Hannah Morris and Jerica Obee have committed to play at New York colleges
Dave Dawson/The Packet & Times Hannah Morris, right, and Jerica Obee have committed to play women’s field lacrosse at Division 1 schools in the United States. Morris will play at Canisius College in Buffalo, while Obee will join the St. Bonaventure Bonnies in Olean, N.Y. Both started playing at a young age and shone together on two provincial championship-winning teams last summer.
Two talented local teenagers have been recruited to play NCAA field lacrosse at New York Division 1 schools. Jerica Obee has committed to play at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, N.Y., while Hannah Morris has accepted an athletic scholarship to play at Canisius College in Buffalo.
"I am really excited," said Obee, 15. "When I was younger and made Team Ontario in Grade 5, that's when I first thought about really starting to pursue lacrosse. When I saw some of my friends commit to U.S. schools, it became a goal of mine."
Morris began playing house league field lacrosse when she was in Grade 6. She steadily improved, moved into the rep program and decided to step away from competitive gymnastics to concentrate on field lacrosse. It's a decision she has not regretted.
"I'm so glad I did it because I love lacrosse," said Morris, 16. "To have an opportunity to play on a Division 1 team is kind of mind blowing. Last year, I didn't think it was possible."
But for both girls, the summer of 2016 made almost anything possible. Both elevated their game and were key components for the Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School team that won a provincial Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) high school championship. They were also vital cogs on the Orillia Lady Kings U19 team that capped an undefeated regular season with an Ontario title in a dramatic come-from-behind win over Oshawa in the gold-medal game.
"Winning OFSAA and the provincials really boosted my confidence," said Morris, who is in Grade 11 at Fogarty. "To be part of both championships makes me more confident in myself and that helped me reach out to different schools and put myself out there."
Morris completed extensive research, narrowed her wish list to 20 U.S. schools, emailed them all and then visited six different campuses before targeting Canisius. The Buffalo school checked off all the boxes: it was closest to home, boasts a successful program, has a respected coach, has strong academics and offered a chance to play.
"I'm a left-hander and like to play behind the net and they need a lefty like me," said Morris of what appears to be a match made in heaven. "I'm aggressive and always try hard and they see me fitting well at Canisius."
For Obee, the journey has been similar. A few years ago, she decided to stop playing hockey to concentrate on field lacrosse as she developed a passion for the sport. Last summer was a watershed season. Despite being the youngest player on her team, she became a go-to player on both the teams that won titles in 2016 which is why St. Bonaventure courted her even though she's only in Grade 10.
"I visited quite a few different schools, but St. Bonaventure just stood out to me," said Obee. "I want my parents to come watch me play and it's only 4.5 hours away and it's a nice small town that has everything."
It was an overnight visit that cemented Obee's decision. "The coach (Chelsea Rosiek) was so nice, welcomed me with a hug "¦ as soon as I met the team at Bonaventure I knew it was the right place for me," said Obee, who stayed on campus overnight to experience what a typical day might be like as a Bonnie. "I went to a 6 a.m. practice, I went to classes to see what it would be like. It was an eye-opener. I left thinking, 'This is where I want to be.'"
Both she and Morris credited the local Lady Kings program, the quality high-school program and playing with The Edge, a club-level program based in Toronto, for helping them reach their goals. And while the skilled and fiercely competitive athletes have made the NCAA grade, they both insist their work is far from over.
"This doesn't mean I stop working hard - not at all," said Obee. "I will continue to work out and develop my skills. You want to be the best you can be when going to that next level "¦ there's lots of room for improvement."
For Obee, that means continuing to work out with Hank Ilesic, who helps train high-performance athletes. "He has actually helped me so much, made me determined, made me work harder - he has really helped me this year become so physically fit and driven to be at the next level."
Morris also works with a personal trainer; Mike Torkoff, she says, has aided her development immensely. She said she works out with him at his Washago facility at least once a week and vows to continue to work at improvement. "The main thing they told me to work on is my speed," said Morris, who said she is committed to running and sprinting to improve her foot speed. "I always practise stick skills. I do that a lot with my dad and my sister."
Lacrosse opens up post-secondary opportunities
No other sport opens up NCAA opportunities like women's field lacrosse. And that is crystal clear in the Sunshine City, as the Orillia Lady Kings have created a pool of talent that U.S. schools love to tap into.
While Hannah Morris (Canisius) and Jerica Obee (St. Bonaventure) announced this week their commitments to play lacrosse south of the border in the future, on National Signing Day in November, five Lady Kings officially announced their intention to play NCAA lacrosse next year: Quentin Hoch-Bullen will play for the University of Denver, while Abbi England and Annie Lloyd will play together at Bryant University and Kaiti Van Kessel and Emily Van Kessel will be teammates at Canisius College.
It's a testament to the strong program in Orillia that sprung from humble origins, said Heather Reda, who heads up the local Lady Kings program.
"When I think back to where it all began for these girls, it re-emphasizes the importance of our house league program and the people who gave and continue to give their time to volunteer," said Reda. "We have high school girls along with adult volunteers who coach and umpire in our program. Together with our volunteers in the rep program, they create the culture for that love of lacrosse to spark and flourish. It is this base of volunteers who are the foundation of our success here in Orillia, in Ontario and beyond."
In addition to the U.S.-bound athletes, several Lady Kings will also represent their hometown at Ontario universities. "While exciting to hear news of post-secondary school pursuits, I know each of them will always remain a Lady King at heart," said Reda.