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Northstar Invitational Preps Ladies for Next Level, Mentally and Physically

By Lax All Stars - Brian Witmer, 09/19/17, 12:45PM EDT

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Starting an article is never easy. The first words are always the hardest, and this was no exception. While I want to make a solid opening statement, this time I’m struggling with the plethora of amazing things to say about the Northstar Invitational (NSI). Frankly, I’m having a hard time figuring out where to start. Four days of high-quality programing, setting the tempo for top-tier performance really gives you a lot to talk about.

What Am I Talking About?

The Northstar Invitational carries prestige in its name. Over 600 girls either applied or were recommended to come to the sixth annual installement, but it’s the difficult task of founder Ashley Gersuk Murphy and the Summit Lacrosse Ventures crew to select only the top tier. In all, 178 of 600+ high school girls were invited to come spend the week at camp. Unfortunately, some summer injuries prevented a number of girls from attending, rounding the total number out to roughly 160 of the best female high school athletes from all across the country.

The NSI has been held at the Northwood School, a stone’s throw from Mirror Lake in beautiful Lake Placid, since its inception in 2012. This rustic, wooden boarding school is everything you’d think of when you imagine a beautifully aged school in the woods of one of America’s most pristine regions.

Northstar Invitational NSI 2017 Brian Witmer

I’ve been to my share of camps. When I was younger, I went to one or two camps a summer and they were always the highlight of the season. I had heard of the Northstar Invitational before, as one of the best camps for top-tier girls, but I really hadn’t read too much more into it. I, admittedly, don’t know really all that much of anything about the ladies’ side of the lacrosse world.

Here’s What I Do Know

I can’t say I had any specific expectations coming in, but any and all preconceived notions of this camp’s quality were met and exceeded to the tenth degree.

The sidelines weren’t lined with college coaches shopping for recruits. There weren’t endless skill drills and demonstrations. Where the aforementioned aren’t inherently bad things, this was a camp meant to develop and empower talented players into refined powerhouse athletes that are prepared to pursue high level collegiate careers.

I told you there weren’t a billion coaches and there weren’t a ton of drills. It would be fair of you to formulate the question,

“So where’s the value? What DID the girls do?”

I’ve got a list.

Starting from the first step inside the door, girls were surrounded and inundated with beneficial programming and resources. Once the check in/registration process had run it’s due course, and each athlete had their impressive Northstar gear package, the girls had their first session in the auditorium.

Dr. Mara Smith is a mental strength specialist who works primarily with Olympic-caliber athletes preparing for the most prestigious games in the world. As Ashley and SLV’s Kevin Leveille welcomed the newest class of Northstar girls into the family, their greetings were capped with Dr. Smith leading a conversation regarding what it means to be mentally tough.

Joining the panel as well were Kristen Kjellman of Victory Academy and Olympic Skeleton slider Katie Uhlaender. This diverse group had all competed and achieved amazing levels of success, yet no two of their stories were even remotely similar. The only similarity between an NCAA champion, one of the MLL’s greatest scorers, and an Olympic athlete (who regularly sleds down tracks at 90 mph bouncing her face off the ice), is that they’re all just as strong in their minds as they are in their bodies.

Northstar Invitational NSI 2017 Brian Witmer

Dr. Smith didn’t lecture the girls. She didn’t have graphs and charts or numbers or anything of the sort. Dr. Smith simply had a discussion with the panel, as well as the campers, to remind them to train their entire body to be the best they can be, and the brain is surely part of the body.

Put to the Test

The talk regarding mental toughness came at the best possible time. The girls would be tested physically in the morning, and when fitness coach Ron Greenfield puts you to task, you’re going to need to be mentally, and physically, on point. Ron is a fitness trainer who specifically focuses on female lacrosse athletes. Most notably, Kayla Treanor is one of Ron’s greatest success stories.

Specifically designed for developing lacrosse players, Ron introduced the Northstar Performance Index (NPI). The NPI is a fine-tuned system to accurately test girls in high school to realize strengths, as well as help educate the girls on areas of weakness that need improvement if they hope to find that next gear.

Northstar Invitational NSI 2017 Brian Witmer

The athletes were tested in a number of categories, some familiar, some unique to the NPI. The signature of the NPI is Ron’s Northstar Forty. Girls run the standard forty for a time, and then they run the forty again with a stick and ball. If the ball is dropped, that time is disqualified. The thought process obviously being that it’s not really all that important how fast you can run if it’s not functional.

Speaking to the caliber of athlete that Northstar brings in, a number of girls were right around 5 seconds flat, and they’re still in high school!

Taking the Step Forward

While half of the girls were tested in the morning, the other half were back in the auditorium for Victory Academy’s Kristen Kjellman’s leadership course. Northstar is dedicated to developing not just the athlete, but the maturing adult. Victory Academy explained the characteristics of real-world leaders in many different facets of all sorts of different industries.

While it was specific to sports, Victory Academy’s presentation explained that being a leader isn’t strictly applicable to sports. The qualities you exhibit as an athletic leader will benefit you long after you decide to hang up your athletic career.

This wonderful blend of athletic development and mental education, on and off the field, was something really fun to watch. Whereas other camps just simply are go-go-go on the field, a structure I’d challenge with the idea that kids are burning the candle at both ends. You can’t possibly be getting the best out of the athlete all day.

Divide and Conquer

With Northstar’s hybrid of on an off-field development, I feel that we were seeing the best these girls had when it came time to play games. The girls were split up randomly before the game started and placed on ten different teams. With the Women’s World Cup wrapping up in Surrey Park, England not even a week before Northstar kicked off, the teams were aptly named after national teams who had competed in the event.

The players were not separated by age, allowing rising 9th graders to play alongside seasoned veterans, who likely already had one or two years of varsity experience under their belts. Even with a very different level in experience amongst the girls, you couldn’t see it on the field. The younger girls were out there to prove themselves just as much as the oldest girls were hustling in hopes of being recruited.

Northstar Invitational NSI 2017 Brian Witmer

Every session was preceded by an in-depth warm-up provided by Coach Ron. There will always be injuries, but I do believe that Ron’s stretching and warm-up routines kept the athletic training staff from having to be busy. The proper preventative and warmup really did help these girls stay healthy. Keep in mind that kids are playing more lacrosse than ever each summer, and it will certainly wear on a body by season’s end.

Gotta Be Fresh

Keeping with the theme of the diversified training programs, one session was held on the tennis courts played to the tune of 3x (three-by). If you’re not familiar with 3x, that’s fine, because apparently neither were these girls before this week. We asked the whole group who had played 3x before, and only two hands went up out of 160.

3x is a training game based off the concept of just playing lacrosse in your backyard. You know, having FUN!

Northstar Invitational NSI 2017 Brian Witmer

A small goal is used, a tennis ball replaces a lacrosse ball, and anyone can play. Boys and girls can play together with their parents, neighbors, or whoever wants to join in the fun. In addition to being a riotous good time, there’s actually a purpose as well. A tennis ball is lighter, and thus harder to operate with precision. Quick passing and tricky plays are encouraged and it really just makes for a great time. Some of the counselors and I took on a bunch of campers. Try playing with a girls stick and a tennis ball. It isn’t simple. It’s not easy. How good these girls were at 3x really spoke volumes about the skill level present.

Most importantly, the girls loved it. Occasionally you’d see a couple more counselors and campers out there having a fun game between sessions.

Fun for the Whole Family

You know who else had a great time? The parents. Even mom and dad got in on the action, although not on the field. Ashley and Kevin were joined by Chris Meade of SportsRecruits.com via Skype to host an informative meeting for parents to go over the recruiting process. With the new NCAA recruiting guidelines coming in to play, one could make the argument that this was maybe one of the most beneficial programs that Northstar provided.

Parents were able to ask questions and they got answers from some of the best minds in the business. I can only imagine that the whirlwind of information, both right and wrong, makes it pretty confusing to be a parent these days. A simple and thorough explanation as to what the new rules are and why they came about. It was awesome to have clear and concise information about the whole process gave parents the information they’ll need in the coming years.

Northstar Invitational NSI 2017 Brian Witmer

In addition to the parents getting the recruiting talk, the girls would also receive education on the process at the end of the week with all of the current college players describing their recruiting processes as well as their college experiences. Girls asked a myriad of different questions and I don’t believe any question went unanswered.

Surely, it’s still going to be a stressful and difficult decision to pick a school, but it’s a major life choice and it’s important to have all the information available before you try and tackle it.

Keeping It Light

Immediately following the player panel was a camp talent show. The highlight of the show clearly has to go to one of my favorite campers, a goalie by the name of Annabelle.

Initially she was a little reluctant to go up, but the entirety of the camp chanting “AB! AB! AB!” quickly got her up on stage. I don’t want to call it a stand-up routine, because it wasn’t a carefully crafted script with jokes written in. AB simply told stories, and they were honest and real, and they were hilarious. Her delivery had the entire camp in tears laughing and a couple girls had rolled out of their seats onto the floor.

I’ve seen some interesting “talents” at camp talent shows before, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do comedy. If I have, I most certainly didn’t laugh as hard as I laughed at Annabelle’s stories.

Missing Something?

This article really doesn’t talk about lacrosse much, does it? I hope this doesn’t lead you believe that there wasn’t copious amounts of lacrosse being played. I’ll admit, I don’t go to enough women’s lacrosse games. It’s not a game I really grew up with, but seeing it played at this level was awesome. These girls were tough, fast, and have some amazing stick skills.

Northstar Invitational NSI 2017 Brian Witmer

Team Japan eventually won the Northstar Championship by one goal, 4-3, over bitter rivals, Team Wales. Japan was coached to victory by UWLX Pro Rachel Vallarelli and SUNY Brockport’s Lexxi Knoblock. All the teams got to play ten abbreviated games over the course of the four-day camp (no games on Monday).

In addition to crowning a champion team on the field, individuals were recognized for their talents as players and others for their talents as leaders.

Northstar Team MVP list
  • Morgan Koeneke
  • Zoe Mahon
  • Alicia Nicholas
  • Jordan Bentley
  • Sophie Zachara
  • Isabelle Holmes
  • Jordan Roy
  • Kennedy Everson
  • Olivia Caan
  • Kilian Weber
  • Leah Holmes
Northstar Team Leadership Awards
  • AB Acluche
  • Anna Seger
  • Noelle Cegielski
  • Elizabeth Harrison
  • Grace Taylor
  • Tori DiCarlo
  • Sylvie Waters
  • Sam DeVito
  • Maggie Brown
  • Kendall Belanger

If I were you, I would keep an eye on these names, as well as keep tabs on the NSI at Summit Lacrosse Venture’s website dedicated to the camp. These are the next big names in women’s lacrosse ready to light up scoreboards across the country in their coming high school seasons. They will all go on to be teammates and opponents at the highest levels of women’s lacrosse.

There’s Just Nothing Like It

This was an amazing experience for these girls, and it was honestly exactly what the doctor ordered for yours truly as well. Way back when, close to twenty years now, there used to be a boys’ lacrosse camp held on the exact same grounds. Campers stayed in the same dorms campers do now.

I was seven years old when I first went to camp up here in Lake Placid. Honestly, I vaguely remember bits and pieces of it. I remember hiking up a mountain, which campers did this week the same as when I did way back when.

Northstar Invitational NSI 2017 Brian Witmer

I haven’t been back inside the building in twenty years. It all came full circle for me. There was something cathartic about it. These girls are infinitely better than I was when I was their age, and they’ll surely go on to bigger and better programs, but it was nice to see that there’s tradition in our game, and that aren’t going to change.

Ashley stated loud and clear in the first minute of camp: the motto for the week was that “success leaves clues!” I let those three words bang around in my head for a couple days before I really tried to understand them. I was overthinking.

There’s something inside of Lake Placid, and I’m not referring to a giant crocodile in that awful 80’s horror flick. Success lives up here, and it’s hereditary. Lacrosse players who come to Lake Placid soak up the success of the generations before them.

Plenty of lacrosse players come to Lake Placid. The best girls in the game go to camp at the Northstar Invitational.

Success leaves clues. Follow the clues on up to Lake Placid. We’ll see you up here.