Although not widely popular around the world, lacrosse is one of Long Island’s most prominent sports. At its forefront is Great Neck athlete Ariella Lerner. Lerner helped captain Team USA’s gold-medal winning girls’ junior lacrosse team at this summer’s Maccabiah Games in Israel. She also scored the first goal in the competition’s history, as 2017 was the first year the games featured the sport. As much as lacrosse impacts her life, she has had an impact on the game’s growth on Long Island and around the globe.
Lerner has been playing the sport since her elementary school days, picking up the game at summer camp. She joined clubs every year since then and has gone on to win the Nassau County All Conference Award, as well as the U.S. Lacrosse All American Award. She currently plays for the Great Neck North High School varsity team, as well as Liberty Lacrosse. Even though Long Island is saturated with lacrosse programs, Great Neck didn’t offer a program for her age group, forcing her to play on Port Washington’s team from fourth to sixth grade. That wasn’t the last time she played for a team outside of Great Neck, as she played for Oyster Bay a few years later.
“Ever since I started lacrosse, I have spent a lot time traveling to other towns to play on their town teams, as well as to practice and play with my club team,” said Lerner. “This meant spending a fair amount of time traveling and practicing outside of Great Neck.”
The sport also took her to many tournaments and development camps across the country, where she often spent large amounts of time away from home. Despite the adversity, she thrived in these situations.
“When I first played in another town, walking onto a field of strangers, knowing that everyone else knew each other, forced me to grow up a little quicker,” she said. “It was a simple choice, if I wanted to play a sport that wasn’t popular in my town, I would have to make some sacrifices and I would time and time again be placed in some uncomfortable situations. I was fortunate enough to meet a lot of great people along the way.”
Her family and friends have also been helpful throughout her playing career, often making arrangements to allow her to play in these far away tournaments and camps. Her accomplishments speak to the success she has had despite the less than ideal situations.
Although this was her first time participating in the Maccabiah Games, Lerner had already made an impact on Israel Lacrosse years earlier. For her bat mitzvah, she donated equipment to underprivileged children at an Israeli school.
It was then that Lerner came up with an idea to grow the game back home. She knew that in order to be a successful lacrosse town, Great Neck would have to boast a strong base, something the peninsula did not yet have.
“Being part of this process and seeing Israel Lacrosse as it first started to introduce the sport to the country, was a life-changing moment for me. At that time I realized how powerful sports can be. When I returned from Israel on this trip, I thought of what a huge undertaking it was and how incredible it was that they were able accomplish this,” she said. “It got me thinking about what a great sport lacrosse is and that if it could be successful in a country that never saw a lacrosse game before, I could certainly start lacrosse in Great Neck. This brought me to start a youth lacrosse program for girls in Great Neck.”
She hopes that the program will allow young girls to begin playing at an early age and develop into top players for Great Neck’s middle and high schools.
After a successful Maccabiah Games, Lerner plans to bring her talents back to Great Neck as she continues to play for her school and other clubs across Long Island. She has already committed to play for Muhlenberg College starting in Fall 2018. She also hopes to continue teaching clinics in Great Neck whenever she has the chance. Her ultimate goal is to develop her communication skills and become an effective lacrosse coach at one of our local schools.
When he found out that his granddaughter was passionate about lacrosse, Lerner’s grandfather promised her that the Maccabiah Games would one day feature the sport. She finds it incredible that she not only scored the tournament’s first goal, but won gold the first time the sport was played at the games. She has been an ambassador of the game and hopes to continue bringing the sport to aspiring athletes on Long Island and beyond.