New wave of lacrosse pioneers

Gaby Jones and Mary McQueen will be attending US colleges next fall on lacrosse scholarships. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Gaby Jones and Mary McQueen will be attending US colleges next fall on lacrosse scholarships.

Put a lacrosse stick in her hands and Mary McQueen has a nose for the net. What she didn’t have a nose for was what running around Queen’s Park Arena the last few years could do for her education.

That realization came in January after the Burnaby Mountain Selects field lacrosse team she was playing on returned from the Sandstorm girls tournament in Palm Springs, Calif. Her email inbox contained a message from the University of Oregon wondering if she’d be interested in playing there. She couldn’t contain her excitement.

“Then I realized that people actually did want me,” says McQueen.

“I was so happy. It was reassurance that I was able to play.”

Although they’re not the first from B.C., McQueen and Gaby Jones are the first New Westminster girls to secure field lacrosse scholarships.

The Oregon Ducks were tantalizingly attractive, with the university’s Nike-funded facilities and big school atmosphere. “It’s almost like you’re a pro athlete,” says McQueen.

But in the end she opted to join the Long Island University-Brooklyn Blackbirds, a NCAA Division I school, which offered her more money and an opportunity to play right away.

Jones, on the other hand, realized the scholarship potential long before McQueen.

Like her play on the field, she was tenacious in trying to attract the attention of American coaches as a vehicle for her to get the high-level academic education she craves.

“As a defender it’s a bit harder to showcase yourself. When our team is doing well I didn’t get to showcase myself, and when the team isn’t doing well you’re under pressure,” says Jones.

She eventually accepted a scholarship with the American International College Yellowjackets in Springfield, Mass., which is in Div. II.

The pair, who along with three other B.C. girls are signing letters of intent this week, realize they are pioneers of sorts, part of the first wave of girls from British Columbia to receive scholarships. (Word is the group that’s currently in Grade 11 is even better.)

“It’s awesome,” says Jones. “Girls that will be going later will be looking up to us and watching us as we’re showing we can play with [the Americans].”

For the last decade or so, B.C. boys, including several from New Westminster, have been extremely successful in securing U.S. scholarships. Team BC field lacrosse coordinator Reynold Comeault doesn’t hesitate to call the girls pioneers.

“It’s phenomenal,” says Comeault. “There’s always been so much publicity and hype surrounding the boys but increasingly it’s the girls that are attracting the attention.”

Comeault just came back from taking a provincial team that included McQueen and Jones to Naples, Fla. for a tournament, where he was constantly being approached by American coaches interested in the B.C. players who haven’t committed to a school yet.

“That, to me, is really exciting,” says Comeault.

Allison Nuzzi is heading into her first year as Long Island’s head coach. She spotted McQueen this summer at a tournament in Boston.

“I’m just very impressed with the level of lacrosse that is happening in British Columbia and a lot of areas in Canada,” said Nuzzi on the phone from Brooklyn. “I was struck by the potential that existed for the club teams that are there. I want to take another couple of looks and do some more research. I like the style of play, the pace, the stick work, it’s exceptional.”

One reason why Nuzzi, who has also given a scholarship to McQueen’s friend Danita Stroup of Port Coquitlam, likes the untapped Canadian resource is their roots are in box lacrosse.

“To play in such confined space as everyone does in Canada, you have to protect your stick, and you have to get creative, and that’s something that both of those players demonstrate, to be confident with so much pressure. And I love that, and that will benefit our program tremendously. It also doesn’t hurt they’re not afraid of the contact. You can always tame it, but sometimes [it’s difficult to get players to cope with it.] You’re a more well-rounded player when you don’t have that fear.”

Nuzzi not only likes McQueen’s fearlessness but her creativity as well.

“She’s smart on the field with her stick and seeing the whole field. She can set things up, and work well with others in creating things on the attack. I saw her quarterback the attack in certain games,” says Nuzzi. “I was instantly struck by her confidence. Our team is looking for freshmen next year that are looking to make an impact right away, if that’s what they choose to do, and make a difference.”

That’s exactly what McQueen chooses to do. In fact, if she had her way, she’d be in Brooklyn already, although there’s a little thing called a Grade 12 diploma she has to get first.

“I’m sooo stoked. I just want the year to be finished.”

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