STUFFED, intercepted, gobbled, whoop! whoop! and launched. Such are destined fates of yellow lacrosse balls that are unfortunate enough to be swallowed by former Foothill goalie Emily Kift. Where is she now? She’s home from an experience no other male or female Orange County laxer has ever had. In May, she was in Towson, MD, hoisting up the 2014 NCAA Division I Women’s National Championship trophy with the Terps of the University of Maryland lacrosse. Kift came home this summer and told MaxLaxOC about it!
Back in her high school days, Kift was sassy, flashy, yet classy, and a show to watch for all of Orange County. She graduated from Foothill in 2013 with three first-team all-league honors, two goes playing at the Women’s Division National Tournament in 2011 and 2012, and membership with the Under Armour Underclassman team for the same two years. ESPN put her on the Class of 2013 Watchlist and announced her college commitment on ESPN.go.com.
It’s not hard to find Emily Kift these days. Her old highlight reel footage is abundant on YouTube. Her name graces four golden year rosters of Foothill Girls’ Lacrosse. And you can’t miss The Kift herself out on the lacrosse field at an occasional OC summer scrimmage. Just last Sunday, she was eating up failed shovel shots and cutting feeds short in some street-ruled pick up lacrosse with OC hotshots like Caitlin Derry. But she’ll soon be leaving sweet, Cali summer behind for her sophomore year at the University of Maryland. In the second of our “Where are They Now?” features, MaxLaxOC shares the dish on Kift’s OC lacrosse memories, her first year of college lacrosse, and her anticipations for the upcoming athletic career of her dreams.
Though her flawless bronze tan may attempt to hide it, Kift adorably blushes in semi-embarrassment when anyone gets riled up over her entertaining high school goalkeeping skills.
“Playing lacrosse in high school was a lot of fun. I think my style has changed a bit. In high school, I was an aggressive and active goalie. I would go for lots of interceptions and ground balls outside of the crease. In college I try to keep the same style of play, although I have learned to be smarter about it,” she says.
There is surely no need for Kift to feel embarrassed when anyone fan-girls over the Maryland Lacrosse apparel she wears like a second skin. She has earned the recognition. Playing with Maryland is an achievement Kift and the rest of the county she represents are very proud of. University of Maryland Women’s Lacrosse has won 11 national championship titles in NCAA history, according to their website. Maryland has had over two dozen players continue on to play with Team USA. The powerhouse squad has had even more players compete on other international teams, including Jen Adams for Austrailia. All this is in the Maryland legacy, with an IWCLA Academic Honor Squad name as a juicy cherry on top. Although it had been four long years since Maryland’s 2010 championship win (a dry spell during which Kift was still in high school), Maryland triumphantly won last season’s 2014 NCAA Women’s Division I National Championship in Towson, MD.
“I don’t even know where to begin,” Kift says of national championships, “That moment walking out of the locker room onto the field was something I will probably never forget.”
Believe it or not, this was not Kift’s first time experiencing an NCAA Women’s Lacrosse National Championship. She’d been there before to watch past title games with her WDNT teams in 2011 and 2012, as is custom with each team Southern California annually sends to the US Lacrosse Women’s National Tournament.
“Three years ago Haley O’Donoghue (my friend and former high-school teammate) and I were back East playing with the OCLA lax team for the WDNT tournament. During that time we were able to watch the Women’s Division I Final Four. It was my first live top collegiate game and I was in complete awe. Those games truly made me want to play at the highest level I could.”
In May 2014, it was deja vu for Kift and O’Donoghue. Kift was with the Terrapins in the title game against Syracuse, and O’Donoghue was a special member of the 10,000 fans there to see it all happen.
“When Haley and I made eye contact, we just laughed in disbelief,” Kift says, “It was awesome to have her there. She’s been with me throughout the entire process and I was glad to have an OC friend in the stands.”
Across the country and coasting a whole different ocean, Orange County was cheering for Emily Kift and her teammates for the entire 2014 season. She is a loyal West Coast local in return. Though her mind has blown with fresh memories of the recent national championship, Kift looks back and remembers her roots well.
“Soccer came first,” she recalls, “I started playing soccer when I was four years old. I didn’t pick up lacrosse until the summer before 6th grade. Coach Jon Fox convinced me to come to one of his camps and I haven’t looked back since. To be honest, after playing in my first few games I didn’t know if I would like lacrosse. Coming from soccer where things were fast paced and aggressive, my first year of lacrosse seemed confusing with all the starting, stopping, and explaining of rules.”
She struggled on field to start, but soon found her calling with the help of her family: “Luckily my brother and I had played hockey when we were younger so extra pads and helmets were always laying around the garage. Somehow he convinced me to throw on the hockey gear and and allow him to shoot on me. So when they asked for volunteers in 7th grade, I switched to goalie,” she says. Before we knew it, Kift was in goal for Foothill’s varsity team in 2010, her freshman year.
“I’ll be the first to admit I am a competitive person. When I do something I strive to be the best at what I do. I think my competitiveness has driven me to get where I am today,” Kift says of her fast track to high-level athleticism, “The summer before 8th grade I went to UCSB for a lacrosse camp and after I got back from that trip I started to think about the possibilities of playing in college.”
What many rising, future collegiate lacrosse players in OC would like to know is how Kift became noticed by the number one team in the nation. Recruitment is a top priority for many OC laxers, falling just behind our love and enthusiasm for the sport. More and more local athletes find grand opportunity through lacrosse, like recent Brown commitment Jason Simaan and DU girls Riley Eggeman and Caitlin Derry. However, some don’t know where to look or where to start.
“The first thing I did was go to camps and showcases,” Kift says, “Camps are a good way to improve, but at the same time it’s a good way to get to know the [college] coaches and campuses. I also joined a club team, West Coast Starz. My coaches all played in college and were tremendously helpful throughout the entire process. Being from the West coast, it can be difficult to be seen by the majority of college coaches. Making as many trips as I could to tournaments back East was key to getting the exposure necessary. Making a highlight video also ended up being a tremendous benefit during the whole process.”
After diligently pursuing a nation-wide high school lacrosse experience, taking advantage of resources available to her, and simultaneously training to reach her full potential as an athlete, Kift knocked on Maryland’s door, and Maryland welcomed her home.
“I committed to Maryland early in my junior year, so it felt like forever before I actually graduated and was getting ready to go. Training for your first year of collegiate sports is interesting because you have no idea what to expect,” she says.
One year of NCAA Division I lacrosse is now under Kift’s belt. What was it like?
“If I were to flashback on my first DI college practice I think it would be pretty entertaining,” Kift says, “It was definitely very eye-opening. The level of play was incredible and I had never seen shots so precise and on point. Don’t even get me started with the fakes. I’m pretty sure I literally fell over a couple times when Brooke Griffin or some of my other teammates were throwing fakes. The speed of play is the first difference. The players, the ball, everything is at a fast pace. The aggressiveness is also a big difference from OC to MD. Players consistently have bruises up and down their entire arms. Some of the things these girls can do are amazing! Every once in a while I forget I am playing with the best players in the country.”
But there is something else of Maryland that deserves an entire separate story of its own.
“The WEATHER!!! Whether it is the humidity in the summer, or the cold in the winter, the weather is definitely a big adjustment from Southern California. My teammates laughed when they saw how excited I was at the first snow. They laughed at me with all my layers in the beginning of winter, but by spring I was thinking 45 outside meant ‘shorts weather’. After something like 12 snow days, even I was kind of over it. I now describe weather like, ‘Not as cold as the Hofstra game’…or ‘Not as wet as the Penn game.'”
Hoftstra and Penn are just two of the big names that Maryland battled against in their 23-1 season. Boston College was another big one. Bigger yet was an individual fitness achievement Kift and her team were ecstatic over.
“A victory right off the bat that I was proud of was passing the run test. After countless workouts the summer before, passing the run test was a nice way to start off the year. Another personal victory that comes to mind was probably the BC game. We were down by two for the first time all year and I got the opportunity to step in the goal and give it a shot. I was nervous but was able to make a few saves and we ended up winning the game. Deborah Milani, another freshman, also came in on the draw and it was truly an entire team effort to pull off that win.”
From the University of Maryland Women’s Lacrosse website: “As a Freshman in 2014: [Emily Kift] provided the Terps with three big time saves down the stretch in a win against Boston College (3/29)…saw action in eight games…made 19 saves while allowing 20 goals.”
This fabled Maryland run test entails twenty 100-yard sprints with a jog back each time and no break. Players have 18 seconds to get there and the rest of the minute (42 seconds) to get back before the next one starts. Emily Kift was the first Terp goalie to ever pass the test (in the snow!) in MD history.
Athleticism aside, the Terp team holds a special place in Kift’s heart: “I loved the team from the start. They were all so welcoming and down to earth. It was easy to see myself being friends with these girls. Maryland has been everything I expected and way, WAY, more. I couldn’t ask for a better team.”
Also near to heart is the hometown Orange County crowd Kift draws strength and support from.
She says, “My family has been extremely supportive throughout everything. Even with me being so far from home, they came out a lot. It was always special to have them in the stands. Being 2,000 miles away from home has been a little tough at times, but never was I not thrilled with my decision to play at Maryland. Ok, maybe second guessed myself for a bit at the Hofstra game in Long Island (I cannot explain how cold I was!). But seriously, I am so happy were I am at and the growth I’ve experience so far. I can’t imagine myself anywhere else.”
The dives and saves tell a lot about the goalie making them. Whether braving a 3v2 fast break to goal or holding her ground on a 1v1 free position shot, Emily Kift commits bone, muscle, and heart to every single stop she makes. OC knows this well, and so does Maryland Women’s Lacrosse Head Coach Cathy Reese.
Reese says of Kift, “Emily is awesome and we love having her a part of the University of Maryland lacrosse program. Emily is one of the most athletic goalies I have seen and is working hard to adjust to the college game. She works hard in everything she does and is a great teammate and person. She has a bright future ahead of her!”
Foreseeing her own future, Kift shares Coach Reese’s optimism and holds unshakable determination.
“It is a lot different going back to school now,” she says, “I now know what to expect and what I need to work on. I’ve been working hard all summer to try and keep improving all aspects of my game. I anticipate it being another great year with great people!”