National Lacrosse Champs Known for Faith, Too
The Benedictine College Women’s Lacrosse team traveled from Atchison, Kansas, to win the program’s first-ever NAIA National Championship on Saturday with a 9-8 win over No. 1-ranked, and championship host, Lawrence Tech in Southfield, Mich.
The team captains at each break in the game reminded the team,“We believe in God, we believe in ourselves and we believe in each other,” a prayer they got from former Benedictine College strength and conditioning coach Chuck Hollwedel. The players attached St. Benedict medals to their shoes (pictured), and put Scripture verses on their arms and shoes. In the second half, spectators saw the team’s coach, Clare Hanson, take out a rosary.
“This team was amazing,” said Father Ryan Richardson, a chaplain at Benedictine College. “It was a great blessing to be on this journey with them.”
Before each game, the team prayed a Hail Mary and also asked the intercession of St Benedict, St Scholastica and St. Jean de Brebeuf, patron saint of lacrosse players.
In what Father Ryan called a first for a National Championship team, the Lacrosse woman celebrated a thanksgiving Mass immediately after the game, before heading to the showers.
Coach Hanson was featured in The Leaven, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, on April 29.
“My goals are to bring as many national championships as I can to this program and to continue to graduate great kids who are going to be great members of society,” she told the paper.
Kacey Moore, an alumna of the program, told the paper, “My favorite part of Benedictine is that you’re more than just an athlete. You’re developing your spiritual side.” She said Hanson ”really embodied that herself — has really prioritized it — and has preached on the importance of your spiritual life.”
Hanson was active in both her home parish St. Francis Xavier in Mayetta and in the archdiocese. She was a regular at Camp Tekakwitha in Williamsburg during high school, and worked at the camp for two years after that.
Rianna England led a weekly Bible study for the team. Those studies focused on Scripture but included a series on authentic femininity and how the team could apply faith to their lives as student athletes.
“Faith was a foundational part of this team,” England said. “We always began practices, workouts and games with prayer. Faith allowed us to push passed the difficult moments during the season. Lacrosse is a demanding sport not just physically but mentally.”
Natalie Wechter, who played a big role in the championship win was named NAIA player of the week in March and NAIA player of the year in 2021.
“We are so proud of the player she is, but just as importantly the person she is,” President Stephen D. Minnis said at the Benedictine College Scholarship Ball in February. He said he and his wife, Amy, go to Mass with her weekly. “Amy and I usually share a pew with Natalie at the Saturday vigil Mass. It’s kind of ‘our thing’,” he said.
“One day, I felt a need to give her a Pope-blessed Rosary,” he said. “Now I’m not saying the Rosary led her to become the National Player of the Year, but probably didn’t hurt.”
Erica Odell, another recent Player of the Week, led the Ravens with four goals, while Wechter led with four assists.
Gianna Stalletti in goal finished the championship game with 14 saves, 6 of them coming in the second half.
Clare Hanson will have Stalletti again next year, but will have to rebuild as several key players were seniors. That is exactly what she plans to do.
“This is my alma mater. This program means so much to me,” Hanson told The Leaven. “I can’t see myself being anywhere else.”
Image: Top, Leaven photo by JD Benning.