by Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor
You may hear it all the times that it takes a special person to attend a military academy. The commitment it takes to go to any one of the three (Air Force, Naval and Army) is indescribable. Not only are you getting a great education, you are also getting a military, and leadership, training that will last forever.
The military life isn’t for everyone, however. It takes a lot of discipline to go to one of the top schools in country. Those who are able to stick it out all four years know they will have achieved a lot in a short amount of time.
Williamsville East High School’s Courtney Maclay could have gone anywhere when it comes to lacrosse. She has been a standout on the Flames for the couple of seasons, and colleges where lining up for services.
It was one school that stuck out to here, however, during the recruiting process. The Naval Academy has a strong tradition of excellence both in academics and athletics. The chance to play lacrosse for one of the top programs in the country was just took hard for Maclay to turn down.
“Coaching was a big factor for me and my parents in my college decision, and the coaching staff at Navy clearly cared more about me as a person and my future career than about my athletic ability,” stated Maclay. “All four of the coaches care a great deal for every player on that team and I could see how every player looked up to those coaches as role models. Not only are they caring people, but they’re talented and confident women and I am excited to learn everything I can from them.”
Heading to the Naval Academy is not like going to a “normal college.” While at the academy, Maclay will go through basic training during the summer. Basic training is used for bonding with the Midshipmen, and to weed out those you might not have what it takes to make it during the four years of academy life.
Basic training is a grueling stretch over the summer, where the incoming Midshipmen learn what it’s life to be in the military. They will learn everything from making a bed the right way to facts and figures about the Naval Academy itself.
What a lot of incoming freshmen learn during this time in the summer is maybe the academy isn’t the right fit for them.
“I definitely need to focus a lot of my time at the gym this year to prepare for basic training. While being an athlete will help me a lot, basic training is not easy for anyone and it’s definitely going to be a physical challenge for me,” stated Maclay. “I’m looking to increase my overall strength and endurance before I head off to Annapolis next summer.”
Another challenge for those that want an academy education is the fact that after the fours years of the Naval Academy one must serve another five years in the military. That is a big commitment to make for an 18-year-old when they are deciding where they want to go school.
Serving your country is a brave and noble thing to do - especially during a time when there is so much unrest in the word. When making her decision, Maclay didn’t make her decision lightly. She also wasn’t bothered by serving the extra five years after college. It was more of coming to grips with not having a traditional college experience.
Most college students will be sleeping in at 6 a.m. everyday. Maclay will already be into her day.
“I think the most difficult part of making my decision wasn’t knowing that I have to serve five years but it was coming to terms with the fact that I won’t be getting the traditional college experience,” stated Maclay. “A military academy is very different than a traditional college and not only do I have to balance the demanding college academics and athletics, but also the military aspect as well. I feel incredibly honored to have the opportunity to serve my country after my college lacrosse career ends.”
A three-sport athlete at Williamsville East, Maclay has made a steady rise through the Western New York lacrosse scene, just like her team at Will East. When you think of lacrosse in WNY a lot of people will mention schools like Frontier, Hamburg, Lancaster, Lake Shore and Amherst.
Williamsville East isn’t mentioned often, which is a shame. They have been steadily building a program over the last couple of years - and have been able to hang with some of the lacrosse powers over the years.
In her four years, Maclay has seen in all. But, she wouldn’t change anything that has happened during her time with the Flames. Everything that has happened has happened for a reason - and it has made her a stronger person.
“Playing for a program like the one at Will East is truly incredible. We are the definition of the underdog and we’ve definitely been through a lot these past couple years from coaching changes to the loss of some important senior weapons,” stated Maclay. “Since this season would have been my fourth season at the varsity level, I’ve seen it all. We worked really hard this offseason and this year was supposed to be our year. Being apart of a team that started at the bottom and is now moving to the top has taught me so much and I’m really grateful for the coaches and teammates I have met as a result of the Will East lacrosse program and the support that they have all provided me.”
It has been a weird time for athletes in 2020. What started out as a normal year has turned into something that no one has ever seen before. Students have been homeschooled since March, and athletics were canceled in the spring.
Just now have things started to slowly get back to normal. Athletes are starting to practice with their travel teams as the summer gets in full swing. While there might not be games just yet during the summer, it gives a sense of hope that thing will get back to normal for the fall.
Maclay probably couldn’t tell you the last time she had this much time off between sports. As most athletes will tell you, it has probably been more difficult mentally than physically. Getting over not playing with your teammates, and losing a year of not playing at all, is not something that is easy to take.
“An athlete doesn’t get many seasons to play the sport they love and knowing that I lost one is pretty difficult. It’s extremely challenging mentally because I no longer have the teammates to push me to be a better player, I have to push myself now to be the best version of myself. If anything good has come out of this pandemic, it is that it’s taught me to never take time on the field for granted,” stated Maclay. “Without a school season, I’ve used my summer travel season to motivate me during these crazy times. We’ve all been really excited to get back on the field and practice and play in the upcoming months and we’re hoping that we’ll still be able to do that..”
While Maclay does play other sports for her school, she never turns off lax mode. Lacrosse is what got her to the Naval Academy, along with tremendous grades. Lacrosse is what she loves the most. Maclay loves every sport that she plays, but there is something about lacrosse that just takes that love to another level.
As the summer progresses, Maclay will gear down her lax training and start gearing up for field hockey. Playing field hockey allows her to have a little bit more fun out there on the field. She can be stress-free as she just gets to hang with her teammates and try to win a sectional title.
“I never really turn off lax mode, I constantly have a stick in my hand. However, after the last lacrosse tournament of the summer is over and pre-season for field hockey is about to begin, I slow down my lacrosse lifestyle and enjoy playing field hockey with my friends. Field hockey is all fun for me and I really look forward to the stress-free season,” stated Maclay. “Playing two other sports helps me with lacrosse because it gives me different team challenges to work through which helps me be a better teammate when it comes to lacrosse. I also really like how I get the opportunity to play with three different teams and many different talented athletes. It also makes me look forward to lacrosse season more because I’m not playing it all the time. Playing one sport constantly can get boring sometimes so I like to mix it up by playing field hockey and basketball.”