Olivia Ferrucci isn’t the type of person to doubt herself, and there’s reason for that.
She’s tough. When she was only 4 her brother Mario, who is four years older, told her to put on a helmet and pads while he shot pucks and lacrosse balls at her in their Naples driveway.
She’s competitive. Years later she would compete with her brother in almost anything, from spear fishing in the Florida Keys, to wakeboarding off the coast, to bedazzling the annual Christmas stocking.
She’s confident. The Barron Collier senior beat out hundreds of hopeful lacrosse players throughout the country during a two-day tryout for the USA U-19 women’s lacrosse team in August, being named to a preliminary 25-player training roster that will eventually be cut down to 18.
Ferrucci, who verbally committed to play women’s lacrosse at the University of North Carolina at the age of 15, ultimately hopes to make that roster, which will compete for a fifth world title at the 2015 Federation of International Lacrosse Under-19 World Championships from July 23 to Aug. 1 in Edinburgh, Scotland.
But for now, there’s some immediacy ahead, and it’s practically in her back yard. The Cougars senior, who contends in the midfield, will compete in the 10th annual US Lacrosse Champions Challenge on Saturday and Sunday for the U-19 women’s team at Barron Collier High.
The women’s national team will face off against Stetson University on Saturday at 3 p.m. and against Rollins College on Sunday at the same time.
The weekend tournament, in many ways, will serve as her latest test, only this time it will be open to the public and in front of a large home crowd. Her mother, Kay, who tapes all of her games from the press box, and father, Mick, who coaches the Cougars, will be in attendance.
“It’s tough to play both roles as a teammate, making your teammates look good and making sure you’re doing everything you need to, because it’s still a tryout,” she said. “But as long as we make each other look good, they’re going to pick the best squad to take over there. There’s not anything else I can do but play my heart out.”
Ferrucci, who was born in Rhode Island and spent much of her adolescence in Delaware before moving to Florida at the age of 10, has made a habit of moving the needle at Barron Collier.
She’s tallied school records in single season (108) and career goals (244), total career points (382), career draw controls (206) and career ground balls (214). She’s 14 assists shy of the school record with an entire senior year to go.
As a result, the Cougars, who have won the past three District 20 championships and reached the state final four a year ago before losing to Vero Beach, have seen a palpable payoff. Talent isn’t hard to find in Naples.
By midway through her freshman year, she had offers from the University of Florida, Maryland, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins, among others.
“Once you get past her natural ability, I continue to be impressed by her commitment, work ethic and the way she’s been a teammate,” Mick said of his daughter.
Time isn’t taken for granted. In the winter, the 5-foot-8 athlete also plays basketball with the Cougars, where her coach, Michael Hamburg, has put her “anywhere from point guard to shooting guard to the post, anywhere except center,” she says.
Still, the senior finds time spend hours with the stick in her hand. She heads to the Vineyards in Naples, where she finds a racquet ball court and begins to work through repetitions.
Right hand. Left hand. Close to the wall, then farther. She’ll practice over-the-shoulder throws, then spend a few minutes with stick tricks like behind-the-back and around-the-wall, at the very least to simulate difficult pocket catches.
“I’ll get lost in it,” says Ferrucci, who cites her strengths on the field with draw controls and ground balls.
She also works in the offseason with Derek Touchette, owner of Total Athletic Performance in Naples.
While the winter has been filled with hour-long basketball practices, lacrosse still remains her focus. Her parents, who both played college athletics at Colby College in Maine, have instilled that drive, she says.
“It is my life,” Ferrucci says of the sport. “It’s not how it fits into my life, it’s how my life fits into lacrosse … and that’s by choice. I love lacrosse and that’s the only way I would envision it to be.”
So on Saturday, Ferrucci will step on the Barron Collier field to compete against Stetson, where two former Barron Collier athletes also compete. Mary Kate O’Sullivan, who was a senior when Ferucci was a freshman, is looking forward to the opportunity, as is Elisabeth Blackwell, who will be facing a player she once coached for the first time on the playing field.
“It more makes me feel old,” Blackwell says.
The two-day tournament will signal a shift in focus for the senior, who still needs to make the final cut for the U-19 team. While a large majority of her team will be traveling into southwest Florida from up north, Ferrucci will have a small advantage.
“They’re coming in from 12 degree weather,” she said. “I’ve been living in beautiful 75 degrees. It’s amazing that it’s here in Barron.”
It’s a proposition she says she feels ready for, even though there’s much on the line.
“I’ve never thought about getting cut,” Ferrucci said. “I’m an athlete who strives to be the best. I have everything in my ability to make the team. Now I just have to do it. Once I do, it’ll be an amazing honor to be able to represent American in Scotland.”
With Ferrucci, there are no doubts.
Behind the nickname
Olivia Ferrucci is actually referred to as “Ya” by most of her teammates, friends, and even teachers and coaches. At the age of two, Ferrucci couldn’t pronounce her name, so she merged the end of her name with the end of her middle name, Gaia, and came up with “YaYa.” Later on, it was hacked down to “Ya.”