The Orange County Girls’ Lacrosse National Team came home this week after ending the US Lacrosse Women’s National Tournament in Bel Air, Maryland with the top ranking ever by a team from Orange County. The team finished 3rd in their bracket, the best finish ever for a team from Orange County at the event.
The team of talented Cali girls, each hand-picked for their high-caliber lacrosse skill, headed off from LAX early Thursday morning and arrived at Dulles International Airport in Virgina later that day. From the point of stepping off their plane, the girls were in for a trip to remember. Not only would the team be a proud representation of Orange County girls’ lacrosse on the field, but they were in for great experiences with a fantastic coaching staff and a whole team of new friends.
The National Team was led by coaches Dave, Emily, and Molly Elkins. Dave Elkins is the head coach of the Aliso Niguel lady Wolverines, and had coached his daughters Emily and Molly in the past. Emily now plays NCAA Division II lacrosse at Regis University, and Molly just graduated after a successful senior year at Aliso Niguel. Molly will soon attend and play lacrosse at Sewanee University in Tennessee. The Elkins crew brought a family-oriented approach to the team and aimed to foster “a tight, supportive team environment, and a positive place for girls to do their best, push each other, and support each other,” according to Coach Dave. These core values guided the team for the whole trip.
Upon their arrival in Maryland, the team took in in the fresh East Coast air and soon found themselves enjoying a team pizza dinner, right on the wharf in Baltimore. For dessert: Italian gelato, and an even sweeter round of team bonding activities. The girls were then assigned roommates, with four girls to a room. Roommates were mixed up so that girls roomed with players from other schools and positions. Afterwards, the team called it a day and spent their first night of the trip at the Marriott Hotel in Linthicum Heights.
On Friday morning the team was able to have a short practice courtesy of Terese Allender from the Andover Apaches Lacrosse Girls Club who lent them the field space. Following practice, the team visited the National Aquarium in downtown Baltimore. That night, the team was treated to see Division I women’s lacrosse firsthand as they watched NCAA teams Maryland vs. Northwestern and Syracuse vs. Virginia. Back at the hotel, the team did more bonding activities and turned in for the night.
One special memory Coach Dave and the team has was with hotel security. Apparently, the team bonding had gotten too loud and someone complained about it to the front desk. A security guard was to the room to deal with with the over enthusiastic festivities. He knocked on the door and asked the team to follow him to an unknown destination. At the front of the group, the coaches and some players knew the guard was only leading them to a conference room where they could be as loud as they wanted. But at the back of the group, everyone else was worried they were in for some trouble. The front group feigned distress and doom, which the back group felt for real. The fun joke lasted only for so long, until the rest of the group found out.
The next day, Saturday, the OC girls hit the field to show the nation that Orange County girls are ready to play with the best. Their first National Tournament opponent was a team from Colorado. It was an adjustment game for coaches and players who had practiced only twice before as a team. Although the OC did not come out on top, it was a learning experience that guided them through the rest of the tournament; roles were clarified and the girls got to know one another’s tendencies. “The Colorado team played better with each other,” said Coach Dave, “We had more talent, but we weren’t able to put it together.” This was one of the foreseeable challenges the team would face. Amongst teammates who have never played together before, players had the choice to just showcase themselves or play collectively. The girls ultimately came together under Coach Dave’s game value: “The team that plays together the best is usually the best.”
The team went on to win two more games that day against Maine and Georgia. Showing that they are quick learners and talented athletes, the OC girls began to gel in the second game and third games. They played well together, moved the ball, and benefitted from multiple players stepping up to make assists and score. On the sideline, the players were obnoxiously loud, supportive cheerleaders whose positivity was the envy of the other teams. In the third game against Georgia, some OC players were familiar with Georgian X Team members, and both teams had X Team coaches. Although player Allie Butler took one for the team and injured her ankle, the Orange County lady laxers beat Georgia to secure first place in their pool. After a successful day of lacrosse, the team had a family-style pasta dinner and had room competitions at the hotel for team bonding.
The final day of the National Tournament was the medal round. They played Oregon first in an exciting game. Because of draw control, the Oregon team gained a large lead over the OC team. But soon, the Californians caught up to tie. Unfortunately, the effort did not result in a win. But the team went on to defeat Georgia a second time in a back-and-forth game that was only decided with a single OC game-winning goal by Jenelle Phillips from Trabuco. Jenelle came with the team as an alternate player who was not guaranteed any playing time. With Allie Butler on the bench injured, Jenelle stepped up into her new role and scored several points for the OC team. Phillips says, “To be honest, I was kind of scared and sad to think that I might go all the way out there and not play the game that I love. But Coach Elkins told me that I was no longer an alternate, and that made me so extremely happy! I felt like crying!” She scored her goal with 13 seconds left on the clock against Georgia earned the team 3rd place in their bracket. It was the highest placing any OC National Team had ever earned before.
That night, the team closed their tournament journey by watching the NCAA women’s final championship game between Maryland and Syracuse. Maryland won, and visions of future accomplishments flashed before the OC players’ eyes as former OC National team goalie, and freshman Maryland player Emily Kift lifted the championship trophy with her teammates. What better way to end the tournament than to witness an OC National team alumnus reach the heights of lacrosse success?
Looking back on the trip, coach Emily Elkins says, “We had a great group of girls that came together faster than any other team that I have seen. As soon as they figured out each other’s personalities on and off the field, they clicked as if they had been playing together for years! I had an amazing time coaching these girls, getting to know them, and exploring Maryland. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for them all.” Emily’s help as a coach, team bonding counselor, and college-level role model for the girls certainly translated to their performance on field.
They could not have done it without the help of Yvette Cervantes (the region contact) and the parents who traveled with the team. Whether it be Yvette securing plane tickets and hotel stays for the trip itinerary, or the parents buying and setting up healthy snacks at the tournament and driving the vans, Coach Dave said they made it “not about just the game, but the experience. They allowed us to coach and focus on the girls. We set out to raise the bar on the program. With their help, we’ve accomplished that.”
Coach Dave enjoyed the trip, the team, and coaching with his daughters. He valued his daughters’ knowledge and connection to the young players, and said he “was very proud of seeing my 18 and 20 year-olds step up into that position and lead the girls.” As a coach and educator, Coach Dave has a coaching philosophy: “I’ve always believed If you’re clear and realistic about your expectations, make sure that it’s in 100% in their control, and give them respect, the players will respond.” These core values guided the coaches and in turn brought success to the players, who will now go on from their National Tournament adventure with fresh experience, learned lessons, and new friends.
The OC National Team tried-out and were selected for the roster in May. The talented lineup:
Laughery, Clare, 11, Aliso Niguel
Macha, Michele Maryn, 10, Mission Viejo
Murayama, Noelani, 10, St. Margaret’s
Manor, Cameron, 9, St Margaret’s
Cummings, Shelley, 10, Mission Viejo
Lackey, Emily, 11, El Toro
Phillips, Jenelle, 11, Trabuco Hills
Houser, Grace, 9, Mater Dei
DiBernardo, Erin, 9, Santa Margarita
Gonzalez, Ariana, 11, Dana Hills
Young, Marissa, 11, St. Margaret
Buckland, Jenny, 11, Woodbridge
Robinson, Lauren, 11, Mission Viejo
Fischbeck, Journey, 10, Capistrano Valley
Zahn, Danielle, 11, Capistrano Valley
Larsh, Madison, 11, El Toro
Butler, Alexandra, 11, Capistrano Valley
Dunbar, Nicole, 10, Tesoro
Sandoval, Marina, 11, Trabuco Hills
DuMond , Madison, 11, Trabuco Hills
Kaplan-Paliwoda, 11, St Margaret’s
Dave Elkins, Coach
Emily Elkins, Coach
Molly Elkins, Assistant Coach