Tag Archives: Jessica Livingston

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.

Chaparral girls win state lacrosse title

The state champion Chaparral Firebirds.

The Chaparral Firebirds won their second straight state lacrosse championship Friday night, prevailing 14-13 in overtime over the previously top-ranked Horizon Huskies. For the girls who played and the overflow crowd at the Reach 11 sports complex who watched, it was a game they will vividly remember the rest of their lives.

While one would expect a great game between the state’s highest scoring teams that featured six of the top seven goal scorers in Arizona, what  transpired exceeded those expectations. It was simply a game where every ground ball, every pass and indeed every square foot of the field was contested by both teams. After Horizon opened the scoring in the first minute, the score was tied eight times over the course of the game.

The most dominant player on the field during the first half was Horizon midfielder Madison Kinzley, who won nine of the first 10 draws of the game.  Horizon also featured a stifling defense and explosive transition game. With the score 5-5, Chaparral scored two goals in the last 19 seconds of the first half. The second goal came after Chaparral senior Alexa Sarussi won the draw and subsequently picked up a loose ball in front of the Horizon goal and scored with six seconds left in the half. It would be the first of two last-second goals for Sarussi during the evening.

Chaparral captains Alexa Sarussi (l) and Makenna Pohle (r) with head coach Jessica Livingston and the state title trophy.

The second half opened with Chaparral scoring two goals in the first minute and 19 seconds, which meant that going back to the end of the first half, Chaparral had scored four goals in only a minute and 38 seconds. Most teams would have folded after getting such a swift four-goal punch to the mouth, but Horizon was not fazed. Indeed, over the next 11 minutes, Horizon answered with five straight goals to take a 10-9 lead. Chaparral’s Makenna Pohle responded with a goal only 10 seconds later to tie the game at 10 all.

With 12 minutes remaining in the second half and the game now tied, the contest transformed into something beyond a lacrosse game. Skill, speed, strength and strategy would no longer be enough for either team to win. The game had simply become a contest of the collective wills of each team, with neither team backing down an inch.

Chaparral scored the next two goals to take a 12-10 lead with 2:26 left. Again, a lesser team may have folded at that point, but Horizon kept coming and with 40 seconds left tied the game at 12-12.

At this point, many of the 400 or so fans were on their feet, pressed against the sidelines, excitedly shouting support for their teams and waiting to run onto the field the moment the game ended. It was everything a state championship game should be. As Horizon won possession of the ball for the game’s final seconds and looked for the winning goal, the crowd was transfixed.

Chaparral Goalie Katherine Marhnes, "K4," after the game.

With seven seconds left,  Horizon’s Maddie Chapman, the state’s leading goal scorer, suddenly broke free with the ball in front of Chaparral’s goal and had a point blank shot from no more than 10 feet away. The only person standing in Chapman’s way was Chaparral’s 4′ 11″ senior goalie, Katherine Marhnes. Known as “K4” to her teammates, because she was one of four Katherines on the team last year, Marhnes had never played lacrosse until last year, when the Chaparral JV team did not have a goalie and she decided to give it a try.

Now in a split second, with the state title on the line and the state’s most menacing scorer all alone in front of her, Marhnes stopped what appeared to be a certain goal and put the game into overtime.

In the overtime, which consists of two three-minute periods, followed by sudden death if necessary, Horizon scored first and Chaparral sophomore Scarlett Sulliman answered with a goal 13 seconds later to tie the score. Then, with only 16.6 seconds left in the second overtime period, Chaparral co-captain Alexa Sarussi scored the game winner on a penalty shot.

It would be cruel and unfair to say that Horizon lost the game. An extraordinarily talented and disciplined team, Horizon gave everything they had to give and were simply behind when time ran out. For both teams, the scoreboard simply did not reflect the character, poise and determination they displayed throughout the game. — Dan Barr

The sign and smiles say it all.

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 free introduction to the fastest game on feet

Coach Jessica Livingston (center) at a recent clinic

When Coach Jessica Livingston held her first free girls lacrosse clinic two years ago, only about a half dozen girls showed up.  Girls lacrosse has since grown rapidly in the Valley and at Livingston’s clinic last spring approximately 70 girls came to try lacrosse for the first time.  

Livingston will hold her next free lacrosse clinic for girls in grades K-9 on Saturday, September 11, from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Scottsdale Sports Complex, 8081 E. Princess Dr. in Scottsdale.  Current high school players will assist with the instruction.  As in the past,  lacrosse sticks and goggles are provided for the use of all girls at the clinic by US Lacrosse.   For more information about the clinic, click here.

The conclusion of last spring's lacrosse clinic


The 2010 State Champion Chaparral Firebirds.

The night before the state title game, Chaparral girls lacrosse coach Jessica Livingston gathered her team for a pasta party. The Firebirds were undefeated and the 11th ranked team in the western U.S. They watched a video of their past games against Horizon, their opponent for the championship. Livingston told her team they needed to “live in the moment and play harder then we have ever played before” the next evening.

Then she told her girls to do something else.

“I made them write down an affirmation or something positive that they are going to do in the game, somewhere on their body where they would see it,” Livingston said. “I wanted them to look at it all day.”

Each girl wrote something on her wrist, hand, fingers or forearm. Goalie Chriselle Asuma-Irion wrote the acronyms “WWW” (We Will Win),  “SA-TKIH”  (Stay Afloat-The Key Is Hope”) and “SC!” (State Champs!).  Defender Catherine Daem wrote “Never Give Up.  Always Stay Strong on D.” Other girls were more specific with their prescriptions. Defenders Hilary Novatt  and Ma-Li Metcalf wrote “I Will Not Let Her Beat Me on the Inside” and “I Will Stop The Fast Break,” respectively.

Senior Midfielder Madison Pohle.

Junior midfielder Makenna Pohle.

Junior defender Libby Munhall.

Sophomore defender Elise Anaya.

The affirmations certainly seemed to work. The team floored the accelerator from the start of the game and scored two goals within the first two minutes. Freshman Scarlett Sulliman, who earlier in the day had written, “Take it in. Think shot then pass,” on the inside of her left wrist, scored five goals in the first half. By halftime, the Firebirds had a 14-2 lead and went on to win 21-4.

In the middle of the first half, Chaparral senior midfielder Laura Eckhardt came limping off the field with what appeared to be an extremely painful ankle sprain. Some in the crowd speculated that Laura would not return to the game and that her high school career was over. Those people had not seen what Laura had written on herself earlier in the day.

“Giving it my everything and holding nothing back,” Laura wrote on her left wrist. “Finish what’s been 4 years in the making,” she penned outside her left thumb.

Laura held nothing back and after icing her ankle and wrapping it tightly, she re-entered the game late in the first half. She went on to score five goals and finish what she had been pursuing for her entire high school career.

For Chaparral senior Madison Pohle, life came full circle on Friday night.  Five years ago, Madison watched her first lacrosse game, the 2005 state final between Chaparral and Horizon. As she sat in the stands at Paradise Valley High School that night, Madison fell in love with the sport’s speed and fluidity. She signed up for a lacrosse clinic the following week.

On Friday night, Madison took the field as one of Chaparral’s captains and had four goals and one assist. “I feel absolutely amazing right now,” Madison said after the game. When asked if she could have imagined this moment as a seventh grader when sat in the stands five years ago, Madison smiled and said, “Yeah, I pictured this.”

So did her teammates. It was written all over them. — Dan Barr

Coach Jessica Livingston with her senior captains Madison Pohle (#15) and Laura Eckhardt (#50) after winning the state title.