Boca Raton’s Gisselle Bland took up lacrosse three years ago to stay in shape for soccer.
It has proved to be a good decision for the 12-year-old who is a sixth-grader at St. Andrew’s School.
“The conditioning is really good,” said Bland, who plays travel soccer for the Sunrise Prime U12 Pre-ECNL team. “Running back and forth is really good for soccer. I think playing with your feet is definitely a lot harder but playing with a stick is a lot easier. It is like a breath of fresh air almost.
“I like how it is a really good second sport to play,” she said. “I like socializing and meeting new people and friends. Lacrosse is really, really fun. You get to learn new things every day and you get to play with your friends. It is not as competitive as travel soccer. For me, I always like winning, but if you try your best, I feel like that is a win.”
Boca Jets 12-Under teammate Jenna Mathews, 11, has been playing for eight years. The team is composed of girls in the fifth and sixth grades.
“It’s just fun,” said Mathews, who is a fifth-grader at Calusa Elementary. “You get to spend time with your friends, socialize, get better, work hard. It is just fun overall.
“I train for this and other sports, but this is the main sport I do,” she said. “I want to be a professional one day. To do that, you have to push yourself as hard as you can. It is not important to win as long as you met your goal and tried your hardest, that’s all that matters.”
Mathews said she enjoys trying new moves during games.
“Instead of doing normal shots, maybe I’ll do a behind the back shot, twizzler, or around the world,” she said of different moves. “As long as I met my goal, tried my hardest and maybe did something I haven’t done before, it’s fine with me.”
Her mother, Jarlyn, is in her eighth year as a coach with the Jets, and also has coached at Spanish River High School for 11 years.
“I love coaching,” she said. “I have been with this group of girls, most of them since they were in kindergarten or the first grade. I just really enjoy watching them develop as they get older…I would love to coach them in high school. It would be exciting.”
The Jets are primarily a recreational program that travels to other cities as part of the South Florida Youth Lacrosse League. Jarlyn called it a great experience for the girls because it is a team bonding opportunity.
“They can go and get that different experience because they are in different fields,” she said. “Unfortunately, because of COVID, we have only been able to play Wellington and Parkland this season at this age. Because of COVID, some of the other cities didn’t have large turnouts at the Under-12 level and some had their U12s play up to the U14s.”
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Boca Jets lacrosse president Steven Finver, who is in his ninth year, said the overall program numbers are down, mostly due to COVID-19.
“We are down about 20% this year, which isn’t terrible,” he said. “We have the same amount of teams, just fewer kids on each team. We played a limited schedule this year — Wellington, Parkland, Plantation and Davie this year.”
It is still the largest program in the South Florida Youth Lacrosse League with 310 players. There are 15 clubs from Miami to Jupiter. There was a 12-game season this year and the season started in January and ran through May 1 with the games being held from February to May.
“Parkland is the only program that has the same amount of teams as us so we played them a lot,” Finver said. “We hosted a lot of games here. We try and give people a lot of mutual games because we have the most teams in the league. We did lose teams in the league because of COVID.
“We couldn’t do our Little Jets program this year because of COVID and that’s what gets them started,” he said. “We have to be very careful. We space the games apart more than we used to. We spray down benches and we try and use all of the COVID protocols that we can to keep it as safe as we can. The sport is growing and I think next year will be a record year.”