Molly Dankowski was at the middle of one of the greatest runs in Pinecrest Academy athletic history this winter, helping take the Paladins girls basketball team to the state quarterfinals, the furthest that program has ever gone.
The junior never lost sight of the sport that was her first love, though.
“I’m always thinking of lacrosse,” Dankowski said with a wide grin.
Pinecrest’s lacrosse season began while basketball was still going, and even though Dankowski couldn’t practice or play both sports at once, she and the four others who play both sports would come out to games and cheer on the Paladins.
The team took a few bumps early on, but with Dankowski, a Mercer commit, helping to lead the way, Pinecrest has charged through Class 1-5A, winning eight of their last nine games and already clinching a spot in the playoffs.
Dankowski first got into lacrosse because of her family roots. Her mother is from the Philadelphia area, one of the country’s hotbeds for lacrosse and field hockey, and when Dankowski was in elementary school, she would go up to New Jersey during the summer to go to camps for both sports.
It took a little convincing to get her to try lacrosse, though.
“I didn’t want to listen to my mom,” Dankowski said.
She loved it, though, her main attractions being the fast, frenetic pace of the sport and the constant threat of a game flipping one way or the other.
“You could be up by four, and next thing you know you could be down by 8,” Dankowski said. “So you have to keep going 100 percent all the time.”
Through her career at Pinecrest, Dankowski has been one of the players most able to influence the game. Last season, she was one of four boys or girls players in the county who had more than 100 combined assists and goals — Dankowski had 87 goals and 49 assists.
But whatever satisfaction Dankowski gets from her individual performance comes behind what she gets when she sees her team does well. Pinecrest started its varsity girls lacrosse program just two years ago, when Dankowski was a freshman. Because she was one of the more experienced lacrosse players on the team, she would help out her teammates with the mechanics of the sport, which she still does today.
“I encourage them to be more confident, especially the ones that are really fast,” she said. “I think they can go to goal, but they're hesitant to do it because they don't want to drop the ball. I'm like, ‘No, just do it, because you never know!’”
The Paladins have kept progressing, and this season has been the best yet. Dankowski saw a 15-8 win over Grady on March 17 as a high point, especially for the Paladins’ defense. She’s optimistic about the program’s future, whether it’s the rest of this season, her upcoming senior year or even after she leaves for college.
“I think (that) each year, we'll get better and better,” Dankowski said. “So even when I'm far and gone, I want to hope that they'll get better and better every year.”