Playing like a girl: a lacrosse story


Mercedes Kauphusman

Zoe Vandeberg shares her experience of being the only girl on her lacrosse team

“You play like a girl!”

You may recognize this line from movies, TV shows, or maybe even you have said it to someone, or had it said to you.Nevertheless, it’s definitely not taken as a compliment.

Why are girls held to such a weak standard? How is it that we are taught that women are brave, strong, powerful, and kind and that we must honor those in our life that happen to be these women figures for us, yet belittle them in comparison to men?

Women are just as successful as men, but it takes more work for them to get their recognition. Some ideas from women might even remain under dim lighting, but brought to attention when handed over to a man.

Applying this to the field of sports, girls typically play on a girls team, segregated from boys playing on a boys team. However, some girls do want to go out for football, or other “boys only” sports teams. It’s just a matter of if they can prove that they are a valuable component to the team.

The girls lacrosse team in Winona launched in March 2017. It was more of a “trial” season for those who came out in hopes that they could learn the core skills to play the sport for the next season.

Unfortunately, there were not enough players the following spring of 2018, and the girls team was cut short.

This cancellation was not seen as the end game for Zoe Vanderberg, now a senior. Vanderberg made a decision to continue her lacrosse career as the only girl on the boy’s varsity lacrosse team.

It was a brave decision, but not a split second choice, but took some convincing.

“My parents encouraged me to continue and I really enjoyed playing lacrosse. It felt like the right thing to do,” Vanderberg says.

Fitting into the team wasn’t easy as the only girl, however. Surrounded by sweaty, teenage boys ready to trample their next victim, it’s difficult to carve out your place.

In addition, Josh Vanderberg, Zoe’s dad, is the new head coach, which definitely has not been easy for her.

“It’s hard getting teased a lot to, “go and run to daddy” and it definitely takes some getting used to.”

Not only are the boys louder and crazier, but stereotypically, they appear faster and stronger. It may be harder for a girl to compete with in comparison.

“I tried my hardest to make my place known, whereas the boys can be more lazy, but still get more credit. You kind of feel like you have to prove yourself because no matter what they are going to doubt you for playing a boys sport,” Zoe said.

But with every hardship, comes a reward. Zoe kept pushing to build up her reputation, and eventually, it was worth it.

Laken Macal, also a senior at cotter, is one of Vanderberg’s many teammates. He’s definitely your status-quo lacrosse player.

Laken Macal, sporting #52 during a lacrosse match last season. Photo by Mercedes Kauphusman

“We are a very interesting group of guys. Most of the team plays hockey, so they are very rough and rowdy.
This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Often times during practice and games there is a group of guys that like making a scene and interrupting the practice schedule. During games the hockey mentality is a great thing because we all have each others back and when we are down we work together to score,” Macal said.

Though he referred to the team as a “group of guys,” he says that the team as a whole treats Zoe as one of the guys.

“When she is around we don’t act any different. She is just as important of a member as the next guy.”

Macal also has been impressed with the coach.

“We will and are having lots of fun with Josh as a coach. Our previous coach had a very straightforward personality and liked everything done with perfection, meaning drills are drills and there is no time for joking around. Josh on the other hand is very encouraging and likes to have fun. He sends a practice plan out before every practice and he enjoys joking around at practice. After all, we are a club team so it is important to remember that we are having fun.”

After the team struggled with the code of conduct previously, they are getting back on their feet and are quickly growing and perfecting their skills as the season continues.

Zoe proudly represents the title as the only girl on the team, while also sporting her Native American background.

Lacrosse was originally a Native Americans tribal game, and influenced by Europeans to shape the sport into how it is today. In regards to it’s origin, Zoe has a different perspective for lacrosse as a whole.

“I feel like I treat the sport in more of a spiritual way. It was a game meant to praise the creator and settle tribes so it has a lot of important history for me.”

“I would say to just go for it! Its worth trying out, even if the boys are hard on you, its worth it to be able to body someone and say, ‘you just got hit by a girl!'””

— Zoe Vanderberg

I asked Zoe if she had any advice for girls in her position, eager to make their mark on a boys sport, to which she replied,

“I would say to just go for it! Its worth trying out, even if the boys are hard on you, its worth it to be able to body someone and say, ‘you just got hit by a girl!'”


Vanderberg striking a pose that screams, “don’t mess with the girl on the team!” Photo by Mercedes Kauphusman