By Mark Vruno
Most of us have heard of co-captains on sports teams, but tri-captains? That is precisely what the Ritten triplets represent for Fenwick High School’s varsity lacrosse (lax) team. In the ultimate sign of respect, sisters Annie, Bridget and Maria Ritten were elected tri-captains by their teammates. Along with six other seniors – Jillian Gallo, Hayley Gearen, Leila Leone, Izzy Marquez, Mikayla Moreno and Tess Wagner – the Rittens are “the nucleus” of the state’s #14-ranked girls’ team, according to third-year Head Coach Mark Yeakey.
This year the Friars’ overall record is 14 wins against 8 losses (4-2 in GCAC divisional games). “Our only [conference] losses have been to #1 Loyola Academy and #10 Montini,” Yeakey says. Fenwick is 2-0 in the playoffs so far, securing a dominating, 16-3 opening-round victory over Warren (Gurnee). In the May 17 sectional semi-final game, they beat Evanston for the second time this season. Their next test is a “Sweet 16” matchup versus #3-ranked Hinsdale Central this coming Monday, May 22. (The sectional final game will be played at Evanston Township High School at 6:30 p.m.)
So far as team dynamics are concerned, each Ritten sister brings a different element to Fenwick’s quest for post-season prowess in the IHSWLA playoffs this week, says their coach. Maria, a four-year starter with a reputation as a fierce defender, “is very nurturing, while Annie [who excels at the attack position] is an effectively quiet leader,” Yeakey notes. Bridget, on the other hand, is the “stormy” sibling. “She is the fire-bringer,” he adds matter-of-factly. Their mixture of styles seems to work well together for the girls, who have been playing lacrosse together (including participating in camps and playing catch in their Oak Park backyard) since the fifth and sixth grades.
In addition to having the tenacious, fiery personality, Bridget Ritten rains down a lot of points, too. With more than 200 career goals and 300 career points in high school, the midfielder is arguably the best female player ever to don a Friars’ lax uniform in the sport’s brief, 12-year history at Fenwick. Who would argue? Well, her older, alumni sisters might beg to differ. Claire ’12, was the family’s lax trailblazer at Fenwick. A Boston College graduate, she is a math teacher at Milton High School just outside Boston. Sarah ’14, a goalie and Academic All American in high school, has played club lax at the University of Notre Dame and is now studying overseas. Or Annie, perhaps, who also has started in attack since her freshman year in 2014. “Annie has over 100 career assists herself,” Yeakey reports, and a lioness’s share of those she has ‘fed’ to Bridget.
When Sarah was tending net as a senior at Fenwick and the triplets were freshmen playing up (on varsity), there often were four Rittens jockeying for position on the field. “It wasn’t uncommon for the scoring sequence to go ‘Ritten to Ritten to Ritten to Ritten,’” Yeakey recalls with a laugh. “It’s still fun to have them representing all three segments of the field. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and have fallen into what their roles are.”
Stats stand up
“The thing about ‘Bridge’ is that she is perpetually double- and triple-teamed,” Coach Yeakey points out, which makes her scoring statistics even more impressive – particularly for an athlete who did not play elite, club lacrosse in junior high. And Yeakey knows a thing or two about skill on the lacrosse field. His daughter, Madeline (Fenwick Class of 2015) was an All-State defensive performer for the Friars who played on teams with all the Ritten sisters. (Madeline now is studying food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia while her older brother, Mark ’13, who also played lacrosse and swam at Fenwick, is an architectural student at Penn State.)
Also adding credence to B. Ritten’s prolific offense is the fact that Fenwick now plays in the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference (GCAC), which most observers consider to be the state’s toughest, featuring high-quality programs at schools such as Loyola and Mother McAuley. “This is our third year playing in the GCAC, and the level of competition and strength of schedule speak for themselves,” Yeakey explains. In early April the Friars beat St. Ignatius for the first time in program history, and in late April they traveled to Chicago’s south side and beat McAuley’s Mighty Macs in a close, cross-over game (14-12). That momentum helped propel them to a May 4th non-conference victory (11-7) over cross-town rival Oak Park-River Forest – the first time Fenwick ever has beaten the Huskies in girls’ lacrosse. That game was a typical combined effort by the Ritten girls: Bridget tallied five goals, including a backhanded stunner in the second half, while Annie added another and Maria contributed to a solid defensive effort. In the 8-3 win over Evanston this week, both Bridget and Annie each put several goals in the Wildkits’ net. On the other end of the field, the Friars’ goaltending was impressive.
On Thursday, Bridget Ritten was one of two female athletes at Fenwick to win the school’s prestigious Anthony R. Lawless Award for 2016-17. Her on-field numbers stack up comparably to peers going on to play at the next level, her coach contends: “They’re pretty darn good,” Yeakey exclaims! This coming fall, “Bridge” has decided to pursue her college education at Tulane University in New Orleans “for academics,” reports Yeakey. “She plans to play lacrosse on their club team,” he adds. Annie and Maria are following big sister Sarah to Notre Dame in South Bend, IN, and may join her on the club team.
There is no doubt in Yeakey’s mind that Bridget could have played next year “at a mid-level Division 1 or high-level D3 college. It’s too bad she didn’t focus earlier,” he laments. But then he quickly adds that all five Ritten young women are mature enough to understand that there are more important things in life than playing competitive lacrosse in college. “Education comes first, of course. Besides, what kid knows what she wants when they’re 14 or 15 years old?” he asks rhetorically.
The tri-captains exhibit their versatile leadership skills off the lacrosse field as well. All three siblings are student council officers, which may be a first in Fenwick history. Maria is president (and the recent recipient of a faculty award for leadership); Annie and Bridget serve as treasurer and secretary, respectively. The three student-athletes also bring their “lacrosse natures” to other activities and interests. Maria, the “nurturer,” brings puppy love and warmth to more than 400 weekly subscribers of “Dog Mail,” and she is the (anonymous) founder of The Kindness Club at Fenwick, which spreads random acts of kindness among the Fenwick student body throughout the school year. Annie, the “effectively quiet leader,” has been a mainstay as a tutor in the school’s Write Place, helping fellow students with their writing assignments, and she is a teen leader for St. Giles parish’s week-long Appalachia Service Project trip.
Meanwhile, the “fire-bringer” Bridget recently earned her black belt in Korean Hapkido under the tutelage of retiring biology teacher John Polka, who moderates the Fenwick Martial Arts Club. The Friars’ well-rounded leading lacrosse scorer also plays the flute in the school wind ensemble, is a student conductor of the pep band and is a self-proclaimed weather aficionado. “All three girls have such diverse interests,” says Kim Kotty, Student Council moderator and English teacher. “If you know them, they couldn’t be more different.”
Coach Yeakey agrees: “The sisters are never inter-changeable,” he stresses about the talented trio. “Each is a completely individual woman.” To their parents, Kathleen and Chris Ritten, the latter of whom was tapped as Fenwick’s VP of institutional advancement in 2016, that’s the most important compliment – and the only one that really matters.
Editor's note: The Friars lost to lax powerhouse Hinsdale Central in the Sectional Final game on May 22, ending their tremendous run. Congratulations, girls!