The senior didn't play lacrosse two years ago. Now, she's a college-level player.
You can do it.
Your hear it all the time in sports, but whether the athletes actually believe it is another story.
Self-doubt was something that caused me to stop playing sports sooner that I should have. After I stopped, I would follow National Signing Day with a mix of admiration and envy, with a chorus of “That should have been me” ringing in my head.
The most recent National Signing Day was Nov. 13 and 25 East County athletes put their names on the dotted line. Within those 25 signings is the story of Lakewood Ranch High senior girls lacrosse midfielder Alyssa Bradford. It is a story that should give hope to athletes thinking the same thoughts I did, or even non-athletes thinking it is too late to get in the game.
Three years ago, Bradford played zero sports. She tried a few things, like soccer, when she was younger, but nothing stuck. She just wasn’t the type to have athletic success, she thought.
Even if she wanted to try lacrosse, there was no way for her to play at Lakewood Ranch, which didn't have a team. When AP Human Geography teacher Sammy Stoltz told her class she was helping to start a lacrosse program at the school, Bradford still didn’t seek it out the opportunity. Stoltz wouldn't take no for an answer and finally convinced Bradford to come to a clinic.
The clinic was mostly Bradford and a few friends tossing the ball around with sticks they did not know how to control. She got hit by errant passes quite a few times, she said. Still, something about the experience stuck with her. She had fun, so she went to the next clinic, and the next one, and suddenly Bradford, the girl who never thought she had the chops to play a sport, was officially joining the team.
“I pushed myself hard,” Bradford said. “Every day, I worked to get better. I wanted to be the best I could be.”
She played her sophomore year, after she joined Stoltz’s travel team, Monsters Lacrosse, to get more experience. By her junior high school season, Bradford had been named a team captain. As a midfielder, Bradford does not get as many scoring opportunities as her attacker teammates, yet she still finished with 10 goals and two assists in 15 games.
Bradford said her primary job — and where she feels she has improved the most — is moving the ball upfield, protecting each possession at all costs.
During her junior year and over the offseason, Bradford began filling out recruiting profiles in the hopes of getting noticed. One such profile was that of Young Harris College, an NCAA Division II school in Young Harris, Ga. Bradford was invited to the school’s prospect camp on Oct. 19, where she put on a show for coaches. She impressed them enough for them to offer her a scholarship. She made it official on National Signing Day. She was going to be a Young Harris Mountain Lion.
The girl who thought she couldn’t, in fact, could, and then did, in just two years.
“Lacrosse has helped me so much,” Bradford said. “I used to be a shy person. The sport has allowed me to become a stronger and more outgoing one. It changed my life.”
No, she didn't sign with a major college program like some of the other East County athletes who signed on Nov. 13, but Bradford is the fourth Mustangs girls lacrosse player to reach the next level following Audrey Mahoney (Oglethorpe University), Marissa Boccarossa (Lynn University) and Adrienne Stetson (Lees-McRae College). No matter what happens next, that is an accomplishment no one can take away from her.
Yes, she can.
This article has been updated to include previous Lakewood Ranch girls lacrosse signees, as well as correct Sammy Stoltz's job title. Stoltz is an AP Human Geography teacher, not a math teacher.