After the U.S. won its seventh game, Leah Holmes was wrapped in the American flag, a medal around her neck, her lips pressed against the championship trophy.
No matter where lacrosse takes the Northwestern University-bound Hackley (Tarrytown, New York) rising senior, it’s unlikely she’ll forget that moment or the final seconds draining from the clock as the U.S. claimed the U19 women’s World Lacrosse Championship with a win over host Canada in August.
“That was the most amazing feeling: We are world champions,” Holmes recalled.
RELATED: Team USA wins lacrosse gold medal
Lakeland’s (Lake Mohegan, New York) Raquel Nieves and New Rochelle’s Ryan Lipton also played. Nieves had a goal for Puerto Rico, which finished undefeated but was ineligible for a medal because it hadn’t competed in the required number of tournaments.
Lipton, a defender, was on an Israeli team that went 5-3, reveling in a 17th-place finish four years after finishing last.
You don’t get a medal for that. But Lipton returned home with a golden memory that exceeded that of every Israeli goal and win.
Embracing and helping a friendly foe
Israel played Kenya twice. The first time was on a wet field and the Kenyans, although fast, were slipping everywhere.
They’d ordered cleats for the tournament but what was delivered was wrong and couldn’t be worn, so they’d played all their games in sneakers.
After Israel blew out Kenya 13-4, an Israeli team dad approached other Israeli team parents. Money was collected. The Kenyan coach was contacted for sizes.
The Kenyan coach brought her team to watch Israel play the following day. Post-game Lipton and her teammates surprised the Kenyan players with cleats.
“They were so excited and happy. There were so many hugs going around,” said Lipton, 16, a defender starting her junior year at New Rochelle High.
They may or may not have done this for another team, but there was zero hesitation with the Kenyans, who’d quickly become special to the Israeli players and to other teams.
“They were so sweet,” said Nieves, who’ll play in 2021 for LaSalle University and hopes to make the 2022 Puerto Rican women’s World Cup squad.
“Their smiles were contagious,” Lipton recalled of the Kenyans. “They were dancing and laughing … From the beginning, we loved their energy.”
The next time Israel and Kenya played, Kenya, which finished the tournament with three wins and five losses, fell by just a goal, 11-10.