Nina Mandell

Women’s Lacrosse

With television cameras following her every move at practice, sophomore Lindsay Finocchiaro doesn’t need more motivation to make it past the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.

A trip to Annapolis, Md., for the Final Four is enough.

But there’s also Jaclyn Murphy.

Jaclyn, a 10-year-old from Hopewell Junction, N.Y., has brain cancer. She was diagnosed with a malignant tumor 14 months ago, but that hasn’t deterred her dream of being an attacker for NU one day.

For Finnochiaro it’s not the trophies or fame that keep her gearing up to beat Mount St. Mary’s in the first round of the NCAA tournament today. It’s Jaclyn.

“She just means the world to us,” Finnochiaro said. “She’s part of the team. She may not be here, but she’s part of it.”

Jaclyn was nine years old when she started playing lacrosse at a clinic as one of three girls in a boy-dominated class. With more enthusiasm than many of the boys, and the athleticism of her former collegiate All-American football father, Jaclyn quickly became a favorite of the coaches, including Matt Cameron, a college buddy of NU volunteer assistant coach Scott Hiller.

Then Jaclyn went through every parent’s nightmare: surgery followed by radiation and chemotherapy, said her mother, Lynda Murphy.

Although Jaclyn is in remission now, she went through a year of treatment that weakened her organs and made her lose her hair. As the 10-year-old’s energy for the treatment waned, her family and friends did everything they could to keep her spirits up.

One of those efforts led Cameron and Jaclyn Murphy’s uncle, who is the chiropractor for NU assistant coach Alexis Venechanos, to introduce the young lacrosse enthusiast to the Cats.

First, the team sent her a program and a signed T-shirt. Then at a game in Baltimore on April 22, they met Jaclyn when her father brought her to the game.

“Lexi (Venechanos) took us up to meet the team, and when we got there they were eating,” Jaclyn said. “They stopped eating and they introduced themselves to me, then they got geared up, and I got to ride on the bus with them, and they wanted me to sit on the field but I sat in the press box because it was cold and my blood count was low.”

Finocchiaro said the team fell in love with its young fan and wanted to make sure to keep in touch. At their next home game against Ohio State, the players made a banner for Jaclyn to see when she watched the game on College Sports Television.

Now the team checks up on Jaclyn’s web site, instant messages her, or calls regularly. Several players wear a “J” on their wristbands or helmets.

“A lot of them call everyday to see how she’s doing, they ask how was her day … they ask her to set goals for herself,” Lynda Murphy said. “They said our goal is to win a championship, what’s your goal?”

And if the Cats’ game isn’t broadcast on television, Lynda Murphy said the team still makes sure its No. 1 fan is watching.

“They send her games on CDs so she can watch it on her DVD player when she goes into the hospital to get her bloodcount,” Lynda Murphy said.

But Lynda Murphy said the family is most excited about NU potentially making it to the Final Four so that she can meet the girls who help her daughter through what she calls “the marathon.”

Finocchiaro said Jaclyn’s hope to see the team makes them want to win more than anything.

“One of our biggest inspirations to win is not only to get us a championship, (but also) she’s going to be at the game,” she said. “She’s been saying she doesn’t care how bad she feels, she’s going to be there. So if that’s not inspiration for us to win, I don’t know what is.”

Reach Nina Mandell at [email protected]