Even after the sun went down, Gabrielle and Esprit Cha continued to hone their lacrosse skills with their father and brother.
It’s safe to say those long sessions paid off.
The Cha sisters of Ellicott City recently completed an almost two-week run with the Korea women’s lacrosse team that participated in the 2022 Women’s Lacrosse World Championship at Towson University’s Johnny Unitas Stadium. Before Korea defeated Norway, 12-7, on Friday to finish with a 3-5 record and in 21st place in the tournament, Gabrielle and Esprit Cha expressed pride and satisfaction at being able to represent a nation where their father and grandparents were born.
“I would say that this may be my father’s proudest moment,” Gabrielle Cha, 27, wrote in an email. “He LOVES sports and has always been my sister and my No. 1 fan and coach. This is definitely a culmination of all the extra hours practicing and training until way past dark.”
Added Esprit Cha, 19: “I would say that I am thankful the extra practices and shooting sessions with my dad and siblings have been paying off.”
Esprit Cha, a St. Paul’s graduate and rising sophomore midfielder at High Point, led the Korean national team in goals (25) and points (29), including three goals or more in each of her last five games. She ranked fifth among all tournament players in goals and tied for ninth in points.
Gabrielle Cha, a Mount de Sales and Towson University graduate, was tied for third in goals (six) and points (eight). Anna Kim, a Clarksville resident and River Hill graduate, led the team in assists (nine) and ranked second in goals (16) and points (25).
Esprit Cha’s play seemed to match what High Point coach Lyndsey Boswell has learned about her.
“While I’m not surprised to see Esprit compete with such force, I’m thrilled for her and her team,” she said. “She experienced a great deal of success in her freshman year here at HPU and gained valuable minutes against the best teams in the country, which is paying off this summer for her.”
The Cha sisters’ connection to South Korea resonates through their father Henry and their grandparents, the late James Jeong Chun Cha and Grace Kyung Sang Cha. When their father was 2, he and a large family contingent immigrated from Korea to the United States.
After Henry and Alexandra Cha met at the University of Rochester, where the latter played basketball, the couple moved their family — which includes 21-year-old son Xavier — to Ellicott City where the girls became immersed in the growing Korean community, Bethel Korean Presbyterian Church and lacrosse.
Before the 2017 World Championships, Gabrielle Cha reached out to the Korean national team but did not receive an answer. After learning Kim played for Korea in 2017, Cha contacted Kim, who was able to connect Cha with the coaches.
Cha, who was the Rookie of the Year in the Colonial Athletic Association in 2014, played on the 2019 squad that finished second to Japan at the Asia Pacific (ASPAC) Championships in Gyeongju, South Korea, in 2019. The exercise was eye-opening for her.
“This was my first time in Korea and was a great experience as I got to sightsee with my teammates, who were great tour guides,” she said. “I was hoping to go back, but unfortunately the pandemic hit, and I was unable to travel there.”
On the other side of the world, Esprit Cha watched her older sister play for Korea and was determined to join her.
“I did not have any concerns about playing for a nation less well-versed in the sport as others because I was able to watch Gabby and the team in the ASPAC,” she said. “It was clear that they had an incredible team culture along with individual passion when they play. Any team that is looking to have fun, work hard, and is open to continuously learning about the sport is a team that I want to be a part of.”
Henry Cha, a 50-year-old CEO of Healthcare Interactive who graduated from Gilman, said he is honored to watch his daughters represent Korea on the international stage.
“As Korean-American sisters eight years apart, I would not have ever believed it possible, especially in a sport where in America, there is not a lot of Korean representation,” Henry Cha wrote. “They have worked hard to get to this level of play, and we are so proud to see them represent Team Korea with athleticism, graciousness and respect of other athletes across the world.”
The Cha sisters said their grandfather, who died in June 2021, would have been thrilled to see his granddaughters play for his homeland.
“My grandfather would have been beaming with pride at every game if he were still here and telling all his friends,” Gabrielle Cha said.
“It’s hard to put into words what it means to represent Korea,” Esprit Cha said. “It is surreal to think that even though we grew up in the US, our Korean heritage that we have within us and the culture that has been integrated within our lives is not something that is forgotten or disregarded but is something that we are able to celebrate. … I hope to be playing in a way that represents Korea as courageous, powerful, tenacious, and disciplined.”
Henry Cha said he noticed many young Korean-American girls asking his daughters and their teammates for autographs and photos after games.
“Gabby and Esprit will come away from this experience in the World Lacrosse Championships with greater confidence and appreciation for their identity as Korean-Americans and empower them to give back to the Korean community even further,” he said. “They will continue to give back to the Korean community, especially the women and girls, and know that they will continue to support Korea World Lacrosse here in the states and on a global stage.”
Although this summer’s 21st-place finish is a setback from the team’s 15th-place showing at its last two World Championships, Gabrielle Cha said the players understand there is a greater purpose.
“Everyone here is just excited to have the opportunity to play and show that lacrosse is a sport that is growing all over the world, not just in our lacrosse hotspot of Maryland,” she said.