For an athlete who’s been honored throughout her career for stellar defensive work, Ritchie Assini has become quite offensive.
The Niskayuna High School senior helped her team win a Section II lacrosse championship last spring with a four-goal outburst.
Assini’s biggest contribution came in the form of defensive stops in a pair title-game victories before that.
“Between her sophomore and junior year, she figured it out,” said Niskayuna coach Peter Melito. “She said, ‘I can do this thing. I can be an offensive threat.’ ”
That four-goal performance in a wild 15-14 win over Guilderland was no fluke. The midfielder scored three more goals in a 15-8 regional win over Kingston, and finished her junior campaign with 46 of them to go with 11 assists, and earned US Lacrosse All-America recognition.
Those 46 goals — including six in a win over Shenendehowa — more than doubled her output from the previous two seasons combined.
“It was a combination of being more confident, and working on my stick skills. I got better shooting left and right and catching the ball left and right,” the 18-year-old said of her offensive prowess. “It was also time to step up. As a junior and now as a senior, that’s what we’re supposed to do.”
In her three-plus years of varsity ball, Assini has stepped up in a way Melito never imagined.
“As I watched her play in middle school, I knew she would be a good, solid player for us,” he said. “She’s exceeded all of my expectations. She’s really grown, and that’s hard work paying off. She’s an unbelievable worker.”
That diligence has led to great results in both lacrosse and field hockey, and in the classroom where Assini has compiled a career 3.5 grade-point average. The versatile teen also sings in Niskayuna’s Concert Chorale, participates in its Future Business Leaders of America branch, volunteers for many school activities and serves as a coach for budding club athletes.
“She’d had to make decisions between things because of time limits,” said Jennifer Assini, Ritchie’s mom. “She stopped horseback riding after many years to focus on lacrosse, and she cut back from three school singing groups to one so she could better manage her full course load.
“She’s matured so nicely and learned to manage her time well.”
Last fall, Assini found the time to coordinate a clothing and food donation drive in conjunction with the Niskayuna field hockey team that benefited Schoharie flood victims.
“She has become a willing leader, but she’s never a bragger,” said Jennifer Assini. “She quietly goes about her business.”
Being all business at the defensive end is what got Assini noticed by Johns Hopkins coach Janine Tucker, and later, in the winter before her junior season, got her an invite to join the American
Lacrosse Conference team.
Johns Hopkins has a long tradition of lacrosse excellence, with nine NCAA Division III tournament appearances and three NCAA Division I tourney berths since the program was elevated in 1999.
“I started going to camps there when I was in eighth grade. They saw me multiple times and definitely saw me progress, and that was helpful,” said Assini, who has family in Maryland. “I remember the conversation I had, when they said they had an opening and told me they wanted me to come play there. It’s exciting to know they want me.”
“I’d e-mail them every time she went down there. I wanted to follow up, and the coaches were more and more impressed with her every time,” said Melito. “Every time she was better, better, better in the coaches’ eyes.”
Assini is a better all-around player these days, providing offensive punch to one of Section II’s premier teams while still playing that tough defense.
Assini is at her best with the ball driving hard and firing to an open space, while her defensive package is a mix of superb lateral movement, bursts of speed to close down lanes, pass anticipation and accurate stick checks and scoops of loose balls.
“I love playing defense. It’s such a big part of the game,” said Assini, who was honored before the season as one of the nation’s best scholastic defensive midfielders by ESPN. “There’s nothing better than coming up with a big stop and making a transition goal happen.”
Assini was on the finishing end 26 times in Niskayuna’s first nine games, including five goals in a win over Saratoga Springs and seven goals in a triumph against Ballston Spa that equalled the third-highest total in program history.
Assini scored at least once in each of those nine games, and added eight assists.
“She’s always been a steady player and done all the little things. We could always count on her to help us win,” said Melito. “Halfway through her junior year, she took on more of the scoring load.”
Assini unloaded and found the mark for the biggest goal of her varsity career against Guilderland last season, with that accurate rip tying the sectional Class A final at 14-14 before Kayla Treanor won it soon after on another blast.
“It’s always a big rivalry with us and Guilderland, and I play with a lot of those girls in the summer. That was a great game. The game went back and forth the whole time,” said Assini. “I remember us working a couple of passes and getting a couple of good shots at the end, but mostly, it’s kind of a blur. It was such a hot night. I do remember everybody screaming.”
Assini is not shy about raising her voice in a practice session or in the thick of a game, but the team co-captain with Treanor also knows when a gentler tone is more appropriate.
“One thing that stands out is Ritchie Assini teaches in a lot of ways,” said Melito. “Sometimes, she’ll be loud. Sometimes, she’ll say, ‘This is what you’ve got to fix,’ but she’ll approach it in a helpful way and not a mean way. She’ll say, ‘Why don’t you try it another way.’ ”
“We’ve got a lot of younger girls. Four or five ninth-graders and some 10th-graders,” said Assini. “I really like helping out when I can.”
She does, and in so many different ways.