by Mike Ellis
Hinsdale Central senior Anna Santulli is preparing to start her collegiate lacrosse career at prestigious Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., in the fall, but first, she will take her final crack at capturing a state high-school title this spring.
Santulli’ s family is synonymous with Central lacrosse—especially girls lacrosse—, as her twin sisters were integral parts of Hinsdale’ s last state championship squad in 2007, and her older brothers Peter and Matthew both played on the boys’ team at Central as well.
“My dad was always really into lacrosse, because he played lacrosse as a kid, and his brothers played lacrosse,” Santulli said. “ I guess once my sisters started playing, it kind of started the trend in my family.”
Santulli started playing lacrosse in first and second grade, joining camps that her sisters operated while they were in high school. While girls lacrosse is not as physical in nature as the boys game, Santulli said checking is permitted.
"There are a lot of rules around it, so we can’ t get too physical; but it’ s a really fun game to watch, and it’ s a growing game as well,” she said, adding that the sport is most popular on the East Coast, but is burgeoning in the Midwest and out West.
For most of her young career, Santulli has played attack, functioning as a primary scoring weapon for the Red Devils throughout her four years at the school.
Between her sophomore and junior years at Hinsdale, the team underwent a coaching shift, with Dan Hartman—head coach of the school football team—and assistant coach Maggie Zentgraf taking the reins, as lacrosse advanced from its previous designation as a “ club sport” at Central.
“My experience has been great,” Santulli said. “ I love the coaches now, and I loved the coaches two years ago. The change was a great opportunity for the team to adapt to the change, and the coaches are great.”
Between her freshman and sophomore years, Santulli attended a number of camps and tournaments, attracting the eye of Stanford and other universities with strong girls lacrosse programs.
“Those summers weren’ t the most fun; they were a lot of work,” she said. “ But it was really fun to visit a lot of schools, and get the sense of where I want to go.”
During November of her sophomore year, Santulli committed to Stanford—which may seem like an early decision, but she said it has helped her become more acquainted with her future teammates.
“For girls lacrosse, it’ s really normal to commit around your sophomore year,” she said. ... “ It continues to get younger and younger.”
With her college career approaching this fall, Santulli said she is “ getting more and more excited as the year goes on,” and knows a girl on the New Trier team that is also committed in her graduation year.
“The girls in my class I know really well by now, since we’ ve known each other for two or three years,” she said. “ I’ m just really excited to get the opportunity to play at Stanford for the education, and for a great experience with the team.”
This season, Hinsdale Central has played on the East Coast in Washington D.C., squaring off against some elite competition, but Santulli said a number of games have been canceled due to weather.
“As a team, we’ re trying to take each game individually,” she said. ... “ Of course, we’ re always going to have the goal of winning state, but by focusing on each game, that really makes us grow as a team. We’ re staying competitive in practice.”
During Santulli’ s career at Hinsdale, the girls have been knocking at the door of the state’ s elite, but like every other team in the state since 2009, have been unable to solve the riddle of Loyola Academy.
To classify the Ramblers as a powerhouse in girls lacrosse would probably be an understatement, as they have claimed eight consecutive state championships, including a win over Hinsdale Central in 2015.
“I feel that there’ s a little bit of just the idea of Loyola gets everyone a little bit uneasy,” Santulli said. “ Each game is really close against Loyola—like a point or two away. We’ re always right there with them, but they are a really good team, and they really know how to play with each other well, and they have a really great coach.” S
antulli said her team finds extra motivation when facing Loyola and perennial contender New Trier.
“Honestly, those games are the most fun by far,” she said. “ Our team looks forward to the New Trier and Loyola games all season long, and that’ s what we work towards, is to beat those teams.”
Santulli recounted her most memorable experience playing lacrosse at Hinsdale as upsetting New Trier in the state semifinals in 2015.
That was by far one of the most exciting games I’ ve ever played in,” she said. “ Our team worked so well together, and it’ s just one of those games that sticks in my mind.”
But the impregnable obstacle that is Loyola still stood between Hinsdale and the state trophy in the championship game.
The Red Devils seized a two-goal advantage early in the second half, and appeared to be poised to halt the Ramblers’ streak at six straight state titles. But Loyola caught fire down the stretch, scoring the final four goals of the contest to defeat Hinsdale, 6-4.
Santulli said Yasmain Hamood, one of Central’ s top players in 2015, was sidelined by a pair of yellow cards early in the contest, and that Loyola face-guarded her as the game wore on.
“That year, we were a little bit of a first-half team, and couldn’ t always finish our games second half,” she said, “ but that’ s what we’ re really working on this year, and I think we’ re doing really well in that sense.”
This year’ s Central squad is a young one, featuring only two seniors (one of which is Santulli). Despite their youth, Santulli said her teammates spend a lot of time together away from the playing field, and are a close-knit group. “
I’ d say that this year is one of the years more than ever that our team is really close,” she said. If the Red Devils are to overcome Loyola, and ascend to the state summit for the first time in a decade, Santulli said it all boils down to trust.
“We just have to make sure our team is in high focus—we just have to go into the game with a game-plan...knowing exactly what we’ re going to be able to do to beat them,” she said. “ We just have to know that we always have each other’ s backs, and I can trust anyone on the field to catch a pass, or that they can pass to me."