Nikki Ortega helps USA U19 team earn silver medal

Nikki Ortega helps USA U19 team earn silver medal

Nikki Ortega maintains possession of the ball in USA’s semifinal game against England/ Photo from Alan Rennie/Lacrosse Magazine

Nikki Ortega has earned a spot on the US Lacrosse All-World team.

This news made for a bittersweet Saturday, as Ortega, a former Middle Country girls’ lacrosse standout and incoming freshman at the University of Notre Dame, was part of the U.S. Under-19 women’s lacrosse national team that went undefeated before falling short in the finals of the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championship, 9-8, to Canada.

“The experience was awesome and to be on that team is such an honor,” Ortega said. “It’s something that I’ll always remember, and it taught me so much about myself, and it’s made me so much of a better player over this past year that I learned so much more about the game of lacrosse.”

According to Kim Simons Tortolani, the U19 women’s head coach, more than 800 girls applied to be on the team. As part of the extensive process, regional tryouts were held beginning in August of last year, and the girls were dwindled down during several tryouts until the final team of 18 girls was chosen in January. Ortega was one of seven girls from New York to make the team. 

“The competition was really good and it was something I hadn’t really seen,” Ortega said of the tryout process. “To go up against great competition, especially once we had the team solidified, every practice we got better because all of the girls are so talented. They really challenged me.”

Simons Tortolani said Ortega made an impression early on in tryouts.

“Nikki is one of those players I can remember from the beginning being very strong and stood out amongst a lot of great players,” she said. “She is a very consistent player and played at a really high level from tryouts all the way through the tournament.”

Nikki Ortega reaches her stick out in an attempt to block. Photo from Alan Rennie/Lacrosse Magazine
Nikki Ortega reaches her stick out in an attempt to block. Photo from Alan Rennie/Lacrosse Magazine

The coach said the girls were put through a rigorous mental, physical and emotional tryout process, some of the stress being intentional, to see if the girls had what it took to be a part of the team.

“Nikki was able to manage and handle all of that, and that’s why she made it through the process,” she said. “We had some athletes who maybe, at times, were a little bit flashier, but were not nearly as consistent, and the thing about Nikki was that she quietly does what she needs to do on the offensive end.”

After the roster was solidified, the girls practiced for a few weekends before heading to Scotland to compete in the tournament.

The girls went undefeated at 5-0 through pool play, making them the No. 1 seed heading into the quarterfinals. During pool play, USA outscored its opponents by a combined score of 90-19.

In the team’s third game, Ortega had her breakout performance of the competition. In a 19-6 win over Australia, the attack scored six goals and added two assists, to be named the Player of the Match.

“She really just was unstoppable every time she touched the ball,” Simons Tortolani said. “She’s smart, she reads the game well, we had enough confidence in her to ask her to help start to run the offense, calling the plays and I think that’s because she has a calm, steady effect on the offensive end.”

USA came close to shutting out New Zealand in the quarterfinals, topping its opponent 18-1, and followed with a semifinal win over England, 20-4, before taking on Canada in the finals.

“The atmosphere the entire 10 days of the tournament was really exciting,” Ortega’s mother, Sue, said. “All of the parents of team USA were wearing red, white and blue and they were very excited and supportive for the girls. It’s an unbelievable feeling to see Nikki representing her country and being a contributor, and I’m just full of pride and proud of the player and the person she’s become.”

Team USA, which was vying for its fifth consecutive gold medal, lost in a close match that involved several ties and started off being a difficult matchup because of the weather. Ortega, who scored 19 goals and 10 assists over the course of the tournament, and had at least a hat trick in four of her seven games, said the team did not play like themselves.

“I personally think we were more talented and it just didn’t go our way,” she said. “The weather when we got out there was horrible and a lot of us couldn’t even catch, but lacrosse means so much to me and I had to give up so much to get to where I am, so to know it all paid off in the end really means a lot. I never dreamed of accomplishing all of these things.”

The team had outscored Canada 15-9 in pool play, but Simons Tortolani said she thinks part of the team’s downfall was that it’s competition wasn’t as tough as Canada’s was throughout the tournament.

“I think the team did come together and certainly improved, in retrospect, it probably would’ve been better for us if we had some more challenging games during the pool play,” she said. “But it was a great experience for all of us who were involved. Getting to know these girls and coaching players like Nikki is a privilege and an honor and the girls represented our country and our sport in a way that I’m truly proud of.”