With its dinged pipes and worn netting, the weathered lacrosse goal sitting out back at the Clevenger residence carries with it plenty of nostalgia.
It’s not the same one the family has always had, but for Elizabeth and Mike Clevenger the net still stirs memories of when their four children used to whirl the ball around for hours in the backyard. It’s where the quartet’s passion for lacrosse grew almost as quickly as their skills.
Through those “backyard battles,” as Elizabeth likes to refer to them, a lasting foundation was built.
“There’s definitely a part of me that misses it, watching them play together the way they did … and believe me they didn’t hold back. They were truly battles,” she says with a laugh. “I always thought of it like a runaway train that you knew was always going to crash — it seemed like the game wasn’t over until someone got hurt. But it was so much fun and they always couldn’t wait to get back out there and do it all again the next day.
"When I look at them now, I still see that same drive in all of them.”
While the frequency of those two-on-two tussles in the backyard have dissipated over the past decade, Shay, Eloise, Mac and Maisy haven’t lost their love for lacrosse.
This spring, as all four have seen their seasons canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, that lacrosse goal is getting more use than it has in quite some time.
Living under the same roof again in Woodstock, all at different points in their playing careers, the siblings’ competitive spirit is as apparent as ever. It just manifests itself in a different way than it used to.
“We might not go out back and play two-on-two or whatever, but we are absolutely still competitive with one another. In some ways maybe even more than before,” said Shay, a sophomore defender for Loyola Maryland, who has been living back home since mid-March. “If I see Eloise going out on a run, then I’m going to go out on a run because I’m not going to let her outwork me. Or if Mac is lifting, then Eloise is going to lift because she wants to say she’s stronger than him. Same thing with shooting, wall ball or whatever else.
“It’s just how we are, how we’ve always been I guess. We don’t want to be last, even when it comes to working out.”
On the field, the Clevengers are rarely last.
Before Loyola’s season was canceled, Shay was an every-game starter for an undefeated Greyhounds squad (5-0) that had risen up to No. 3 in the Inside Lacrosse national rankings. Mac, a sophomore at Marriotts Ridge High, had made the boys varsity lacrosse team as a midfielder. Maisy, a freshman for the Mustangs, had made the girls varsity lacrosse team and was projecting to be a starter in the midfield alongside Eloise, a senior team captain.
During the fall, Eloise and Maisy were both starters in the state playoffs while leading the Marriotts Ridge field hockey program to its first state championship, with Maisy scoring the lone goal in the title game.
“Field hockey was the first time we had ever played together on the same team, and getting to be a part of that together was definitely special,” Eloise said. “Maisy was pulled up for playoffs, so we didn’t get a full season, but you could see that backyard chemistry was there right away.”
While the shutdown has robbed them all of time on the lacrosse field, in some ways it has served to further stoke the fire within each of them. Mac, who says as of now that he is the only one of the siblings not trying to play lacrosse in college, has been surprised by just how much he’s missed being a part of a team.
“I think it’s definitely something you don’t know how much you miss until its gone,” Mac said.
During the past month, Mac has served as a more-than-willing throwing partner for Shay. The two toss the ball around a couple times a week, taking advantage of some unexpected time together.
“I’m sure she doesn’t love being back home from college. But, yeah, I would say I like having her here. I was probably closest with Shay before she left and we’ve gotten back to that,” he said. “I would say I’m close with Elle and Maisy too, but it’s just different. It’s maybe a little less competitive with me and [Shay] I guess.”
Marriotts Ridge varsity girls lacrosse coach Amanda Brady has seen the competitiveness between the Clevenger sisters first hand. The Mustangs’ program has had its fair share of sister combinations over the years, including four pairs on the team in 2017 when Shay was a junior and Eloise a freshman.
Few, however, had the kind of battles that Shay, a defender, and Eloise, an attacking midfielder, did during practices.
“There was always a very competitive rivalry going on with those two. You could tell it was in their nature, something that had kind of been built up over the years,” Brady said. “I loved it though. It was exciting to watch and that kind of competitive spark from sisters can be passed onto the rest of the team in a positive way.”
After being named an Under Armour All-American as a senior in 2018, Shay went off to play college lacrosse at Louisville. She excelled her freshman year there as an every-game starter on defense for the Cardinals, but decided last summer to transfer to Loyola — the college her mom attended — and worked her way into a starting role for the Greyhounds this spring. She was leading the team in ground balls and caused turnovers through five games.
With Shay in college, Eloise has been busy blazing her own path. She has garnered first-team All-County honors twice in both field hockey and lacrosse, surpassing 40 goals on the lacrosse field each of the last two seasons.
Brady said she fully expected Eloise, who has signed to play at Maryland next year, to be on the short list of Player of the Year candidates this spring. Missed opportunities for accolades, however, pale in comparison to the sting of Maisy and Eloise losing their chance to play a lacrosse season together.
“In just those couple weeks of practice and our scrimmages, I could already feel that connection. It was even stronger than I thought it would be,” Maisy said. “I’ve always dreamed of playing with Eloise on the field, just because I only wish I can one day be as good as her. The way we were talking, the way she was helping me improve … everything was playing out the way I had thought it would in my head.”
According to Brady, Maisy was fitting in so well and bears such a resemblance to her older sister Eloise that coaches and players alike were constantly getting the two mixed up.
“They run the same, they react the same way after scoring a goal and even their [hair] buns bob the same way … they are basically a clone of one another,” Brady said.
All four Clevenger siblings have their strengths, making it a heated debate as to who the best of the bunch is. Shay weighs in, half jokingly, that Maisy will probably end up being the best.
“Well Maisy has three older siblings she got to watch and learn from all these years, so she should end up being the most successful out of all us, right? ,” said Shay, who has served as an assistant coach for Maisy’s M&D 2023 Black club team the last two years.
Maisy is still doing her best to emulate her older siblings. Now that means watching how they balance online schoolwork and working out. She also gets to see first hand the training programs each of them is doing to prepare for Division I lacrosse.
“I’m not going to lie. It’s been hard to stay motivated at times, especially now with online learning and everything. It’s easy to push things off,” Maisy said. “But that’s where I think we hold each other accountable. When you see the others doing stuff, it makes you feel guilty for sitting around.”
Elizabeth says as heartbreaking as the circumstances are that brought the family back together, she thinks being around those with similar passions and goals has been a blessing for each of her kids.
“I could sit here and pretend that my kids all love to do everything together and that we sit down and play games or watch Netflix together every night. But with basically four teenagers trying to balance school and what’s left of their social lives right now … that’s just not realistic,” Elizabeth said. “I think lacrosse, though, and each of their desires to keep pushing toward their goals does really create an environment filled with a healthy competitiveness. It keeps everyone motivated and moving.
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“If someone picks up a stick, goes into the basement to lift or goes outside for a run, within the hour it seems like someone else is putting their sneakers on and doing the same. And, if they don’t, they know they are probably going to hear about it.”