When Dillon Schoen first headed west to join the Stanford women’s lacrosse team in the fall of 2014, she was entering uncharted waters as the first player from coach Lisa Lindley’s Darien lacrosse program to play for the Cardinal.
As it turns out, Schoen was opening the floodgates.
Senior Kate Bellissimo became the latest member of the Darien-to-Stanford lacrosse club when she signed her National Letter of Intent to the PAC-12 school in November. She is the fifth Blue Wave player to join the Cardinal in the past seven years.
The growing tie between the two programs has filled Schoen with pride.
“A lot of my (Stanford) teammates were from private schools, so the fact that there’s such a strong connection really shows that Darien, a public school, is so strong academically and athletically,” Schoen, who was a two-year captain at Stanford, said. “Stanford is recruiting the best lacrosse players, it’s a strong school, and it has a strong athletic program overall. The fact that there’s a strong pipeline of Darien players shows what Lisa has created at Darien is really valuable for college coaches to look at when they’re recruiting.”
“The main attraction of Stanford obviously it’s one of the best academic schools,” Lindley, who has coached Darien since 1994, said. “It’s a very attractive school for our players, and for any players, because of the academics.”
Bellissimo, a midfielder, will join former teammates and current Stanford freshmen Ashley Humphrey and Sarah Jaques on the Cardinal, while Gabby Noto, who played two years at Darien before moving west and playing for St. Ignatius Prep in California, is a senior at Stanford.
Bellissimo said key factors in her decision were Stanford’s balance of academics and athletics, along with a chance to be part of a new phase for the program. Danielle Spencer has taken over as the Cardinal’s new head coach, replacing Amy Bokker, who led the Cardinal for 11 seasons before leaving for Ohio State.
“It’s really exciting with coach Spencer,” Bellissimo said. “She’s awesome and I’m really excited to be part of a new era. I have a lot of confidence that we’re going to be able to do something great out there. It’s really appealing.”
Bellissimo, who also plays soccer and ice hockey for the Wave, said she was in touch with Humphrey and Jaques while she was deciding her college future.
“It was really helpful because I was close with them before,” Bellissimo said. “They love it out there and they told me all good things.”
Noto, an attacker, said playing for Stanford is a privilege and the same drive is found with both the Cardinal and Blue Wave programs.
“The same idea of love and passion for the game is what makes the best players the best players,” Noto said. “The passion the players have for Darien lacrosse is insane and that is something I’ve been able to bring with me to Stanford.
“Darien is such a powerhouse for lacrosse and it’s a responsibility to keep it going for the people who came before you, and to inspire the people that are going to come after you.”
Schoen’s decision to play at Stanford was a bold move. It’s a challenging academic and athletic atmosphere and also about as far from home as a Darien athlete can get.
Then again, nothing Schoen does surprises Lindley.
“There are very few things that Dillon does that she isn’t great at,” Lindley said. “She was superior academically, was a starter from day one when she went out to Stanford, and was a captain and an amazing part of their team.”
Schoen’s senior year was historic for Stanford.
The Pac-12 added women’s lacrosse in 2018 and Stanford met Colorado in the first official conference game on March 9, with the Bison winning 18-16. The Cardinal had its revenge in April, however, beating Colorado 15-9 to win the first Pac-12 championship.
“That was really cool because we had a really strong senior class,” Schoen said. “The girls in my grade were all impact players, so we really wanted to finish off strong, and we ended up winning the PAC-12. The fact that they brought lacrosse into the Pac-12 really solidified the sport on the West Coast.”
Schoen remained on the West Coast, spending one more year getting her Masters at Stanford, and is now working in finance in San Francisco.
The 2021 season for Noto, Humphrey and Jaques is in limbo, as the COVID-19 pandemic is keeping the typical college experience on hold.
While it’s difficult to know what to expect, Noto said the players are staying unified off the field.
“Not a day goes by where I’m not talking to at least five of my teammates,” Noto said. “Given the fact that there is so much ambiguity on what the season will look like, the only constant we have is each other. We don’t know how many games we’ll play or how many practices we’ll have, but we’ll always have each other.”
With a trail to the west open, Stanford’s Cardinal Red will have a bit of Darien Blue for the foreseeable future and for Lindley, there’s a good deal of of pride in having former players continue at the next level
“Whether it’s Dillon or Kate or anyone else, I’m always proud of their commitment to their programs, whether they play or don’t play,” Lindley said. “It takes an amazing amount of time and effort, and the correct attitude, to play at that level.”