As the girls' lacrosse team from the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy competed for a league championship last week, the players on the field looked like a well-seasoned group of athletes putting on a scrappy performance that nearly won them the title.
In reality, this group, like the school's program, was completing only its second season.
Three years ago, many of Barrack's players had never even picked up a lacrosse stick. But then Danielle Levin came to the school and the freshman quickly started a lacrosse club, teaching girls the basics of her favorite sport. On her off time, she even helped fund the team by selling pretzels and candy at sporting events.
Since women players are armed only with eye goggles and mouth pieces, this tough sport can certainly give a Jewish mother pause, but Levin believed that it could also help the girls build self-assurance.
"Before I started playing very competitively, I was timid and nervous to try new things and step out of my comfort zone," said Levin, now a junior. "I was a lot less outgoing."
As the sport caught on at Barrack, the school decided last season to field a team and enter it into the Tri-County Independent School League. Despite their 3-14 opening record, the girls said they gained valuable experience.
"The first game, I had no idea what I was doing. I was really confused," said junior Sivan Ben-Maimon. "My coach was giving me instructions, but I didn't know what she was talking about."
This year, however, things were quite different. Barrack dominated the competition, earning a regular season record of 11-2. Levin even scored her 100th career goal last week.
When coach Sue Dotsey conducted the first few practices this season, she was stunned at how much the team had practiced and improved in the off-season.
"They came back and they were ready," she said. "As soon as they came out here, I noticed a difference in catching and throwing. I thought, 'Wow, this is really going to be a turnaround season.' "
The 2011 season came to an end on May 19. After a lengthy rain delay, Barrack took on defending league champions Perkiomen High School, losing 9-8 in a heartbreaker, despite six goals from junior Tamar Parmet, as well as one from Levin and another from Ben-Maimon.
Words Can't Describe
Even though they lost, team members said they were still proud of how far they've come in such a short time.
"There are no words to describe our progress so far. It's a miracle," said Levin.
Ben-Maimon calls them a "completely different team" from last year.
"We worked really, really hard," she said. "People look at us and don't believe we're a two-year team, but it wouldn't have happened if we didn't have our coach and we didn't have the spirit and motivation that we have."
As if the novice team hadn't faced enough obstacles, it couldn't practice on Fridays or Saturdays in observance of Shabbat, and was forced to schedule two or three games in a row during weekdays, while other teams had off-days in between and were better rested to play. The schedule also forced them to set aside time to practice on Sundays and take two crucial weeks off in observance of Passover.
With no seniors on the 2011 roster, the same group will be back next season, hoping to go from upstarts to champions.
Levin hopes these inaugural years will leave a lasting imprint on the school: a girls lacrosse program that's here to stay.
"Every single girl invested everything she has into this team, and every single person will make sure that no matter what, this team will continue," said Levin.
Dotsey said that the girls' enthusiasm and determination showed that they want this program to be in place for the long haul.
"They proved just by taking a second-year team to the finals — which is unheard-of — that they want this program to stay," Dotsey said. "They're here to build roots."