Despite suffering a torn ACL in her left knee during last year's Under Armour Underclass Tournament, Catonsville's Lila Nazarian continued to be one of the area's top low defenders this past spring, causing 14 turnovers. Nazarian returned to the field in April and was selected to play in the Under Armour All-America Lacrosse Game on Saturday at Towson’s Johnny Unitas Stadium, as one of the top 44 senior girls in the country. She also played soccer for the Comets and had a 5.25 weighted GPA. Next year, she will play lacrosse at Syracuse where she is undecided on a major but is considering political science.
How did you get started playing lacrosse?
I wanted something to play in the spring and I didn't want to play soccer again. I wanted to try something different, so my mom kind of poked around in the rec leagues and we live in Maryland, so there's a well-established lacrosse league around here. I just signed up and started going to practices and never looked back. I think I was 6 when I started.
What hooked you on lacrosse?
For a long time I liked soccer and lacrosse pretty similarly and then right around my sophomore year of high school, I had just started to play club and think about what I wanted to play in college. I really liked the speed and I liked the footwork of lacrosse. There's a lot of precision in the footwork and your positioning and how quickly you can react that I really liked. Once you get into the rhythm of it, it's a lot of fun and I think that's the part that got me.
How did you tear the ACL?
That was July 5 of last summer during the Under Armour tournament. We had played our pool games and it was about 15 minutes into our first playoff game. The girl I was defending went to roll dodge and I cut and heard something pop and fell. I was like, 'Oh, I probably just hyper-extended something. I strained a ligament. I probably just need a couple weeks off,' so I went to camp after that, went to play on it and it didn't go well. That's when I got checked out. It has an isolated tear, so I was pretty lucky. I had very little damage to any other part of my knee. I had surgery at the end of August and started playing again in April.
Did you feel like you could go 100 percent right away?
I'm a perfectionist when it comes to my defense and my footwork, so coming back and not being quite as fast as I wanted to be or not making quite as many stops, that was frustrating, but my coach talked me through it and my teammates really helped with that and made sure I got extra reps when I wanted them, so it came back pretty quickly.
How do you approach playing defense?
I was teaching a lesson a few weeks ago and I told the girl that I play defense like an attacker, which sounds like it's totally backward. There are people who play defense in a very passive way – they're reacting to what's happening – and you can play like that and it works. I've found that I play better when I dictate very quickly right at the beginning where the attacker's going to dodge and where they're allowed to go, so I'm usually pretty aggressive with forcing lanes.
What do you like about Syracuse's defense? When most people think about Syracuse and coach Gary Gait, they don't think about defense.
Gary is definitely a goal scorer … but he's one of the first coaches I've ever talked to that wanted to change the look of his program a little bit, not necessarily to move away from attack, but to put more emphasis on his defense. He recruited me and I know he recruited a couple of other girls in other classes specifically because we had always been low defenders and he wanted to build a really aggressive, fast, physical unit of low defenders that was going to play really aggressive backers and backers zones and man defenses. He wanted the type of that player I was which doesn't happen very much. A lot of DI schools are looking for midfielders which makes sense, but I was really excited by the idea that I was going to get to be a part of a really, really fast aggressive defensive unit that was going nto cause a lot of turnovers and just be really awesome honestly. I liked that he paid attention to that, especially as a guy who's always been an attacker. He has an appreciation for defense that I really like.
How do you think playing defense is going to change next year when the college game gets a 90-second shot clock?
I think a lot of good things will come out of the shot clock. I'm concerned only because with less time for an offense to set up a shot and to get organized, we're going to start seeing a lot more 8-meter shots, shots from further out and I am concerned that defenders and defending middies will get more concussions. Honestly, I think we're focusing on the right problem, but I think it's not quite the right solution. I don't think 90 seconds is enough time to transition, get an offense set up and get a good shot. We've been taught since we were little that you have to take your time and get organized and 90 seconds just isn't enough time to do that, so the more you rush, the more dangerous shots we'll see – more yellow cards, more concussions. It could be really, really good. I don't like stalling. I think stalling is lazy and not good lacrosse, but I also think there's a different way to put that in.
What would you like to see, something like the men's game?
Yes, to my understanding the men's shot clock is at the referee's discretion. I think that would work a lot better or we could start it when the ball crosses the attacking 30 or something along those lines. I think starting it at the turnover or the save – as soon as the goalie catches the ball she knows you have 90 seconds to get a clear off. Sometimes it takes more than 90 seconds to get a good clear and the last thing you want to do is turn the ball over directly into the attacking transition, so it puts a lot of pressure on the goalie to clear when it's not always a good idea to rush it.
What does it mean to you to be an Under Armour All-American?
When I was starting to play club, if somebody had told me that two years from then I was going to be among the best players in the country, I probably would have said you were crazy and to stop messing with me. It still kind of feels like that. I'm incredibly excited about it, but it hasn't quite sunk in yet and I don't think it will until we go play. I'm counting the days until we do. I was really excited to be selected because it's going to be fun.
What are you looking forward to most about the experience?
Any time you get to play with the best 40 girls in the country, it's the best lacrosse you could ask for. It's fast. It's aggressive. You can focus on the little finesse aspects of the game. It comes down to the little bits of technique. Everybody obviously can catch and throw, so we're looking at behind-the-back shots and we're jumping the double whenever we want, because the defense can slide and rotate. We can all jump in and play together because we communicate enough and we're all good enough that we can make that work and it's a lot of fun. I've had opportunities to do that in the past and it's the best lacrosse I've ever played, so I'm really excited.