The growth of lacrosse across the country has been well-documented and in this area new youth and high school programs are popping up seemingly every year to meet the demand for the sport. But lacrosse is not only an American phenomenon.
In July 2018, the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) will hold its men’s lacrosse world championships and it has been announced that the tournament will feature players from more than 50 countries, jumping up from 38 in the 2014 championships. The girls’ game is growing at a similar rate around the world and one Hockomock athlete spent her winter break helping to spread lacrosse to a new audience.
Oliver Ames senior Ariana Waldorf was invited to travel to Israel this winter to spend a week in Netanya, about an hour north of Jerusalem, teaching lacrosse to young students in the city and surrounding area and also getting to represent Israel on the world stage.
It was the experience of a lifetime for the Tigers goalie.
“It meant a lot to share something that we see everyday in our lives with kids who literally had no idea what we were talking about,” said Waldorf in an interview after her return from Europe.
“Most of the people we talked to had never heard of lacrosse in their lives, but we were able to interact with people and talk to little kids about how to hold a stick and how to play the game that I’ve played forever,” she continued.
Waldorf, who plays club lacrosse for Laxachusetts in addition to playing for OA, was invited on the trip by a friend whose father has helped coach the Israeli youth international team in the past. She was spotted during an Intercollegiate Womens Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) showcase tournament in Florida and asked to join the program.
Thanks to her Jewish heritage, Waldorf is eligible to play for Israel, which recruits heavily in the U.S. because the local lacrosse culture is still relatively new. When she got a call this summer to see if she was still interested, Waldorf jumped at the opportunity.
She was the lone girl from Massachusetts to make the trip, but Waldorf said there were boys from Plymouth and Andover that were also part of the program. The players joined together in Netanya and started to teach the game to kids who had never picked up a stick. Waldorf could relate to the excitement and energy of the new players, as she only started playing lacrosse in fifth or sixth grade when Easton created its first youth program.
“A bunch of us remembered starting from scratch and not even knowing how to pick up or throw a ball,” Waldorf said. “Seeing these kids who didn’t even know what the game was, was kind of relatable.”
She added, “I’m a goalie, so trying to teach little kids how to play on the field was a similar experience.” When asked if any of the Israeli kids were interested in learning more about Waldorf’s position, she joked, “We tried a little bit. I’m not sure too many of them were keen on having balls thrown at them by their friends, but I don’t know a lot of people who are.”
The trip was not just about youth clinics. The players were taken to Netanya Stadium, which will be the host stadium for this summer’s FIL world championships, and brought to the locker rooms. In each of the lockers, arrayed in each of the lockers as though they were professional players, were their new Israel uniforms.
“There’s a video of us all running in and the looks on our faces…it’s just an absolutely unforgettable moment,” said Waldorf, who is hoping to go back next winter and take part in tryouts for the official Israel U-19 team.
After a week of clinics, Waldorf traveled with Israel Lacrosse to Poland where they were able to put on their new jerseys and represent Israel for the first time. She recalled, “It was unlike anything I’ve ever done before. You’re not just representing your town or a club, but a country and a unique people.”
Waldorf played one half of the game against Poland, which Israel won 15-6. The second game was against the European All-Stars and Israel lost by one in overtime. While Hockomock lacrosse games may draw bigger crowds at the moment, Waldorf enjoyed the atmosphere of camaraderie between all the teams taking part and the chance to share lax experiences with players from around the world.
“Even comparing lacrosse experiences throughout the country, some had the new women’s helmets and internationally we don’t even have to wear goggles and mouth guards,” Waldorf explained. “Then sharing their club team experiences and how they found the program was really interesting.”
While she is in the middle of the season for the OA ski team, Waldorf is already thinking about spring and getting to play lacrosse again. Now, she has an even better appreciation for the sport and more motivation to get back on the field.
“We had girls who were so excited to work for two hours in a sport they’ve never played before,” she said. “Coming home, it makes you want to work that much harder to show them the people that they were learning from are putting in just as much effort as they were.”