Team Kenya finished up round-robin play at the 2019 Women’s Lacrosse U19 World Championships with a 15-5 loss to Team China, putting them at 1-3. They didn’t make the Round of 16 but will face off against Israel on Tuesday and Belgium on Thursday as they compete for as high a finish as possible in their first year of competition.
The African nation is the first to participate in a women’s lacrosse event, and the 19 girls on the team have captured the hearts of everyone in the host city of Peterborough, Ontario with their strength, resiliency and positive attitudes.
Before they even got to the games, they had to overcome poverty, disease and corruption in their homeland. Girls can be punished for going to school. Some don’t even finish as they have to work to help support their families. One 18-year-old member of the team cares for her younger brother and sister because they were orphaned. A training camp in February was cancelled when Kenya Lacrosse refused to pay bribes that the government demanded.
Lacrosse has been a life-saver for some of the girls, and coming to Canada has been an absolute whirlwind. The community has embraced them with open arms, making sure the girls have proper footwear, warm beds and plenty of food. They’ll return to Kenya with so many donations and gifts, including clothing, hygiene items and school supplies, that the MSL’s Peterborough Lakers stepped in to pay the cost of their extra airline baggage.
“It has been mind-blowing,” said head coach Storm Trentham on the community’s support. “It’s so humbling to see. These girls, they’ve honestly walked into a fairytale. We’re just trying to keep our feet on our ground but they’re loving every single second.”
In order for lacrosse to become an Olympic sport, it must be played on all continents (Antarctica excluded), so having Kenya involved for the first time is a big step for World Lacrosse. Having them turn into the tournament’s darlings wasn’t part of the plan; it just happened and everyone is celebrating it.
“Lacrosse isn’t that well known in Kenya; it’s a minority sport but we’ve actually got a lot of media attention in the last few weeks,” Trentham said. “The day we flew out we were all having lunch and we were on the news. There was a good 10-15 minute piece on us.”
Kenya lost their first game to Korea 15-10 but won their second match 17-1 over Jamaica. The girls were so stunned to score their first goal in the Korea game that there was a visible two-second pause before they celebrated. A lot of people counted Kenya as a “just happy to be here” team, but their win and subsequent one-goal loss to Germany showed that they’re also serious competitors with quite a bit of talent.
“I felt yesterday against Germany was our best game,” said Trentham. “We lost on a free possession at the very end but we held one of the top 10 teams to six-all until two or three minutes to go. We played much better.”
On Monday, China led 6-0 after the first quarter and looked to be dominating a tired Kenya team, which was on their fourth game in four days.
“I don’t know whether it was tiredness or fatigue but it got to us today,” Trentham said. “Today was not our day. We’ve played more games in this world cup than the girls have played in their whole lives. The intensity, the environment, I think maybe it got to them a bit today.”
Kenya got on the board in the second with a goal from Susan Jepleting Kapting’ei but China outscored the Kenyans 3-2 in the frame to lead 9-2 at halftime.
Despite the large gap, Trentham pointed to her goalie Doreen Indasi as one of the team’s best players. Indasi made good saves in the second and fourth quarters especially as China put the pressure on. She finished with four saves. Against Germany she stopped 11 shots.
“I was making some good saves yesterday (against Germany) but I left with a [low] save percentage. I was hoping to improve but today was not my day,” Indasi said. “I tried to intercept some goals so that was the best part for me because I’m not used to that.”
Shannon Brazier scored a hat trick for China in the third quarter as they outscored Kenya 5-1. Kenya fought valiantly in the fourth quarter and received a huge advantage with China’s Sandy Edwards being given a red card for dangerous play, giving the Kenyans nearly 10 minutes of man-up play. They outscored China 2-1 in the last frame.
Trentham was hoping for a rest day before they had to play again but the girls will be right back on the field at 12:30 p.m. this afternoon facing Israel. They no longer have a shot at a medal, but they’re playing for the pride of an entire continent, and that’s no small thing.
“I thought we just needed to get through this game and see where we ended up,” Trentham said. “We could have gone from second to fourth today, and we’ve now ended up fourth. Whoever we play next we have to come out hard. We can regroup and they can get back on it and play like they did against Germany. We don’t have the experience, so it’s hard when things aren’t going our way to snap out of it but that’s lacrosse. Hopefully in four years’ time we’ll have had some more match practice under our belts and it will be a different story.”
As for the players, Indasi remains hopeful.
“Next round will be our day,” she said.
Visit https://www.kenyalacrosse.org for more information on the team, to make a donation or to shop their online store. All games at the 2019 Women’s Lacrosse U19 World Championships can be watched live and free via www.laxsportsnetwork.com.