Leaving with no regrets
Amid all the crying, the hugging, the what-ifs and the goodbyes on the Algonquin Regional side after the girls’ lacrosse team was handled by Westwood, 20-6, in the Division 1 state championship game 11 days ago, one player was smiling.
While the majority of players on the field that day will, at some point, likely play another game, Laurie Finelli knew that she would not. And regardless of the outcome, there was something really special about what she got to do that Friday evening.
Finelli played every single minute.
In a game that can be dominated with speed and demands constant movement, the senior midfielder never came off the field. She took a breather once when her younger sister, Kendyll, took her spot at midfield, moving Laurie to the attack, but she was out there for all of it.
Algonquin coach John Healy knew the situation, that Finelli had gone through the entire college recruiting process, had at least a half dozen schools interested and a “very competitive” scholarship package waiting at Saint Anselm College, yet instead decided she wanted to help people.
Finelli cried for a minute. Then she was in a great mood.
“A couple weeks ago I was like, ‘I need to be done with this,’ ” Finelli said. “I think I reached the best I could be. I don’t think I was ready to spend four more years doing that; and to have to stop after four years and not go anywhere with it and not be able to get the grades I need.”
“Coaches always say, ‘Play like it’s your last game.’
“I never felt like that, but then we actually got to my last one and I said I’ll give everything I have. And I did.”
It would be one thing if Finelli was just an average player. But she was a premier midfielder on a club that finished the season 22-2. She played for Revolution Lacrosse, a highly competitive, developmental summer team. And there was at least one Division 2 college that told Finelli she was its number-one prospect for 2013.
“She definitely could have played at the next level,” Healy said. “I think for a lot of girls the collegiate level is just a question of desire, and I think she realized it would have been difficult to do a good job at both school and lacrosse. She could be average at both or great at one thing.”
With the growth of the sport’s popularity and skill level in the state over the last decade, lacrosse has become an avenue for high school students to get into colleges they might not otherwise be able to attend. And the scholarship money is a big bonus.
Algonquin’s other senior captain, Carly O’Connell, who finished her high school career with 525 points and All-American honors, will play at Oregon, and her younger sister, Taylor, is committed to Loyola in 2013. Goalie Emma Decker will play at Regis College, while both Nikki Wrin and Liz Holmes will play field hockey at University of Massachusetts Amherst and Babson, respectively.
Acton-Boxborough Regional coach Scott Biron, also an instructor with the MassElite program, said that it is rare for a player such as Finelli to turn down a college opportunity.
“It’s usually the opposite,” he said. “Typically the kids I run into, because of the nature of the kids I coach, are all driven to play in college. So you don’t hear that much at all.”
If anything, Biron said, some end up realizing that playing in college is too much to balance with schoolwork and a social life.
“I have seen kids that have gone and their perception was something different and they just dropped out of it,” Biron said. “But no one said my high school career was perfect and I want to become a doctor.”
Finelli, though, sort of did just that.
She had played lacrosse since the fourth grade. She was always one of the better players, Healy said, noting that “she just got it from the beginning.” There was no doubt that she would play in college.
But somewhere between last December and May, after she fell in love with a physiology class, Finelli decided there may be a better path. She has been accepted at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., in a program that will lead her to be a nurse practitioner.
She loves blood. Whenever her teammates would get injured, she found some guilty pleasure in checking out their wounds. And she loves helping people.
Said her father, Tom Finelli, “We had always told her, ‘Lacrosse is great. It can get you into a better school.’ And she loves lacrosse, but at some point it kind of clicked. She wants to be a nurse practitioner, and it wasn’t going to fit with the full effort she’ll need to put into both.”
Of course, if there was a professional women’s lacrosse league that provided career opportunities like most men’s sports do, Laurie Finelli's choice might have been much different.
“Absolutely,” said Tom Finelli. “The end of your college career is pretty much it. There’s no potential long-term avenue to take with girls. It’s just pretty much over.
“And being a dad who has been very into sports my whole life, it was harder for me than it was for her. I watched her last lacrosse game. It’s hard to say she’s say all done. But overall, it’s the right decision for her.”
Finelli said she has gotten everything she wanted out of the game.
Now it’s time to grow up.
She might love being a nurse practitioner. Or she could hate it. She won’t really know for about six years.
But Finelli is trading the joy and excitement of scoring a goal to instead pledge her time and ability toward her schoolwork, where even the downside still puts her in a position to have a full-time job.
Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at email@example.com.