by Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor
Photos: Geoff Schneider/Sports Union
In this day and age of just focusing on one sport, it’s refreshing to see many athletes bucking that trend. Student-athletes are now figuring out that coaches want their players well rounded and not just focusing on one sport all the time.
At some point a student-athlete does have to choose where they want their focus to be – especially if they are playing at the next level. But, it still doesn’t mean they can’t excel in multiple sports. Even some of the best athletes in the world played more than one sport as a child.
And, even though they may have chosen one over the other – they still might toil in that sport from time-to-time. Tim Tebow comes to mind who had a love for two sports. Tebow played both baseball and football growing up before he choose football to continue his college career.
As we all know Tebow had a very successful college career and took his game to the National Football League. While football didn’t work out the way he wanted it to, Tebow never lost his passion for the other sport – baseball. He still had the drive to be a great athlete and baseball was going to be his journey. If he only had one played one sport growing who knows what would be happening with his life right now. If his coaches had told him just to focus on one sport, he might have been burnt out.
No one is comparing Lancaster High School’s jess Notaro to Tim Tebow – except for the fact that she excels in two completely different sports. A upcoming player on the Lancaster soccer team, Notaro is a solid defender that loves the pressure of facing the opposing team’s best players.
In the spring, Notaro switches her soccer ball out for a lacrosse stick and plays attack for a Legends squad that is one of the very best in Western New York each every year. Two sports, two different positions – but enough love to go around.
“I love playing both lacrosse and soccer,” stated Notaro. :They are both super competitive games and my teammates on both teams are awesome. I started playing soccer when I was 3 years old, and started playing lacrosse when I was a little bit older. They are both time and space games, and this helps me prepare for both.”
While playing both sports, Notaro knows she needs to be dedicated to each one when the season comes around. Having her focus venture off wouldn’t be good for the team or the player. It also allows her to be physically fit when the next season comes around.
After playing a full season of soccer in the heat, it’s easy for Notaro to stay fit for the lacrosse season. While some might only play one sport and then rely on working out all the time, Notaro is able to get her workout in during the season.
Staying fit and working on her game is an important aspect of playing both.
“While you are playing one, you are keeping in shape for the one,” stated Notaro. “You also get to meet a wide variety of coaches and players. It keeps me busy athletically all year round, which keeps me organized in my everyday life and helps me stay on top of school work.”
During the soccer season, Notaro is a top defender for a Legends team that is poised to make a serious run in the playoffs this year. She is part of a very young nucleus that has come up together and been through the rigors of a Section VI season.
She knows to be a solid defender it comes down to communication. Being able to communicate on the back line is very important. If not everyone is on the same page it could lead to a goal.
“Good communication and team work with fellow defenders is very important,” stated Notaro. “You also need to be physical and have a positive mindset because there is a lot of pressure on defenders. You also must know how to read the game and field, and how to position yourself on the field. Mental toughness is a necessity.
Being a top defender is all about grinding. Defenders don’t get the love like midfielders or forwards. Defenders do all the dirty work on the field. They go in hard to break up plays in the box. They need to be physical enough to be able to knock the opposing player off the ball.
Defenders can’t be afraid to get dirty. That’s the mental side of the game. Knowing that you won’t get there is no glory – only sorrow. If your team scores no one knows about you. If the other team scores everyone knows your name.
“You need a positive mindset to be able to overcome challenges and pressure of being a defender and protecting the goal,” stated Notaro. “Defenders very rarely get the spotlight in high school soccer, so you have to be willing to be a team first type of player. Knowing that the play starts with smart and careful passes by the defense and it can end in a goal for your team.”
It’s a completely different mindset then playing the attack position in lacrosse. The Legends have had a lot of talented lacrosse players come through their system and Notaro hopes to be the next one. While she is a team first player in soccer, lacrosse sometimes calls on you to be a little selfish – especially with the ball on your stick and time running down.
You have to be able to switch over to me mode and take the game over if need be. Allie Stewart was one of those players that could just take a game over. If she wanted to score she would score. If she wanted to dish it off to someone else she could do that to.
It’s that type of mentality that makes a solid player even better.
“One of the biggest things that I realized is that I was a different player when I wasn’t worried about communicating while having the ball at my feet,” stated Notaro. “I was faster and more aggressive, and this has suited me well as an attack in lacrosse. There has to be a different mindset, but both are rewarding and challenging.”
Both sports have been known to produce a lot of talent that has succeed at the next level. While a lot of people around WNY may know about the success of the lacrosse program sending girls to the next level, the soccer program is right on par.
Just recently the program had a young lady star at Erie Community College and also have placed girls on the rosters of Canisius College and the University at Buffalo. Each sport has its expectations and lacrosse is known for its scorers.
While she plays the attack position, Notaro doesn’t feel the pressure that comes with the position.
“I don’t feel any pressure about comparing myself to players from the past,” stated Notaro. “My goal is to be at my best and to be the best I can be. Fortunately, a lot of the alumni that have gone onto play lacrosse in college come back to coach us during the summer and during the offseason. I feel like if I do my best and put in an honest effort in practice, and in games, that will be enough.”
Only a sophomore, Notaro was given the joy of being called up to varsity in both sports. Lacrosse she was promoted to the varsity while not even in high school yet. She followed in a long line of Legends players that was called up to play with the big club while still middle school.
This helped her get ready to play against bigger and stronger competition before she entered high school. It also allowed her to see what she needed to work on when it came to competing at the next level.
In soccer, the call came as a freshman as the team was getting ready for its playoff run. While a year later than lacrosse, it showed that all the hard work that Notaro was putting on the field was getting noticed and finally paying off.
“It was super exciting to get called up to play with the varsity teams,” stated Notaro. “I was in eight grade for lacrosse and night grade for soccer. In both situations, I was excited and proud to play with teammates that I respected and looked up to and would also push me to be at my best. Also, I was happy that the coaches felt that I developed enough to contribute.”
Contributing is exactly what Notaro plans on doing for both clubs. She worked hard in the offseason to for both sports to prove that she can be great in both. It’s a lot of pressure to put on one’s self. Training for both means no social life at times.
It means being dedicated when others are at the beach relaxing. It means grinding through 85 degree days with 9o percent humidity during the Buffalo summers. It means being the first person at practice and last one to leave.
“In the summer, I would with a great strength and conditioning coach to get ready for the soccer season. I also participate in captain’s practices with the school team, and extra training. I also try to run a couple nights a week,” stated Notaro.
“The offseason for lacrosse is mostly about continuing to get touches, working on stick work and staying in shape. These things are all accomplished without of school leagues and extra training. I also often work on stick skills and shooting in my backyard when I free time or a day off.”
There was once a commercial out there that talk about this guy Bo Jackson. Bo was a once in a lifetime athlete. The commercial just stated Bo Knows.
Maybe one day they can change that to Jess Knows.