March 7, 2013

Soares Sets Tone for LIU Post, Headed to Marines

Takes road less traveled to Division II national power

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

Bridgett Soares, already a commissioner officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, gave lacrosse a try upon arrival at LIU Post. Despite her lack of experience, she was good enough to crack the lineup of one of the best teams in the country.
© Gil Courson

This time next year Bridgett Soares could be storming the Halls of Montezuma or the Shores of Tripoli. But, before that, she had a lacrosse game in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

LIU Post won that game, 19-3, over Philadelphia University to improve to 2-0. Soares, a senior defender and a commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps, played most of the game as the defending Division II champs held the host Rams to their lowest-scoring output since March 10 of last year.

Four years ago, there was no way Soares could have imagined standing on that field with U.S. Route 1 and the Philadelphia city skyline behind her. Not because of how far it was from her high school in Arizona or her hometown in California. She's used to moving around. Soares' life has been a Johnny Cash song. Yuma, Ariz., San Diego, Japan, New York. She's been everywhere, man.

What couldn't be imagined was where she physically stood. On a lacrosse field. Because when Soares entered college, she hadn't really played before.

But Soares, who ran track in high school, wanted to play a college sport. That meant basketball or lacrosse.

"I suck at basketball," Soares said. "I figured I'd give lacrosse a try."

Giving college lacrosse a try is easier said than done when the college is LIU Post. When Soares arrived on campus, the Pioneers had reached two NCAA championships in the previous three seasons. They typically recruited from the best high school lacrosse programs in the nation, some girls who start playing in third grade.

Post doesn't normally reserve sports for San Diegan track stars without playing experience. But when Soares walked into Meghan McNamara's office that October — the team was already well into the fall season — the coach saw something there. McNamara let her tryout. And suddenly, with only a couple of games of catch as practice, Soares was hanging with one of the best lacrosse teams in the country.

"I guess I was in a good mood that day," McNamara said.

Funny, because Soares tends to bring good moods everywhere she goes. When the going gets tough, the future Marine is the first to put her team at ease.

"She's the class clown," McNamara said. "She's there to pick everyone else up."

In more ways than one. Practices at Post are competitive. The Pioneers ranked No. 5 in scoring and No. 6 in scoring defense in 2012. It's a tough place to practice. A defender has to face some of the NCAA's best scorers every day.

Jackie Sileo was the IWLCA attacker of the year in 2012. She led Division II, and broke program records, with 141 points and 96 assists. Then she broke the scoring record in the NCAA tournament.

Sileo has a preternatural ability to beat a defender and find an open teammate. She has 18 assists in two games this season. A midfielder that good has to hone her craft against someone. Frequently that someone is Soares, always loud on defense, and the first to make an opponent pay when when the ball hits the ground during practice.

"I love going against her," Sileo said. "But I also hate it."

Through those practices — going up against players like Sileo and Ashley Olen, and a lot of wall ball — Soares transformed herself into a lacrosse player.

"I love going against her [in practice]. But I also hate it."

— 2012 IWLCA attacker of the year Jackie Sileo

In 2010 she played in eight games. In 2011, four. Last season, Soares made 18 starts, picked up 22 ground balls and caused seven turnovers. She picked up three ground balls in the 17-16 NCAA championship game victory over West Chester.

Today, they call her the vacuum, but Soares said she didn't totally feel like a lacrosse player until last season. McNamara said she knew she made the right decision long before.

It was an early practice, not long after Soares had showed up in the coach's office, and it wasn't going well. The team messed up. That meant pushups. Soares was the first one McNamara heard calling out her sets.

In that moment it was clear she had what it took to become a lacrosse player. It was also clear she was born to be a Marine.

Both of Soares' parents are Marines. Soares wanted to join up after high school, but her parents encouraged her to go to college first, a decision she's glad to have made.

LIU Post doesn't have ROTC, but during previous seasons Soares would frequently need to check in with the USMC's Officer Candidate School. Last summer, Soares celebrated Post's NCAA championship with a summer at boot camp. When she graduated, several teammates made the trip down to Quantico, Va., to support her.

Soon she'll have new teammates to support. She hopes to go into counterintelligence. It seems like a good fit. The last four years have been nothing but good decisions.

"She'll be absolutely great," McNamara said. "I can't wait to see where she'll go next."

But before that there's more pressing business. She's already embodying the Marine motto, Semper Fidelis — always faithful — when it comes to her current team.

"We want another championship," Soares said.

The talent in Division II is better than its ever been. Repeating will be difficult. But it's never wise to bet against the team with the Marine.

Mark Macyk has covered Division II and III women’s lacrosse for Lacrosse Magazine and LaxMagazine.com since 2011. He can be contacted at markmacyk@gmail.com.


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