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Howard County's Berger, Procida preparing to play in World Cup

Two Howard County girls lacrosse coaches will be playing in the 2013 Federation of International Lacrosse Women's World Cup in July. The tournament will be held near Toronto, Canada July 11-20.

Kelly Berger, who coaches girls lacrosse at River Hill High School, will be playing for the United States — the defending World Cup champion. Wilde Lake girls lacrosse coach Davia Procida will be representing Israel, which is making its tournament debut.

The Women's World Cup is held every four years. This year, there are 19 teams spread among four pools for round-robin play. All members of Pool A, which includes the United States, Australia, England and Canada, and the top two teams from Pools B, C and D plus one extra team will make up the championship bracket.

The remaining teams will be regrouped into two other pools and play in the Diamond consolation bracket.

Taking a chance

After Davia Procida graduated from Frostburg University, where she was named to the Jewish Sports Review All-American first team, she expressed an interest in helping build lacrosse in Israel, the land of her heritage.

"I love lacrosse and I want to help grow it in the world," she said.

Instead, she accepted an offer to teach and coach at Wilde Lake High School, her alma mater.

Last year, when she saw a press release announcing tryouts for the Israel women's lacrosse team, she knew she couldn't pass up the opportunity.

"It was a long shot, but you have to take chances when they come," she said. "This is probably the only time (for me). I'm 25 and I would be 29 for the next World Cup."

Procida, a low defender, had exactly 40 days to prepare.

Not only was she out of shape, she hadn't played lacrosse in over two years.

"I learned that there is a difference between being in physical shape and being in lacrosse shape," she said.

When she was invited to try out, Procida decided to include her students and her Wilde Lake team in her journey. She kept a blog and let them know that they were a huge inspiration to her.

"I wanted to be able to prove to them that you can set a goal — even if it is a wild goal — and if you put everything into it, you can achieve it."

Her students asked every day if she had heard if she had made the team. The answer came in mid March, but Procida had to keep it quiet until the official press release came out.

She made Israel's 20-player squad, but with an asterisk. The team can have nine Jewish Americans; Procida is number 10. She will train with the squad in Israel and if a player is injured Procida will replace her. If there isn't an opening, then she will serve as an assistant coach.

"It's going to be a really cool experience whether I play or coach," she said.

Another interesting aspect is that each player on the Israel team will be competing in honor of a charity of their choosing. Procida, a health teacher, picked Jewish Women International and is specifically advocating an end to violence against women.

"There are so many good charities, but that one just sparked my interest. Maybe because in school I was teaching about abuse," she said.

Go hard or go home

Lacrosse is in Kelly Berger's blood.

"I'm surrounded by it — my family and friends. My brother is a professional lacrosse player, my cousin is and so is my fiancé. The passion that they have for the sport, I have it, too. We eat, drink and sleep lacrosse. It's a job for us. It's not necessarily a hobby."

Lacrosse is part of her lifestyle and something that she does every day — and it is something that she has always done quite well.

At Hammond High, Berger was an all-county player. The four school records she set still stand.

Berger carried that success on to James Madison University where she led her team in scoring her last three years. Among her many awards, she was a two-time IWLCA All-American, Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year and a Tewaaraton Trophy nominee.

While Davia Procida is a newcomer to international lacrosse, Berger has been on the United States team for eight years. That longevity was only worth a bye during the first round of tryouts for this year's U.S. women's team. Starting last August, Berger had to play her way through a pool of nearly 150 players that was eventually whittled down to 18.

The competition is ongoing, she says. "Almost every time we meet, we're training and learning and we're being evaluated."

The players are close and friendly, but they know that at the core, they are also rivals. Plus everyone is very good.

"We have high intensity workouts. Everyone is going full-pace, full-time. That's what makes it really unique. The amount of athletes that are competing at that level," Berger said.

While she's been on the US team for eight years, 2013 will be her first World Cup. She was coming off a knee injury in 2009 and was an alternate to the team.

"Right now, our mindset is to bring the gold back to the US," she said. "It would be my first gold medal."

Berger expects the competition to be stiff. "Canada, Australia (and) England — all have been dog fights every time we play them. We are all ready to play whenever the whistle blows."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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