged on this team.
“And now, as the younger kids come on board, I make sure I’m out there playing hard for them, to teach them, and I make sure I’m in their ear all the time giving them words of encouragement, because that’s what will make us better as a team.”
As for Patterson, he now knows what he has in Friel.
“After that Montini game, and pretty much every time I watch Celeste take the field, I know she’s a cornerstone for the Marian lacrosse program,” he said. “It’s not much, but if she takes the time this off-season to fine tune some of the small things, the sky is the limit for her.”