Tag Archives: Arizona youth lacrosse

Arizona girls lacrosse pioneer Jessica Livingston on cover of Lacrosse Magazine

Chaparral girls lacrosse coach Jessica Livingston is featured in this month’s issue of Lacrosse Magazine as one of the “10 people changing youth lacrosse now.” The magazine cites Livingston for creating AZ Girls Lacrosse, a K-9 instructional league she started with only five girls in 2004 and has since taught lacrosse to about 1,000 girls in the Valley.  Livingston also started a post-collegiate team, the Arizona Storm, for which she still plays, and since 2002 has been the head coach of the Chaparral Firebirds, the current two-time defending Arizona high school champions.

In 2010, US Lacrosse recognized Livingston with its Excellence in Growing the Game award, which is given to an individual who supports the US Lacrosse mission and vision to develop lacrosse in a particular geographic area.

“I’m beyond shocked, honored, you name it,” said Livingston on Tuesday when January issue of Lacrosse Magazine, which also features a two page photo of her inside the issue, came out.

While the national attention is flattering, Livingston was far more focused on Tuesday on the first day of practice of the high school season.  Chaparral returns only seven players from last year’s state title team, having lost 14 players to graduation and two players to moving out of state.  “The first day of practice is always a great day!” said Livingston as she pulled lacrosse sticks, balls, field cones and mouth guards from out of the back of her truck parked alongside the road next to the practice field at Mountain View Park in Scottsdale.  “What could be better than the first day of practice?”

This Saturday morning, January 7, Livingston will also be starting a new six-week session of her Desert StiX lacrosse program for girls in grades K-9.  All sessions will take place at Cochise Elementary School, Mountain View Park, 9451 N. 84th St. in Scottsdale.  To register for the Desert StiX program, click here.


The joy of the first time

Kenzie Williams, a first grader from Gilbert, learns how to cradle a ball at last Saturday's free AGLA lacrosse clinic in Scottsdale. Photo by Steve O'Day

“I love seeing someone pick up a lacrosse stick for the first time and love playing. It never gets old for me.” — Jessica Livingston of AZ Girls Lacrosse, a league for girls in grades K-9.

The above photo was taken at last Saturday’s free AGLA clinic at Copper Ridge School in North Scottsdale, which was attended by about 50 girls.  The next clinic will be on December 17 at a yet to be determined location.

Five questions for All-American Pierce Bassett

Bassett in 2008, warming up before the state championship game against Chaparral High School.

By Robert T. Balint

Two weeks ago,  Pierce Bassett became the first Arizona-raised lacrosse player to be named to a Division I All American team.  Bassett, a 2009 graduate of Brophy College Prep and the current goalie for Johns Hopkins University, was named as the Second Team All American goalie by the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association.

Bassett started all four years in goal for the Brophy Broncos. From 2006 through 2009,  Brophy made four straight state title appearances, winning it all in Bassett’s sophomore (2007) and junior (2008) years. A four-time All State selection, Bassett made the first team three times, and posted a sky-high .714 save percentage his senior year.

After graduation, Bassett headed to Baltimore to attend Johns Hopkins University, a traditional national lacrosse powerhouse. In his first year, he became the fifth freshman to start in goal for the Blue Jays since freshmen were made eligible to play in 1972. As Hopkins plays against the elites of the sports— Virginia, Duke, Maryland, etc.—he endured a trial by fire against the nation’s top scorers.

Bassett today.

This past season, Bassett became one of the team leaders and helped the Jays to a 13-3 record and a #3 national ranking. In the NCAA tournament, Hopkins recorded a 12-5 win over Hofstra before being knocked out in the quarterfinals 14-9 by Denver. His 146 saves and .570 save percentage earned him a spot on the All American team. An old friend of mine, Pierce spoke to me over the phone earlier this week about his beginnings in lacrosse, the season and where things go from here.

You started playing lacrosse in sixth grade. When did you know you had found your calling?

I first started playing for St. Theresa Broncos in sixth grade I started playing goalie, and I liked it. I remember they needed a backup goalie, and I played soccer goalie and a catcher, so I thought, “Hey, I’ll give it a shot.” One of the big things I liked when I started playing was frustrating the shooters and the offense. That’s what clicked with me. It was enjoyable.

I was horrible my first year of goalie. I think we won one game. The coaches in middle school took a lot of shots on me and worked with me. Getting into freshman year, I wanted to play varsity, and I had an opportunity to try out and make the team.

You split 2-2 with Chaparral for state championships. What was that rivalry like?

I think the Chaparral-Brophy lacrosse rivalry is one of the best, at least in Arizona lacrosse. In the regular season (in 2006), we got smoked 11-2, and then lost in the finals 5-3. In my first years, nobody beat Chaparral—they were good, they deserved it. Every time you play them, it was a battle. There was a lot of emotion. It was one of the bigger games in the league. I know a lot of those guys, so it was a fun rivalry going.

Sophomore year (2007), it was our first-ever championship. It was one of the best feelings of my life, to win the first championship for the program. I couldn’t have been happier, for the seniors and for the team in general.

And then in 2008, we pulled out a nail biter against Chaparral, at Chaparral. We didn’t play as well as we wanted, but we still got that win.

Tell me about playing in the NCAA tournament, and the pressure that comes along with it.

It’s the NCAA tournament. You dream of playing in it when you’re a kid. This year, in that first game against Hofstra, I thought, “It doesn’t matter if it’s the NCAA tournament; it’s just another home game.” Just play your game, and don’t worry about where it is or what’s on the line. It was a great experience; hopefully we can improve on it. I think everyone’s really excited to get back to school.

How does it feel to be an All-American?

We had the All-American banquet the Sunday before Memorial Day. An absolutely terrific honor to be included with some really great goalies this year. I’m humbled to see an award like that. It’s not just you out there; you have a defense. I’ve been blessed to have a terrific defensive end that doesn’t get much credit as I think they should.

What are you going to focus on during this off-season?

One of the big things is being a leader. Being a junior, you come into a leadership role. I have to work on that. Other than that, I’m looking to improve my athleticism, my endurance, and take a look back at some of the games and the mistakes I made. Take as many shots as I can back home, get myself prepared.

We’ll have 12 juniors this year, and we had seven or eight of us playing. Another good senior class. I think we’ve got some great guys who can do great things.

Robert Balint (left) and Pierce Bassett at their 2009 graduation from Brophy College Prep.

Arizona team finishes third in its divison at national girls lacrosse tournament

The Southwest Region team at the Women's Division National Tournament in Stony Brook, N.Y. this past weekend.

An Arizona all star girls lacrosse team finished third in its division this past weekend at the Women’s Division National Tournament at Stony Brook, N.Y.   The team of 20 girls from nine local high school teams comprised the Southwest Region team and finished third out of 10 teams in the Iroquois division, with wins over Missouri and Orlando/Gulf Coast on Saturday and an 18-5 shellacking of Oregon in the third palace game on Sunday.  The Arizonans lost their early morning games on Saturday and Sunday to New Hampshire/Vermont and Georgia, respectively.

“We had rocky morning games both Saturday and Sunday, but we pulled through and came out third in our division,” said Southwest Region head coach Bean Callen, who also coaches at Xavier College Prep. “The girls clicked extremely well, having played together just twice before coming to Long Island for the WDNT tournament. After our first loss to New Hampshire/Vermont, the team really came together and the chemistry prevailed. They made one another look good on the field and the camaraderie among each and every player was amazing. Crisp passes, beautiful goals and strong defense were seen on the field. And lots of laughter encompassed not just the players, but the coaches and parent chaperones as well!”

In addition to playing five games against some of the country’s best talent, the Arizona girls were able attend both NCAA Final Four lacrosse games on Friday featuring Maryland vs. Duke and North Carolina vs. Northwestern. On Saturday, they watched the U19 USA team beat Canada 21-7.

The Arizona team was one of 60 teams from 30 states that took part in the WDNT tournament, which is the oldest girls lacrosse tournament in the country, dating back to 1933.  This year’s tournament featured more than 1,200 of the top high school girls lacrosse players in the country.   — Dan Barr

Coming together as a team

In the minutes before the start of Tuesday night’s state high school semifinal girls lacrosse game, the Chaparral Firebirds circled around their coach to hear some final words of strategy and encouragement. After head coach Jessica Livingston said a few words, the Firebirds held their sticks above their heads as team captains Makenna Pohle and Alexa Sarussi led them in a traditional pregame cheer, “Red Hot,” by yelling out the following question:

Chaparral Captains Makenna Pohle (l) and Alexa Sarussi (r) lead their team in the cheer "Red Hot."

“Our team is what?”

The rest of the team responds – “RED HOT!”

Our team is what? RED HOT!

Then all the players shout in unison, without seeming to inhale: “Our team is R-E-D RED H-O-T HOT. Once we start, we can’t be stopped! All right!”

After a split-second pause, Pohle and Sarussi then yell to their red-and-black-uniformed teammates, “When I say Red, you say Black!

“Red!” “Black!”

“Red!” “Black!”

“When I say Fire, you say Birds!”

“Fire!” “Birds!”

“Fire!” “Birds!”

The team then concludes in unison, “Goooooo Firebirds!” before breaking the circle and trotting onto the field to start the game.

“‘Red Hot’ is our ultimate pump-up cheer,” says Livingston. “We use this cheer before we go out on the field.  It brings us together as a team, unites us as one, and gets us focused and pumped before we take the field. Our captains lead the cheer with pride, and in essence their leading the cheer symbolizes their contribution of leading our team all year.  We’ve been doing this cheer for quite some time and the longevity of the cheer shows its importance to the team because it’s not just a cheer, it’s a Chaparral tradition.”

The Xavier College Prep Gators have their own pregame cheer, charmingly titled, “Blood and Pain.” Like the Chaparral cheer, the Xavier cheer starts with two players posing a question to the rest of the team, which is huddled around them.

“Who’s gonna bring that blood and pain?”


“I said…Who’s gonna bring that blood and pain?

GATORS!  Ahhhh, OOOH!”

Xavier's Arden Anderson seeks to score against Horizon in an April 30 game.


So what do these cheers accomplish?

“Xavier’s pregame cheer, ‘Blood and Pain’ serves several purposes,” says coach Caitlin Bebout. “First and foremost, it unites the girls. They all come together in a close huddle with their arms wrapped behind their teammates’ backs. This signifies how they will work together as a team from the very start of the game. Next, the cheer gets them pumped up for the game. Taken partially from the Phoenix Suns’ pregame warm-up, their huddle starts to sway back and forth as they build up their energy. I’m sure on some level, it’s also used to intimidate their competition, but the ultimate goal of this pregame cheer is to unite the players and get them excited for the game.”

Pregame cheers are not just for girls.  Perhaps the world’s most famous pregame cheer is done by New Zealand’s national rugby team, the All Blacks.  Since 1888, the All Blacks have performed a traditional Maori ceremonial dance called the “Haka” before every game. Until six years ago, the All Blacks did the Ka Mate, which was composed by a Maori chief in the early 1800s.

In 2005, a new Haka, the Kapa O Pango, was written for the All Blacks.  The composer of the new Haka, Derek Lardelli, has said that its purpose is “about building spiritual, physical and intellectual capacity prior to doing something very important.” Lardelli added, “It’s about building the person’s confidence inwardly, their spiritual side, and then making that spiritual side connect through the soul and coming out through the eyes and the gestures and the hands. So it’s a preparation of your physical side as well as your spiritual side.”

Nor are male pregame cheers confined to New Zealand. Locally, the Mesa High School football team does their own haka before each game.

So how effective was “Red Hot” for the Firebirds in Tuesday’s semifinal game? Pretty effective, it seems.  After leading her teammates in the cheer, Makenna Pohle scored the first of her five goals of the evening less than a minute into the game and helped lead the Firebirds to a 20-13 victory over Pinnacle High School.

After the Firebirds lined up to shake hands with the Pinnacle players, they walked to the center of the field, laid down their sticks, put their arms around each other and formed a circle, swaying back and forth to do their postgame cheer, which starts in a whisper.


A little bit louder now


I still can’t hear you…


What, what?


A little bit louder now


I still can’t hear you…


What, what?”

So with the game over, what is the purpose of a postgame cheer? Coach Livingston explains.

“This brings us together as a team at the end,” Livingston says. “We either win or lose as a team and not as individuals. Coming together as one at the end of the game reminds us of this. No matter how great or how frustrating the game may have been, we have shared the emotion together. It’s really not even about winning or losing, instead it’s about being a family. We leave it all on the field and since we are in a circle for this cheer, we can look into each other’s eyes and it brings us back to what’s most important — each other.”

Makenna Pohle, Alexa Sarussi and the other Chaparral seniors will do “Red Hot” one last time this Friday night, when they face the Horizon Huskies for the state title at 8 p.m. on Field 16 at the Reach 11 Sports Complex, 2425 East Deer Valley Rd., in Phoenix.  It will be a rematch of last year’s state title game, which Chaparral won 21-4.  This year, however, Horizon, which easily prevailed over Corona del Sol 21-8 in Tuesday’s other semifinal game, enters the championship game as the number one seed, while Chaparral is the ranked second in the state.

While Friday night’s championship game promises to be highly competitive, with its result in doubt until the end, there little doubt that for the seniors, Friday night’s team cheers will carry a little extra energy and emotion. — Dan Barr

Postscript — On May 13, Chaparral won the state championship in a highly competitive game, defeating Horizon 14-13 in overtime.  To read more about that game, click here.

Tryouts for Team Arizona for the country’s largest women’s lacrosse event

Madeline Sarussi (center), a freshman at Chaparral High School, stretches before Saturday's tryout for the Women's Division National Tournament team.

“We are looking for athleticism, stick skills and attitude,” said Jessica Livingston as she and 10 other high school lacrosse coaches and officials watched about three dozen girls try out Saturday morning for up to 22 spots on an Arizona team that will compete at the Women’s Division National Tournament at Stony Brook University in New York on Memorial Day weekend.

Goalie Mandy Ross, a junior at Corona del Sol High School.

“The WDNT is more than 70 years old and is one of the largest women’s lacrosse events in the country,” said Livingston, the coach of Chaparral High School and the founder AZ Girls Lacrosse, a girls lacrosse youth league.  “A lot of college coaches will be there. It is a major recruiting event.”

The Arizona team will participate in the Schoolgirls’ Division, which covers grades 9-11.   This year, approximately 60 teams from all around the country will be placed into six divisions, which are further broken into pools. Each team will play a minimum of four games.

Chaparral sophomore Scarlett Sulliman.

Livingston said that even though she and many of the other coaches already know most of the girls who were trying out for the WDNT team, a player’s reputation and past performance do not matter to the selectors.  “That’s why attitude is so important,” Livingston said.  “We want girls who really want to be on this team.”  Saturday’s tryouts consisted of skill drills in the morning and scrimmaging in the afternoon.  “The scrimmaging is when you really see the girls in action,” Livingston said.

Selections to the Arizona WDNT team will be announced toward the end of the week of April 2.  For more information about girls lacrosse in Arizona, visit the websites of the Arizona Girls Lacrosse Association and AZ Girls Lacrosse.

Sophie Bucknell, a junior at Xavier Prep, awaits a pass.

Caitlin O'Grady, a Corona del Sol sophomore, stretches.

Girls from about a dozen local high school try out for the WDNT team.

A chance for kids—and parents—to learn about lacrosse

US Lacrosse, the governing body of boys and girls lacrosse, will conduct a free, two-day clinic Nov. 5 and 6 at Arcadia High School in central Phoenix.

The 2010 Fastbreak Initiative Weekend will introduce lacrosse to young male and female players, provide advanced coaching to more experienced players and offer instruction for coaches, officials and parents.

At least four members of the men’s U.S. National team that recently won the world championship in Manchester, England will be on hand, as will Maren Henley, head coach of the ASU women’s lacrosse team, and Don Zimmerman, head coach of the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Zimmerman will provide a keynote speech on Friday night at the Arcadia High School auditorium.

“It’s an opportunity to involve all the people in the Arizona lacrosse community—players, coaches, officials and parents,” says Marie Baca, a board member of the Arizona chapter of US Lacrosse and president of the Arizona Youth Lacrosse League. “Parents who attend will see that there are all sorts of opportunities for them to be as involved as they want to be in lacrosse.”

Desert StiX played during halftime.

Saturday, Nov. 6, will feature clinics for players and anyone who is interested in becoming a referee or umpire. Breakout sessions throughout the day will address such topics as concussion awareness, rules and sportsmanship, obtaining non-profit and tax-exempt status for a lacrosse club, advanced coaching strategies and opportunities to play lacrosse in college. All breakout sessions are open to parents, coaches and team administrators.

Free lacrosse sticks will be given to children who attend the clinic who have not played lacrosse before.

Arcadia High School is located at 4703 E. Indian School Rd. in Phoenix. For more information about Arizona lacrosse, check out the websites for the Arizona Youth Lacrosse League , the Arizona Girls Lacrosse Association and AZ Girls Lacrosse or this four minute video shot in 2008 by Vicki Balint of Small Change Productions.