WWC Day 5 Wrap: Puerto Rico Coach, Player Find Healing in Sport

PHOTO BY NICK IERADI

Puerto Rico captain Kristina Clayton in action against Scotland at Tiger Field in Towson on Sunday.


TOWSON, Md. — To find Puerto Rico women’s lacrosse coach Natalie Bermudez, just look for the flowers in her hair. The bright, colorful array changes each day, just one of the ways she makes her Puerto Rican heritage visible for all to see.

Being seen, after all, is the most important thing for underrepresented people.

“A lot of it stems from what we didn’t have as players, as coaches — having that role model to look up to,” said Bermudez, who played collegiately at Georgian Court and coached at Felician before starting up the Puerto Rican women’s program in 2018. “That really grounds us.”

Puerto Rico’s team t-shirt contain a Spanish expression on the back. “Pa ‘que tu lo sepas.”

So that you know.

Derived from the 1995 song “Yo Soy Boricua, Pa'que Tu Lo Sepas” (“I Am Puerto Rican, So That You Know”) by Joel Bosch aka Taíno, it has become a social statement for Puerto Ricans, one frequently chanted at the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City.

“What’s unique about being Boricua is we come in all different colors, shapes and sizes,” Bermudez said. “That’s the biggest adjustment for people who are watching us. We do have blondes with blue eyes. We do have dark-skinned girls. We’re a blend of all cultures.”

Growing up in Toms River, New Jersey, and playing a predominantly white sport, Bermudez said she often felt disconnected from her roots. Both her mother and father came to the United States from Puerto Rico. They were visiting family on the island when Bermudez’s mother died of a stroke 12 years ago. Her grandmother also had passed away.

“Losing my mom was a reason to gain more of who I am. You start to question who you are, what that means and what your goal is in life,” said Bermudez, 33. “As you dig deeper, you want to be more connected.”

Still, Bermudez dreaded returning to Puerto Rico, for fear it would reopen the wound. Lacrosse gave her strength, she said.

“Healing through sport, right?” she said. “That’s the commonality.”







It’s also what appealed to team captain Kristina Clayton. The 2012 George Washington graduate figured she was done with lacrosse. But when her father, Jim Beese, who starred at Villanova in the late 1970s, died of a heart attack in 2017, she saw an opportunity to honor both sides of her family.

Blonde-haired and blue-eyed, Clayton looks like her father, a Baltimore native who loved lacrosse and coached both Clayton and her younger sister, Gabby, in the sport. But she identifies closely with her mother, Diana Beese, a Spanish interpreter from Puerto Rico whose extended family all still live on the island.

Gabby Beese and Kristina Clayton both played for Puerto Rico in the 2019 Pan-American Lacrosse Association world championship qualifier. Separated by five years, it was the first time they competed for the same team.

“We wanted to do this to pay homage to our dad and also represent our mom,” Clayton said. “It was an opportunity to represent our heritage but also play the sport that we love and that our dad taught us.”

Since the start of the World Lacrosse Women’s Championship earlier this week, Clayton’s phone has continuously pinged with texts from her cousins showing screenshots from ESPN+.

“They’re learning what lacrosse is through this experience,” said Beese, who played at St. Mary’s College in southern Maryland. “We get to represent our family, but also they get to become connected to a sport they learn about more every week. It’s good to see Kristina embody everything our family is and make everyone proud. You know our dad’s looking down.”

Making its first-ever senior women’s world championship appearance, Puerto Rico improved to 3-1 in pool play with a 12-4 victory Sunday over Norway.

NOTABLE

  • Ireland handed Hong Kong, China, its first loss in Towson, 12-11, in overtime. Ireland led 8-6 heading into the fourth quarter, but Hong Kong scored four unanswered goals to take a two-goal lead in the fourth quarter. Trailing by two with 3:45 to play, Ireland staged a furious comeback that ended with a dramatic free position shot from Cliodhna Kerr with seven seconds remaining. Kerr went on to score the winner just 54 seconds into overtime on a pass from Margaret Egan. Kerr scored the last three goals of the game to finish with six, while Egan ended with seven assists, the most in a game in the championship. Ireland and Hong Kong both improved to 2-1, but with a head-to-head tiebreaker, Ireland stands in second place in Pool D behind New Zealand, which is 3-0. Hong Kong will face New Zealand, while Ireland will face Austria, on what is shaping up to be a dramatic final day of pool play on Monday.

  • Czech Republic prevailed 14-6 over Mexico in a battle of undefeated teams to take the reigns of Pool B at 3-0. Isabelle Martire continued her star play with four goals, two assists and seven draw controls and currently leads the tournament with 19 points, coming on 15 goals and four assists. Goalkeeper Anna Ničová made six saves on eight shots in 45 minutes of action. Michaela Srchová added four goals, an assist and three ground balls, while Anna Lottmann tallied two goals and three assists. Mexico’s Isabela Szejk recorded a hat trick.

  • China held off a furious comeback effort from Argentina to win 11-10 and improve to 2-2 in Pool E. Shannon Brazier set the tournament-high with 11 draw controls to go along with a strong offensive output of three goals and two assists. Mary Gormley also recorded three goals and two assists, while Charlotte Sawicki added a hat trick of her own. Gretta White scored four goals and assisted two others for Argentina, which fell in its second one-goal game in a row. Argentina trailed 11-6 after one minute in the fourth quarter and stormed back with four in a row before China was able to see out the game in the final few minutes.

  • Austria pulled out a nail-biting over Spain, 7-6, after coming back from a three-goal deficit in the first half. Austria never led until its go-ahead goal with 2:15 to play from Sophia Schlagenhaufen on a free position shot. Seven players scored the team’s seven goals. Teresa Burguera scored three goals for Spain, while Catalina Burguera had three assists, two of which went to Teresa.

  • Italy closed out its pool play schedule with an emphatic 17-2 victory over Colombia. Italy finished Pool F with a 2-2 record and bounced back after a close game against Mexico on Day 4. Stephanie Colson and Colleen Owen, the top two scorers in Towson, led the way again with four goals apiece. Michelle Powers collected eight ground balls, the most in a game in the tournament.

  • Australia earned its first win in Towson by pouncing on Scotland 16-5. Georgia Latch led the offense with four goals and two assists, while former All-World selection Hannah Nielsen amassed two goals and three assists. Three players caused multiple turnovers for Australia in Bonnie Yu, Beth Varga and Sarah Smith.

  • The Netherlands improved to 2-1 after taking care of Korea 12-5. Netherlands’ goalkeepers, Friede Berendsen and Amarins Brandsma, combined to make 11 saves on 16 shots on goal. Four players scored twice for the Netherlands: Dieke Spitzen, Sarah Sweerts de Landas Wyborgh, Imke de Haan and Melle van Dilgt. They take on Israel tomorrow with an opportunity to top Pool B with a win.

  • The Haudenosaunee got a step closer to the championship bracket with a 20-5 win over Switzerland to improve to 2-1 in Pool E. Miya Scanlan scored five, Wynter Jock contributed four and Lois Garlow contributed three in a dominant offensive performance. Scanlan added eight draw controls as the Haudenosaunee boasted a 20-9 edge in the circle. The Haudenosaunee can clinch the second spot in the pool with a win over Argentina on Monday.

SUNDAY SCORES

Puerto Rico 12, Norway 4
Ireland 12, Hong Kong 11 (OT)
Czech Republic 14, Mexico 6
China 11, Argentina 10
Austria 7, Spain 6
Italy 17, Colombia 2
Australia 16, Scotland 5
Netherlands 12, Korea 5
Haudenosaunee 20, Switzerland 5
Canada 13, England 8

MONDAY SCHEDULE
ALL TIMES EASTERN
ALL GAMES ESPN+

New Zealand vs. Hong Kong - 9 a.m.
Sweden vs. Czech Republic - 10 a.m.
Mexico vs. Colombia - 11 a.m.
Austria vs. Ireland - 12 p.m.
Norway vs. Korea - 1 p.m.
Wales vs. Latvia - 2 p.m.
Israel vs. Netherlands - 3 p.m.
Jamaica vs. Germany - 4 p.m.
England vs. United States - 5 p.m.
Argentina vs. Haudenosaunee - 6 p.m.
Japan vs. Switzerland - 7 p.m.
Canada vs. Scotland - 8 p.m.

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