Jessica Dahldorf didn’t know what she was in for when she visited Northwestern just before the start of the school year. The Poly Prep junior had spent time at the famed women’s lacrosse school’s camp among others over the summer and had received an e-mail and later a call from coach Kelly Amonte Hiller asking her to come on a visit.
“I thought I was just getting a tour,” Dahldorf said.
Instead what she got was a scholarship offer from the Wildcats, currently ranked No. 2 in the nation. Dahldorf was surprised, excited, and overwhelmed. She didn’t commit right way to a school she had fallen in love with long before her visit.
The versatile midfielder made it official a few weeks later, verbally committing to the Chicago school, which has won five of the last six NCAA national championships.
“I’m kind of relieved — my dream school, my dream lacrosse program and it was kind of handed to me in the beginning of junior year,” the Chicago native said. “OK, I’ll take it. Not a problem.”
Unfortunately, Dahldorf’s junior year hasn’t gone as smoothly as her recruitment. She is working through her second injury, the first a stress fracture in her back that caused her to miss her entire soccer season. Dahldorf rolled her left ankle in a non-league lacrosse win over Staten Island Academy on Monday, she sat out a one-goal loss to Horace Mann and returned with restrictions to score a goal to help Poly beat visiting Fieldston, 11-6, on April 15.
“I got these new cleats. I’m like, ‘Yes, I’m styling these new cleats,’” Dahldorf joked. “They turn out to have high spikes. Of course, high spikes, weak ankles, rolled the ankle. I was like ‘Man. I was just out on the sidelines.’”
That’s where she spent her soccer season after a consistent pain she experienced playing lacrosse in the summer grew worse during the preseason. An MRI discovered a stress fracture on her spine. It forced Dahldorf to spend much of the next three months in an elaborate plastic back brace that went to the top of her ribs in front and up her back. She enjoyed watching the game from a different perspective from the bench. Playing basketball at the school, where she is a key defensive player, Dahldorf used the brace during early workouts.
“I really had the best posture,” she said. “I was always walking up straight.”
Her teammates said once the brace was off, you would never have know she was injured.
“It was like this really awkward time and then she just popped out,” said junior midfielder Sam Domurat, who plays lacrosse and soccer. “There was no transition period. She was just in it and out of it and then running again. There was not a slow long, painful recovery.”
You wouldn’t have been able to notice a hint of injury this past Friday, unless you knew what Dahldorf is like at full speed. Blue Devils coach Anni Zukauskas limited her involvement in a set offense based on screening and cutting and she didn’t have her normal ability to stop on a dime and break down a defender in transition. That doesn’t mean she wasn’t effective. Her speed and stick skills make her a threat on both ends of the field.
“Her presence is so key,” Zukauskas said. “You saw her speedy, feisty play. … She is everywhere. Her speed is outstanding. Her athleticism is above and beyond. Even with the limits we put on her game today she is still visible.”
Dahldorf for the most part is low key about her accomplishments and her scholarship. She isn’t one to try to take over a game by herself, but doesn’t shy away from making a play when her team needs it. Her teammates know she is all about team and their goal of winning a NYSAISAA title.
“She wants to make us all better,” senior midfielder Kayla Metelenis said. “She works just as hard as anybody, even harder than anyone. She wants us to improve.”
It’s something Dahldorf still has room to improve on this season and next before heading to Northwestern. It’s a reality that is still fully sinking in.
“Speechless, beyond what I could even imagine,” Dahldorf said. “I never ever expected in a millions years I would be going to Northwestern. I’m excited, I’m nervous. I’m just so blessed.”