“Because of CityLax, I’ve met amazing teammates that are going to be my lifelong friends.”
Ella Braunstein is in the eleventh grade at the United Nations International School, or UNIS. A middie and attack player, she loves the fast pace of the game and the opportunities to run and score. Most importantly, though, she loves the community of lacrosse. “We didn’t have a lacrosse team at my high school, so I started playing for CityLax in the fall of my freshman year and now I’m also doing the winter clinics,” Ella explains. While she was a bit scared at first to join a team of mostly seniors, she says that she learned a lot from playing with her older teammates. “I’ve really enjoyed playing with CityLax—I’ve never had a bad teammate and all of my coaches have been amazing and just so supportive and motivational.”
At UNIS, Ella is fascinated by her science classes and is studying hard to go to college and eventually medical school. She says, “I want to be a doctor because I really like helping people and I really like biology, so I think being a doctor would be a good way to combine those two passions.” She is involved in a variety of after-school clubs, including OxFam, UNIS United Nations, and Girl Power, which have taught her a lot about nonprofits and how to create positive change in her community. She’s also planning to start a lacrosse club to bring her favorite sport to her colleagues. Ella explains, “Lacrosse is really important to me because it’s taught me how to be a team player. When I began playing in middle school, I started out as someone who really didn’t know how to play on a team or pass the ball, but now I’m confident in my teamwork skills. Because of CityLax, I’ve also met amazing teammates who are going to be my lifelong friends.” After graduation, she hopes to play ball at some level in college, but right now, she’s looking forward to reuniting with her fall teammates at the Manhattan Winter Clinics and continuing to develop her skills.
Standing in the frigid cold under the lights of the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl Half Time Ceremony, Isa Khan couldn’t help but laugh. At that moment, Isa was being recognized as a recipient of the prestigious MVP Scholar Athlete Award for his accomplishments as a student and a lacrosse player, something he had never imagined possible. In fact, his middle school soccer coach once told him and his teammate that they would never make it as athletes. Over four years later, Isa and that very teammate were standing together as they were honored with the PSAL’s highest award. Isa recalls that moment during the ceremony: “We saw each other and just started laughing, because there we were a few years later, both of us on the Yankee Stadium field, being honored for our athletic achievements. But looking back, I think that comment is what drove me to be a better athlete.”
Every year, each high school in the five boroughs of New York City nominates one boy and one girl student-athlete as candidates for the NYC PSAL’s highest honor, the MVP Scholar Athlete Award. Out of over 10,000 student-athletes in the PSAL, 55 are chosen for their outstanding academic and athletic achievements. These student-athletes must also exemplify the values of the PSAL, including preparation, discipline, leadership, team spirit, community, and scholarship. This year, one of those chosen student-athletes was Isa Khan, a CityLax member who attends James Madison High School.
For CityLax Founder, Mat Levine, the news of Isa Khan’s recognition held special significance for him. Isa Khan is the first CityLax player to receive the MVP Scholar Athlete Award, a nod to how far the nonprofit organization has come since its establishment in 2006. Levine says, “Isa is a shining example of what CityLax stands for. He is passionate about the game and his academic future. He has been an ardent participant in Citylax/PSAL lacrosse programs over the last two years, propelling him toward his goal to graduate with a strong academic record and gain acceptance to colleges of his choice. To see a young man utilize lacrosse and its educational opportunities given by CityLax’s programs at the very same high school where my family has roots is a special feeling for me.”
Not only is Isa a talented lacrosse player and excellent student, he’s also a driven and compassionate member of his community. Isa is the Student Union Vice-President at James Madison and is also the leader of the Health & Wellness Committee of his district’s Youth Leadership Council. As Team Leader, Isa oversees the inter-borough group of students and is working to improve the health and wellness curricula in NYC public schools. “At the moment, only a very small fraction of our health classes cover mental health, even though it should really be given equal weight to physical health and nutrition,” Isa explains. “So, part of what we’re working on is a plan to revamp the curriculum by balancing the content 50-50 for physical and mental health.” The students meet regularly with each other and then propose their ideas to the Board of Education, which intends to use the students’ input to shape policies for the NYC public school system. Through this program, the students are able to have a real impact on their community, something that Isa strives to do in every aspect of his life.
On the field, Isa is dedicated to becoming the best player that he can be. A natural leader, he is eager to take advantage of every opportunity to help strengthen his team, including regularly organizing off-season practices for his teammates. He credits CityLax with helping him to become the athlete that he is today. “I honestly could never have been where I am as an athlete or a lacrosse player if it wasn’t for CityLax,” Isa says. “CityLax gave me the basics, rolling out clinics that kept me in shape and playing during the off-season. And then, when I was ready to take it to the next level, they helped provide that, too.” This past summer, Isa attended the MetroLacrosse SummerBounce Camp through a CityLax athletic scholarship. He claims that this experience was a pivotal moment in his lacrosse career, because it was there that he learned how to face off from MLL star, Casey Dord. Isa discovered he had a knack for the face-off and has since been working to perfect his skills during the off-season so that he can enter the spring as a FOGO. “If it weren’t for CityLax,” he recalls, “I never would’ve gone to that camp and realized that I’m a really good FOGO.”
A true team player, Isa is excited about what receiving this award means for James Madison lacrosse. When asked how he felt to be honored as a PSAL MVP Scholar Athlete, Isa replied, “It means a lot to me to be chosen out of thousands of student-athletes and among players who are probably the best in the city. To just have been nominated…I have a lot of hope for my team that we’re getting better and better. I’m happy to see such an achievement after all the hard work these past few years.”
As Isa gets ready for his final high school lacrosse season and thinks back on how far he’s come since his middle school soccer days, he says, “I guess the lesson is just never give up on the dream that you want. Never give up on the ‘you’ that you want to become.”
“Thank you for the opportunity to play with CityLax.”
One of our newest CityLax players is River Marquardt, a middie from Chesterton, Indiana. River recently moved to NYC, where he’ll finish his senior year at Long Island City High School. While the transition from Indiana to New York City is a lot to take in, River says lacrosse has made it a bit easier. “I was dying for some way to play during the winter, so I’m glad I found CityLax. And the coaches are awesome—we played for almost three hours and then got lunch after and ended up talking. It’s just a really cool environment to be exposed to right away.”
That sense of community was one of the things that initially drew him to the sport when he first started in middle school. “I love the mix of the competition in lacrosse and how it’s like a family. I think because it’s still a new sport and everyone wants to grow the game, everyone’s very open and not afraid to talk or to get to know each other.” For instance, laughing, River describes how he’s already met his entire Long Island City team; “It was actually pretty funny, because I was carrying my stick through the hallway at school and everyone just came up to me, so I ended up meeting the whole team in one day. It was cool to be accepted into that right away.”
One difference that River’s noticed already between his teammates from CityLax and from Indiana is the passion of the players. “Kids here are a lot more devoted to lacrosse,” he says. “Back in Indiana, they would show up and they would be really good, but they wouldn’t put their energy into it. Here, there’s more of a drive—they really want to play.” He’s looking forward to playing alongside his new teammates for his senior season and the opportunity to be a leader on the field. “My best advice for younger players is just don’t give up. Play wall ball and work on your off hand—it will pay off.” As for after graduation, River plans to attend college and then graduate school for an MBA. He hopes to combine his interests in art, creative writing, and statistics and pursue a career in advertising.
Hadley Mongell, CityLax Volunteer Coach
Whether she’s coaching the winter clinics in the Bronx or meeting with the Junior Advisory Board to plan the Spring Gala, Hadley Mongell is a force for CityLax. Originally from Locust Valley, NY, she grew up in a lacrosse family and came to CityLax wanting to share her love of the sport with girls who might not have ever had the opportunity to play without the funding and community support of CityLax. Having played every position on the field, she knows the game better than most and is well-equipped to coach the girls at her clinics, whether she’s working with newcomers or more seasoned players.
What makes Hadley such an outstanding volunteer, however, is her unwavering and infectious love for the sport and her players. Her favorite CityLax memory is telling a new player at one of her clinics that yes, she could get a scholarship for playing goalie. “To see the relief and excitement on her face when she found out that this was an opportunity for her to get farther in life than maybe was possible before was one of the moments that I’ll always cherish.” She can’t wait to see lacrosse continue to grow in New York City and we can’t wait to see how she’ll continue to add to that growth.
John Minieri, CityLax Volunteer Coach
After four years of playing lacrosse at Canisius College, John Minieri decided he wasn’t quite ready to give up the sport and found his way to CityLax. Between running winter clinics in Brooklyn and serving on the Junior Advisory Board, he contributes to many different facets of CityLax’s programming. During his clinic volunteer shifts, he sees players with a deep hunger for knowledge of the game, and that’s what drives him to work harder to grow this sport to reach more and more of NYC’s student-athletes.
The most rewarding part of coaching, he believes, is seeing the progression of kids who go from walking into his clinics having never picked up a stick to becoming “legitimate players,” who in turn become leaders during the next season. Even more importantly, he enjoys seeing his players grow over the years and being able to act as a role model for them, both on and off the field. John says, “One of the really powerful things that I’ve experienced is that the conversations went from being just about lacrosse to now including what they’re going to do after high school. I think that those conversations are more important than lacrosse itself. As volunteers, we get to help grow these student-athletes from being teenagers into adults.”