Last week, Montclair High School graduate Grace Fitzgerald was packing her bags en route to her days in college, at Franklin & Marshall in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

She also was packing her field hockey sticks.

Fitzgerald made the most of her senior year at Montclair as one of the top defenders in Essex County. She was named to the All Super Essex Conference American Division first team last fall. 

"Playing at the collegiate level is something I am extremely excited to finally be able to do," she said.

Fitzgerald’s head coach at Montclair, Mary Pat Mercuro, said she was well-grounded in the back for the Mounties.

"Grace was the hardest worker on the field," Mercuro said. "She played with confidence and was never intimidated by anyone.  She was a great communicator and made our defense solid."

At Franklin & Marshall she joins a quality program that reached the 2019 NCAA Division III title game before losing to Middlebury.

Franklin & Marshall head coach Kaitlyn Eager said she was impressed by Fitzgerald.

"When I first met Grace, I knew immediately she would be a great fit for our team culture, someone who was enthusiastic about playing competitive field hockey but also cares a lot about her academics and overall college experience," Eager said.

Fitzgerald said it was Eager and her players who tipped the scales to Franklin & Marshall for her.

"When I learned more about Franklin & Marshall in the spring of 2021 I immediately felt welcomed by the team and the coach," she said. "It was the perfect fit for challenging myself with both academics and athletics."

Montclair High School graduate Grace Fitzgerald, right, at her letter of intent signing to attend Franklin & Marshall College, with her head coach at Montclair, Mary Pat Mercuro. (COURTESY KATHLEEN FITZGERALD)
Montclair High School graduate Grace Fitzgerald, right, at her letter of intent signing to attend Franklin & Marshall College, with her head coach at Montclair, Mary Pat Mercuro. (COURTESY KATHLEEN FITZGERALD)
loading...

Fitzgerald will not be the lone Mountie playing field hockey for Franklin & Marshall this fall. She joins Leah Plawker, who graduated from Montclair in 2019. 

"During my process of talking to schools it helped a lot to talk to someone who actually went there," she said. "When it came down to picking where I wanted to go, Leah's input about the school and the team really helped make it clear that Franklin & Marshall is where I belonged."

Fitzgerald said she thought her best-played game in her senior year was the regular season game against West Essex, the top team in Essex County. While Montclair lost 8-0 to the Knights, her play kept the Mounties in the game for most of the contest, until West Essex pulled away. 

"I had six or seven end-line saves that kept this an intense game and allowed our team to have more offensive chances," she said.

In terms of her favorite victory this past season, she pointed to a 2-1 win in overtime over Madison. It was also the 400th career win for Mercuro.

 "We knew that this was a time that we needed to work together for something bigger than us," Fitzgerald said, adding about the winning goal in overtime: "A five-person pass sequence all the way up the field, cutting through Madison's defense, led to the big win for us Mounties."

One of the toughest games for Fitzgerald was the last contest of the season, when the Mounties came close to reaching the North Group 4 title game. They lost 4-3 at home to Phillipsburg, which scored in the final minutes.

The defeat was especially bitter for Fitzgerald and the other seniors on the team, since it was their last match. 

"Because our last game was such a close one, I really thought that we were going to move onto our next round," she said.

Fitzgerald is hoping to have as much success at Franklin & Marshall, one of the top NCAA Division III schools in the country, as she did at Montclair, one of the top programs in Essex County.