Northwestern searches opposite ends of the map to find freshman Lasota

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It began with a clinic Danielle Spencer gave in Vancouver during the summer of 2012.

Which led to the email tip from a Canadian coach who had attended the clinic.

Which is how the Northwestern assistant coach found herself a couple of months later watching a kid from British Columbia play lacrosse at a tournament in Naples, Florida.

The President’s Cup is a recruiting supermarket that draws hundreds of U.S. college coaches. Coaches from big-time programs focused on scouting players and from the powerhouse club teams in the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions.

But Spencer, then a first-year assistant, remembered that Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller had encouraged her to think outside the box.

So there she was, the only college coach watching ‘Team British Columbia’ play in a significantly lower level of competition on what Spencer wryly recalls was “Field 99.”

The high school junior she had come to see, Selena Lasota, never had played a girls field lacrosse game before that tournament and had done only half-field scrimmages.

Like most Canadians, she learned the sport in its indoor version, box lacrosse, playing against boys in that intensely physical version of the game on a hockey-sized surface. The limited space, a 50 percent smaller goal and rules allowing goalies to wear equipment that made them nearly as wide as the net put a premium on stick skills, precise shooting and aggressiveness.

Selena Lasota

“Some of the things Selena was able to do immediately with a field lacrosse stick, I had never seen before,” said her Team B.C. coach, Naomi Walser, who played in four field lacrosse world cup tournaments.

Lasota flicked behind-the-back passes. Her shot was hard, fast and accurate. The way she handled the stick and herself indicated an upbringing in men’s lacrosse.

Spencer, a high-scoring attacker on three of Northwestern’s NCAA champion teams, knew she had found a diamond in the rough.

“I called Kelly immediately,” Spencer said.

Lasota had not gone to the tournament with the thought of attracting attention from U.S. colleges.

“I just went down because my Team B.C. box lacrosse coach asked me to try out for the team,” she said. “I was excited to try a new type of lacrosse.”

Until then, she never had heard of Northwestern, let alone its stature as the dominant program in women’s lacrosse since winning its first of seven NCAA titles in 2005.

“Danielle made it pretty clear how good they were,” Lasota said, smiling, as she recalled the early part of her recruiting process. “Now that I know what this program has done, it’s just amazing.”

By the time other schools learned about Lasota, she had committed to the Wildcats. She joined what would become the best incoming class since the group with Hannah Nielsen, Hilary Bowen, Morgan Lathrop and Meredith Frank, who were four-year starters for teams that won four consecutive NCAA titles from 2006-09.

Lasota, a midfielder, is likely to be among several first-year players to get extensive playing time when the Wildcats open the 2015 season Saturday at USC.

“With the combination of her personality, her athleticism and her talent, she has all it takes,” Amonte Hiller said.

After losing in the NCAA semis for the second consecutive year, the Wildcats are ranked lower in the coaches’ preseason poll (5th) than they have been since 2005. The unanimous No. 1 choice is defending NCAA champion Maryland, which Northwestern plays March 26 in Evanston, Illinois in the conference opener.

By then, Lasota already may have become a big-time college player.

Danielle made it pretty clear how good they were, Now that I know what this program has done, it’s just amazing.
— Selena Lasota

“I think she can be great right away,” Spencer said.

When Inside Lacrosse ranked the top 30 incoming women in Division I, the Wildcats had two of the top four and five of the top 17. Lasota, No. 3, was the first Northwestern player on the list.

She also is both the first Northwestern player from Canada and the first Wildcats player with an Aboriginal or Native American heritage in a sport that traces its roots back several centuries to the games of North American tribes, for whom lacrosse was a gift from the Creator.

Lasota identifies as a member of the Katzie First Nation, an indigenous group with a current population of about 570 whose ancestral lands are primarily in the Fraser River Valley near suburban Vancouver. She grew up in Campbell River on Vancouver Island, across the Georgia Strait from Vancouver.

Katzie once were actively involved in lacrosse but that has not been the case in the last 15 years, according to the Susan Miller, Katzie chief since the end of 2013. Miller said she first became aware of Lasota’s lacrosse achievements last July.

“It is very cool for our community that one of our members is continuing with a sport that is part of our history but had seemed dead and gone,” Miller said.

Lasota’s Katzie ancestry comes from her father, Steve. He is a commercial fisherman, going out on the ocean for weeks at a time after black cod, halibut, sockeye salmon and tuna. She and an older brother, Bryson, have worked on their father’s boat during tuna trips that lasted six to eight weeks, during which she often battled seasickness.

“I toughened her up pretty good,” said her father, who also got her into motocross.

Because she was not raised on a Katzie reserve, fishing is the only part of the tribe’s traditions with which Lasota said she has had significant contact.

“We are very excited and proud of the achievements of any members, whether they have close connections to our community or not,” Miller said.

Lasota followed Bryson into lacrosse. She played only with boys in both field and box lacrosse until about age 16, when she was on the Team British Columbia’s 2012 midget girls team that won the national box lacrosse championship.

There were no girls’ lacrosse teams in her area of Vancouver Island. For two years, Lasota made a four-to-five-hour trip each way, by car and ferry, to the mainland for weekend field lacrosse practices during the fall and early winter with Team B.C.


Kelly Amonte Hiller and freshman Selena Lasota watch NU’s joint scrimmage with Wales this morning in Roma #NULaxItalypic.twitter.com/vEsJAM3WYL

— Northwestern Lax (@NULax) September 13, 2014

“She is a very independent young woman,” said her mother, Lisa Sharpe, who owns and manages two hair salons where Selena occasionally has cut hair.

Numbers provided by Canadian provincial lacrosse associations showed only 376 female field lacrosse players of all ages in British Columbia in 2014, a 10 percent drop from the year before, and approximately 3,600 club and high school players in Ontario, the country’s most populous province and the one closest to the sport’s native origins among the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Ron MacSpadyen, program director of the Ontario Lacrosse Association, said his province, where female participation has grown seven percent annually in each of the past three years, accounts for 88 percent of Canada’s entire female lacrosse population (about 4,100).

Last month, Lasota was named to the 18-member Canadian field lacrosse team for the Under-19 World Cup this summer in Scotland. She is the only First Nations player on the roster, which includes future Northwestern teammate Megan Kinna, a high school junior from suburban Vancouver.

Spencer had seen Kinna, who also has a box lacrosse background, as a 14 year old at that 2012 clinic. She committed to the Wildcats a year later.

In lacrosse, thinking outside the box can lead you back inside it.

This article was written by Philip Hersh from Chicago Tribune and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.