March 3, 2014
If you plot the Virginia women's lacrosse team's hometowns on a map, a pattern emerges. With 11 players from Maryland and another nine from New York/New Jersey, there is a large clustering in the Northeast. There is, however, one dot some 2,700 miles removed from the Northeastern cluster.
"Lacrosse in California when I first started was almost nonexistent," said senior defender Lauren Goerz. "I grew up in a big-time soccer area. Lacrosse was a very strange fringe sport. No one really knew what it was. The skirts were a little weird. I started out not taking it really seriously. It was more just something fun to do in the soccer offseason."
Goerz, a native of Danville, Ca., was first introduced to the sport when she was in seventh grade. Her father, Dave, had played club lacrosse at UCLA and introduced it to his eldest daughter. Despite the "fringe" status of the sport on the West Coast, Goerz played varsity high school lacrosse and played on a club team, Barrel Axe.
So how does a Californian end up all the way out in Virginia? The answer - she didn't. At least, not initially.
"The club team I played for was run out of Cal," Goerz said. "They are the only local college team other than Stanford. They did a lot of outreach, so I got to know the [then] head coach, Theresa Sherry really well and ended up going to Cal. It was an easy transition. I grew up in a Stanford family, but I thought I would be a little bit different and go with Cal.
"I loved going to Berkeley," Goerz said of her initial college experience. "I was rooming with my best friend. I had a view of the Golden Gate Bridge from my dorm. Two months into my experience there, I was in love with being a student-athlete. It was the best thing ever."
And then came the shocking announcement that the athletics department would be dropping five sports at the end of the 2012-13 season, with lacrosse being one of those sports.
Goerz, who loved being a student-athlete, knew she wanted to play lacrosse for all four years of her college career. She worked with her assistant coach, former Virginia All-American Nikki Lieb, to find someone who would take her as a transfer student at the semester.
That someone was UVa head coach Julie Myers.
"Virginia and California are really comparable academically, but in all other aspects, this was a big jump for me, especially when it came to lacrosse" Goerz said. "Cal was competitive, but I jumped right into top-10 lacrosse. These were girls who had grown up playing lacrosse their entire lives. They had excellent game sense. Virginia is known for having great stick skills and really fast individuals. Really small, petite individuals who are quick. I'm sort of this big girl from California, as anyone who is over 5-7 is a big girl here, who barely knew how to catch and throw. I think it pushed me, and, in retrospect, it has been good for me."
The Californian worked hard to try to get up to speed.
"I was putting in the extra time with wall ball," Goerz said, recalling what helped her the most in trying to make up for missing out on fall training that first year. "I was learning both from experience and watching others who were better than me and learning from what they did. When I was a freshman, I was playing defense with Liz Downs. She was a really strong defender, so I would look to see what is Liz doing at this moment. It was sort of `What would Liz Downs do?' What would Julie Bauman do with this ball? Just trying to learn from my teammates, because they obviously have years of experience and are very successful."
Goerz made 17 appearances her first year, including 12 starts, and has been a fixture on the field ever since.
"When I was a freshman, I was worrying about every single catch. I am so glad I played that first year, but it was hard for me because I was going on the field not to make an impact, but to transfer the offense," Goerz said. "Now as a fourth-year, it's a much different mindset. When I walk on the field now, I know I am making an impact and I worry about my role in the broader team's goal, more so than just trying to get by."
Goerz scored her first career goal last year and has already added a second this season, but to her, the points are not what matters the most.
"In defense, you take pride in the smaller glories, like making a great slide, a knockdown, playing good 1-v-1 defense or shutting a girl down," Goerz said. "I don't think there is any better feeling than getting an interception. You kind of have to look at playing a different way. Attack is a team sport, too, but with defense, it is sort of like an army. Everyone has to be connected. Defense is very intellectual. You have to think about being economical with your movements. Make sure that you are connected to every single person. There is a lot that goes on in a single second, I don't think a lot of people who haven't played lacrosse would know what it takes to be a really good defender. I haven't gotten there. I know there is so much that I still need to work on and I have learned to respect the defensive position."
The English major who is minoring in French isn't sure what career path she wants to follow after graduating in May, though she did spend last summer working as an intern at Nike headquarters in the global brand department of women's training. She feels confident that she can put her English degree to good use somewhere.
"I am so glad I chose the major I did because being an English major is such a cross-functional major that it is sort of like majoring in life," Goerz said. "You get history and philosophy and so much else. Everything sort of comes together in the English major in a way that allows me to get a glimpse of different kinds of academic subjects here at UVa. I think when you walk away from the University, you need to be able to say I learned something not just that you memorized a bunch of things."
In the meantime, she is focused on finishing out her final season of lacrosse and is thankful to all who have supported her in her time at UVa.
"I want to give a huge shout-out to my family for supporting me while I was here, all the way back East," Goerz said. "I know it wasn't easy for them to fly out to my games. That is a crazy commitment. And the team and the coaches for taking me in. It could be hard to have this random girl fly in from California. It has been a really good experience."
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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