Mady Morrison, sitting on her couch beside her dad, looks the part of a sporty 16-year-old going into her second-to-last year of high school.
Hair pulled up in a messy bun, she had a box lacrosse jersey pulled on over shorts. In the corner of the living room, half a dozen lacrosse sticks leaned against the wall. An open lacrosse bag lay on the floor, and she had only recently moved her unzipped suitcase from the couch. Morrison had just come back from a Calgary box lacrosse tournament; her dad joked that they only ever take vacations for lacrosse.
He’s not far off.
“My life, pretty much since we moved here, has been lacrosse,” Morrison said.
Her family moved to North Delta when she was in Grade 3. At the time she played a little bit of everything. “[But] nothing stayed other than lacrosse,” she said.
Starting from the lowest levels of boys box and field lacrosse, she eventually worked her way up to playing goal for Team BC and a few American teams as well. Now, with two years of high school left, she’s made a verbal agreement with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) team at LaSalle University in Pennsylvania as a field lacrosse goalie.
“They’re doing it because they love it and they’re doing it because it’s fun, which I am really into,” Morrisson said of professional lacrosse players. “I wouldn’t be playing — and I wouldn’t be playing in university — if I didn’t love it. It would be a waste of time and a waste of money.”
Morrison was actually one of the last players to sign on with an American college team at such a young age. In April 2017, the NCAA changed the rules so players couldn’t be recruited until they started their Grade 11 year.
“I just made it underneath the line for that,” she said.
She signed in March of this year, and “it didn’t take me very long to say yes,” she said.
Morrison said she was recruited for her ability to come out of the net and act as an extra defender, which is certainly part of her appeal. Many goalies who have been trained in box lacrosse stay inside their crease. That can’t happen in field lacrosse.
“There’s a lot more asked of you,” Blair Bradley, Morrison’s Team B.C. coach. “You have to basically design what they call the clear, of getting the ball out of your own end. You have to identify where the other team is pressing you, where they’re riding. You have to make the first decision and … quarterback the ball out of your own end.”
Bradley said one of Morrison’s strengths is her ability to communicate with the team.
“She’s yelling out what’s going on on the field, what’s happening, what the other team’s doing,” he said. “You can’t be shy when you’re the goalie.”
Morrison certainly isn’t. Bradley described her as flamboyant and charismatic, but focused mostly on her eagerness to learn.
“My goal is to be a better goalie so when it comes to playing in university, I’m the best of the best,” Morrison said. “Which is a big dream, but it’s something I’m hoping to work for.”
Her eagerness to learn is what spurred her to become one of the best players in B.C. in a sport that doesn’t always make it easy for women to succeed.
The Delta Lacrosse Association, where Morrison played in her early years, has not traditionally had many girls’ lacrosse teams. When she was in elementary school, she played on the boys teams, only moving to a girls’ team when she “stayed the same size, but [the boys] were getting bigger and stronger,” she said.
“When I first started playing, it wasn’t really a problem that I was a girl,” she said. “And then I started to get older and the guys were like, ‘This is a guys thing. Why are you here?’”
That mentality didn’t affect her game.
“It made me want to play even harder, to show them that, yeah I’m a girl, but I deserve to be here just as much as you do,” she said.
The same boys club mentality is what prompted her decision not to return for a second year at the Delta School District’s Lacrosse Academy.
But perhaps a bigger challenge for Morrison has been a industry-wide lack of goalie coaches.
“We don’t forget about the goalies, they’re very valuable to us,” Bradley said. “[But] my knowledge is fairly limited.”
In her higher-level teams, she’s had non-goalie coaches like Bradley who have had to call up tutorials on YouTube to help her learn goalie-specific techniques. Recently she’s been going down to the United States once a month to take lessons from former CalTech Berkley goalie Helen Hansen.
When she was learning lacrosse as a kid, Morrison was lucky enough to have former LaSalle Univeristy goalie Savana Smith as a coach. But for the most part, coaching duties in those critical early years often fell to league parents.
That’s why Morrison has started coaching others herself.
“It’s nice being able to give back, because I never really had that opportunity when I was younger,” she said. “It was always our dads coaching. It was somebody’s dad coaching, who maybe played a couple years when he was younger, but never really went anywhere with it.”
For Morrison, a lacrosse player with nearly 20 medals to her name and a contract to play the highest level of women’s lacrosse available in North America, its the coaching that has been her greatest accomplishment.
“It’s going to sound so cheesy, but the past couple years I’ve been coaching [a tyke lacrosse team],” she said. “I had parents come up to me at the end of the season going, ‘It’s amazing that you’re coming out. It’s nice seeing that we have younger people coming out and helping.’
“Just watching the teams that I’ve been coaching kind of grow is probably a big thing.”