IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Where in the world do you begin to assess Brennan Dwyer’s impact as a lacrosse player at Loyola Academy?
You could start with the 2017 graduate’s statistics this past spring — with many having reached cartoonish levels, including her draw-control total of 304 (10.1 per game) and her combined 26 goals and seven assists in four playoff games — but numbers don’t have heartbeats, and the four-time US Lacrosse First Team All-American likes to talk about her stats as much as a snowman likes a heat wave in December.
The most futile APB would be one for Dwyer’s ego.
“It’s very unusual, her humility,” said John Dwyer, Brennan’s father and the coach who guided LA (28-2) to its ninth straight Illinois High School Women’s Lacrosse Association (IHSWLA) state championship on June 2. “Brennan has never visited the [ISHLWA] site to see her stats. She’s extremely driven as an athlete, and she’s extremely self-effacing.”
Brennan Dwyer caught the attention of Loyola Academy athletic director Pat Mahoney with something she did after a game in May. She had led the Ramblers to another big win. She had finished answering questions from folks in the media. With most of the spectators and most of her coaches and teammates heading to their cars in the parking lot, the 5-foot-5 Dwyer — a Winnetka resident and one of four captains — walked toward a sideline to take care of something that had nothing to do with lacrosse.
“You stuck around and cleaned the team’s bench area,” Mahoney wrote in a letter that was read aloud at the team’s banquet on June 8. “Nobody told you to do it; it was just the right thing to do, and you did it. That’s a moment I will never forget.
“The best part of all your accomplishments,” he continued, “is that you never lost sight of who you are — you always remained that humble, kind and hard-working young woman who walked through the doors as a freshman in the fall of 2013.”
Before Brennan Dwyer was a fast, highly skilled, unflappable freshman lacrosse player, she was a fast, highly skilled, unflappable eighth-grade lacrosse player — with scholarship offers to play lacrosse in college.
“She has always been super athletic, super quick and super strong,” said classmate and University of Michigan-bound middie Caroline Witkowksi, who befriended Dwyer in the third grade. “She makes everything look so easy. But what I loved the most about playing lacrosse with Brennan was how determined and competitive she was in every game.”
In her final game in jersey No. 3 for Loyola Academy on June 2, Dwyer poured in seven goals, assisted on another, collected five ground-ball controls and earned 11 draw controls in the Ramblers’ 15-9 defeat of New Trier’s Trevians in the IHSWLA state title game at Northwestern University.
She walked off Lakeside Field with a state-high 139 goals scored in 2017.
Her career totals: 395 goals, 239 assists, 276 ground-ball controls, 876 draw controls.
Staggering, staggering, staggering, staggering.
As a freshman, Dwyer scored the game-winning goal against Bishop Ireton (Virginia) — ranked third in the country at the time — with 13 seconds left in the second half. She needed only five minutes to tally three goals in a playoff win against Hinsdale Central in her sophomore season. Eventual 6A Virginia state champion Robinson Secondary School lost 16-8 to Loyola Academy and Dwyer (five goals, two assists) on April 1, nearly three weeks before Dwyer overwhelmed St. Ignatius Prep (California) with seven goals, two assists and 14 draw controls in LA’s 19-9 victory.
“When I’m coaching, I’m usually focusing on all sorts of things,” John Dwyer said. “But this year, I have to admit, I caught myself watching Brennan, and I caught myself thinking, ‘Wow.’ ”
A cousin of Olympic gold-medal swimmer Conor Dwyer and a granddaughter of former University of Notre Dame football coach Terry Brennan, Dwyer — a two-time Midwest Player of the Year — was the first player from Illinois in seven years to be selected for the Under Armour All-American girls lacrosse game (July 1, in Baltimore).
Perennial NCAA women’s lacrosse power Northwestern University hadn’t welcomed a recruit from Illinois in 10 years in the fall of 2016. Dwyer ended that drought with her commitment to the Wildcats and head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller last November.
Dwyer didn’t simply call Hiller to give her a verbal commitment; she drove to Evanston, all by herself, to deliver the news to Hiller in her office.
Each of Dwyer’s older sisters — Bridget, Nora and Kathleen — played lacrosse at Georgetown University. Brennan flew often to Washington, D.C., to watch Kathleen (now one of John Dwyer’s assistant coaches) play in home games. One of her older brothers, Brian, played football at Georgetown, and the other, John, played hockey at the University of Notre Dame.
“It was crazy, having all of those siblings with all of their athletic interests,” said Dwyer, who has 11 nieces and nephews (with a 12th on the way in July). “They weren’t just great athletes; all were also very good students.”
Dwyer never forgot how senior student-athletes on LA’s girls varsity lacrosse team made her feel when she was a freshman. One of the veterans was Maggie Nick, who was named Midwest Player of the Year by US Lacrosse in 2014 and completed her junior season at Stanford University in late April. Nick considered Dwyer a peer and treated her as if she had been a part of the program for years.
“Maggie,” Dwyer recalled, “was welcoming, so welcoming; every senior was nice to me, and everyone was supportive. It’s what makes [the program] special. Not once did I feel like an outcast.”
Four freshmen made LA’s varsity this past spring. John Dwyer had never kept that many on a team in his tenure at LA, and he did not have to worry about any of them experiencing jitters or a sense that they did not belong.
Mr. Dwyer had Brennan and her convivial classmates in the fold.
“Brennan was embraced by her older teammates in her first three seasons and surrounded by great players all four years,” the father/coach said. “The older kids were always kind and warm to her, and they gave her opportunities to thrive. She appreciated that and saw to it that the younger kids received that same kind of attention from the start of Brennan’s sophomore year until the end of her senior year.”
After most of the games in her career, Brennan Dwyer spent significant time with the younger fans in attendance — her nieces and nephews, friends of her nieces and nephews and countless other little spectators who wanted to play like her and be like her.
The bonafide superstar who didn’t want to be deemed a superstar listened and smiled in their presence and ended each visit with either a hug or a high five.
“I knew they were watching when we were playing,” Dwyer said. “I also heard them cheer for us. That motivated me. You could say I played for them. I played for my teammates, as well. How could I not? They worked incredibly hard to be ready for each game.”
One of her teammates, Witkowksi, captured the essence of Dwyer, the athlete, with a tidy conclusion:
“Brennan,” she said, “played for everybody but herself.”