I

n the midst of last summer’s run to the gold medal at the World Lacrosse Women’s U19 World Championship, Belle Smith sat on a low stone wall just outside the stadium in Peterborough, Ontario, and reflected on her experience.

An experience of a lifetime — playing on a team loaded with talent, meeting people from all over the world and getting the honor of wearing the red, white and blue as she represented her country.

"> Trio of U19 Gold Medalists Hoping for Final High School Experience | USA Lacrosse Magazine

PHOTO BY RYAN. MCCULLOUGH

Belle Smith scored 19 goals, third on the team, in helping the U.S. U19 women win gold last summer in Canada. The Boston College commit is hoping she gets a chance to finish her high school career at Westhampton Beach (N.Y.) on the field.

Trio of U19 Gold Medalists Hoping for Final High School Experience


I

n the midst of last summer’s run to the gold medal at the World Lacrosse Women’s U19 World Championship, Belle Smith sat on a low stone wall just outside the stadium in Peterborough, Ontario, and reflected on her experience.

An experience of a lifetime — playing on a team loaded with talent, meeting people from all over the world and getting the honor of wearing the red, white and blue as she represented her country.

When it was over, most of her teammates would be returning to their college teams or getting ready to begin their college experience. As one of the youngest players on the team, Smith still had another year of high school to go.

Would it be anticlimactic to go back to high school after literally being on top of the world?

Smith showed a wisdom beyond her years.

“I’m so excited for college, but I’m still so excited for my senior year of high school,” Smith said that day. “I don’t want to wish away that time. Even though I’m living this journey and I feel a little older right now, I’m still a high school kid and I’m still excited to do my high school things.”

She was smack dab in the middle of doing those high school things when the novel coronavirus put the world on pause.


“For the last four to five years, I’ve had it all planned out. I knew what seniors would be there, what juniors would be there, even what numbers were going to be available — all those little things teenage girls think about."


Smith finished up a stellar volleyball career at Westhampton Beach (N.Y.) High School in the fall. In basketball, she was one day away from playing in the Long Island championship game, the first time her school had reached the title game in 15 years.

“The day before, our athletic director walked into practice and told us practice was over and the season was over,” Smith said. “The next day at lacrosse practice, we found out that the season was postponed until April 3, but we’re not sure if that’s going to happen.”

Smith is not alone. High school seniors around the country are in limbo. Will their seasons resume? Will they have a prom? Will they even have a graduation ceremony?

Among that group are her U19 teammates Leah Holmes and Caitlyn Wurzburger.

Holmes is a senior at the Hackley School (N.Y.), and Wurzburger is a senior at American Heritage (Fla.).

Wurzburger feels fortunate that due to the earlier start for Florida lacrosse, her team got in seven games before the season was postponed. When news that the virus was first coming to the United States was breaking, no one was ready for an extended shutdown.

“We had McDonogh (Md.) coming that Saturday, and we thought that might get canceled because of the travel, but we were hoping to get that game in,” Wurzburger said. “We had no idea what was coming.”

Holmes was already in a weird situation. Due to eligibility rules in New York, Holmes was only allowed to practice and not play in games this season (she had transferred from her local public school after ninth grade to a private school and repeated ninth grade). But she was very much a part of the team.

“I’ve been looking at this whole year as an opportunity to get better and be in the best shape for next year,” Holmes said. “We’re all super bummed. We wanted to play a leadership role in our last year."








For now, they wait and hope that their seasons will resume. But they also have questions about the next chapter of their lives.

Holmes is headed to Northwestern, where she will be reunited with her U19 head coach, Kelly Amonte Hiller, and a few of her U19 teammates.

“She’s been great,” Holmes said. “She started a group chat with the other six girls in my class, giving us film to study and wall ball routines we can work on.”

But there are questions as well.

“Nobody really knows how many seniors are coming back and until that’s clear, we’re not going to know how that’s going to impact things like playing time and scholarship money,” Holmes said. “We’re all supportive of the team and will do what’s best.”

Smith committed to Boston College before new recruiting restrictions were put in place and has never wavered.

“For the last four to five years, I’ve had it all planned out,” Smith said. “I knew what seniors would be there, what juniors would be there, even what numbers were going to be available — all those little things teenage girls think about. But I love those girls. Even as a commit, they were so good to me. Even with uncertainty, I find it’s the best place to play. That place feels like home to me.”




PHOTOS BY RYAN MCCULLOUGH AND TIM BATES

Caitlyn Wurzburger (L) led the U.S. team with 40 points (21 goals, 19 assists) at the 2019 World Lacrosse U19 World Championship, and Leah Holmes (R) was fourth with 17 goals, including a team-leading four goals in the gold-medal victory over Canada.


Wurzburger is headed to North Carolina and finds the canceled college season potentially opening up new opportunities for her. A loaded UNC squad was ranked No. 1 in the country before the season was cut short.

“We’re going to have so much leadership coming back with players like Katie Hoeg and Jamie Ortega,” Wurzburger said. “With Katie, I wasn’t even going to be able to play with her, and now I will. I think it’s going to be an awesome freshman year for me and make it that much better.”

Wurzburger hopes that she gets to wear her American Heritage uniform again. She led her school to a state championship as a sophomore, but they were knocked out in the semifinals last year. The uncertainty is ever present.

“As a senior in high school, you’re not sure if you’re going to have a graduation or have a season that you’ve worked the whole year for,” Wurzburger said. “You really get that feeling in the pit of your stomach, not even knowing what’s next. Last year ended with a sour taste, and you want to prove yourself.”

But she equates it to the competitor that she is. In sports, you win and lose. If this is a loss, she wants to get back up off the canvas.

“The next whatever I have, whether it’s a high school championship or it’s at Carolina, I want to stay positive and stay motivated,” Wurzbruger said. “As lacrosse players, it’s not that hard to keep working.”

Whatever the next opportunity is for Holmes, she knows she’ll relish it.

“You don’t know when your last chance to be together with everyone will be,” Holmes said. “If I would have known that was the last time, I think I would have been more enthusiastic. It’s amazing that we’ve only been away from it for a week and you feel so disconnected. I would do anything to be back together.”

Smith remembers saying she didn’t want to wish away her high school time. She hopes she gets to experience it like she always imagined.

“I remember that exact moment,” Smith said. “If this is cut short, it’s such an awful feeling. It’s heartbreaking. People say these are some of the best moments of your life, and I want to end it the right way.”