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ODA girls lacrosse using attitude to its advantage

The Thunder is 5-2 as of March 8 after winning just four games in 2023.

ODA junior Makenna Larkin catches a pass against Bradenton Christian School on March 7. Larkin scored two goals against BCS.
ODA junior Makenna Larkin catches a pass against Bradenton Christian School on March 7. Larkin scored two goals against BCS.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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All The Out-of-Door Academy girls lacrosse team wants to do is "be the bean."

It's a saying from a book titled "The Coffee Bean: A Simple Lesson to Create Positive Change" by Jon Gordon and Damon West. In it, a teacher inspires his students by talking about coffee beans, specifically how they react when they get into hot water. Some things like carrots wilt and become weak. Other things like eggs harden and become prone to cracking. In both cases, the water changes the object inside it. 

Coffee beans are different. When put in hot water, coffee beans change the environment, turning hot water into something rich and nutritious. 

The ODA program read the book as a team, Head Coach Carolyn Keber said, and the lesson stuck. When faced with challenging environments and situations, you can either let them affect you, or you can "be the bean," changing the environment into something advantageous.

ODA girls lacrosse senior Ella East had five goals and an assist in a March 26 win against Calvary Christian.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

For a lacrosse team, senior Ella East said, affecting your environment means being a supportive teammate on and off the field. 

Through seven games in 2024, the lesson is working. ODA is 5-2 as of March 8 — already besting 2023's win-loss record (4-13). 

"You want your teammates to look good before you make yourself look good," East said. 

The unselfish culture ODA wants to create showed itself during a March 7 home game against Bradenton Christian School. In an 18-3 win over the Panthers, 10 ODA players scored at least one goal, led by East's four goals. Though the team's offensive production is not normally as spread out as the attack against Bradenton Christian was, four Thunder players — East (22), junior Ellie Hierholzer (29 goals), senior Emma Arrigo (26 goals) and junior Makenna Larkin (11 goals) — have double-digit goal totals through seven games.

It is an example of the team's way of thinking. ODA's ball movement and chemistry has been key to its success, Arrigo said. 

It all goes back to another one of the ODA program's sayings under Keber: "PMA," meaning "positive mental attitude." There is no room for discord in the Thunder locker room; no grumbling about playing time or petty criticism of another player's skills will be tolerated. Instead, the team's mental energy is to be focused on the positive, whatever that may encompass. Even after a loss, for example, the team will select a player of the game to honor, someone who exemplified the type of attitude Keber wants to cultivate. If someone is not embodying the PMA lifestyle, Hierholzer said, it is up to the captains — herself, Arrigo and East — to talk to that player and get things back on track. 

Hierholzer said the team's captains know each other's games well from playing together at ODA and on a True Lacrosse club team. They have seen each other improve over time, and that has been true of this season more than any other. Because of the culture the program has established, the struggles of 2023 did not break the Thunder's spirit. Instead, the players hit reset and focused on what they learned from the experience, and what they still needed to learn. 

"Everyone's skill has improved tremendously (this season)," Hierholzer said. 

Keber said the team's midfielders have led the way, particularly on the defensive end of the field. They're hustling, Keber said, and that type of play is infectious. When ODA can limit the amount of time the opposition spends the ball, it maximizes the chances the team's offensive players get to score. 

The turnaround is not done, Keber said. She wants the team to get better with crashing — converging on a player with the ball near the goal crease — and with creating space on offense, alongside more "fire in the belly" skills like hustling for ground balls, something Keber said can always be improved. 

ODA will face stiff tests in the coming weeks, including a home game against Riverview High (5-2) on March 22, which will task the Thunder with defending Clemson University signee Susan Lowther. But this season has already been more successful than the last. If one year of learning led to that success, Keber said, the struggles were worth it. 

ODA did not wither in hot water. 

It made the best of it, being the coffee bean it set out to be. 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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