It was a dead heat in the third-place battle of the 2014 Illinois State Field Hockey Tournament, a deadlocked affair that necessitated a shootout between a pair of nearby rivals: tiny Lake Forest Academy (Lake Forest, Ill.) and a school more than six times its size, Oak Park Forest (Oak Park, Ill.).
But make no mistake, this was no David-vs.-Goliath affair. Not with Lake Forest’s super-sophomore forward, Lexi Silver, on the attack.
The All-State honoree, who had already earned national recognition for her play with the Windy City club team, had a knack for finishing around the net. So it was no surprise she was called upon in the shootout’s tensest moment.
Silver, ball in tow, streaked towards the net; deked to her left; came back right; scooped the ball up; and slammed it into the turf just yards in front of the goaltender. The missile-like sphere shot right over the wide-eyed netminder’s shoulder, into the back of the cage for the game-winning goal.
“Everyone was just blown away,” said Silver, who mentioned it was a “big deal” for 450-student Lake Forest to finish third in a state tournament competing against schools of 5,000-plus. “Air dribbling is a newer skill, and no one around here had ever seen anything like it. Just bouncing the ball over the goalie’s head into the cage, people were amazed.
“It was so cool, because some of the younger girls on our club team started practicing the move. This little girl, she was like 12 years old, she came up to me and was like, ‘Today at practice we did that thing where you bounce the ball and it goes over the goalie’s head just like that girl in the game.’ I was so excited, and it was so cute. It’s like I have a fan club already (laughs). It feels good to have little girls looking up to you already.”
Silver figures to have even more fans in a couple years, when she treks east to College Park, Md., to begin her college career. The Lake Forest Academy forward committed to Maryland in February 2014, becoming another dynamic threat on longtime head coach Missy Meharg’s top-five squad.
“People tell me I’m really fast. That’s the one thing I bring to the field. Speed stands out. Everything I do, I do with speed,” Silver said. “And I’m always on the ground, rolling in the dirt.
“It’s funny, Missy came up to my coach after one of my games at the [National Field Hockey Festival] Disneyland tournament and she was like, ‘I was looking at your team, and was like, ‘Where’s Lexi, where’s Lexi?’ And [Meharg] saw one player just covered in mud she didn’t recognize. Someone told her that was me, and she was like, ‘Yup, that’s my girl, for sure.’ So I guess speed, grit, determination and never giving up. That’s the player I am.”
It wasn’t always so for the Chicago native. Although she’s been playing field hockey since the fourth grade, Silver didn’t really begin developing until she reached Lake Forest.
A soccer player her entire life, Silver’s parents started her in field hockey at the New Vision Athletics rec program, giving her something else to do when she wasn’t dribbling up and down pitches during the fall. Silver found it to be pretty similar to soccer (“same thing, but with a stick,” she said), so she thoroughly enjoyed her second sport.
“Of course, it was more of put-a-stick-in-your-hand-and-see-what-you-can-do,” Silver said. “It was nothing like the training you get out East.”
Thus, Silver was admittedly a bit raw when she entered Lake Forest, despite having four years experience.
She ended up making varsity anyway, however, because the field-hockey program lacked participants, and LFA needed anyone with ability to fill the roster.
“I was not very good.” Silver said, “But if you had passion and you were into the game, you got put on varsity. And I could not have been more happy, because our captains, seniors and coaches were so inspiring, and my coach was so passionate about the game. That’s how I really got into it and really got better.”
Silver took to field hockey so much she immediately began playing club ball in the offseason. She joined Katie Beach’s renowned Windy City program, which ended up finishing fourth at the 2014 U16 National Club Championships.
Beach, of course, is a Maryland alum, a two-time All-American, and played on the USA National Field Hockey Team from 1994-2004.
Not surprisingly, Beach urged her new forward to give the Terps a long, hard look when the time came. Naturally, Silver, who considers Beach a role model, heeded her advice and attended a camp in College Park last summer, her first time in Maryland.
Silver said she considered a number of offseason programs, but chose UMD’s at the behest of Beach and because, “If I’m going to get better, why not go to one of the best schools out there?”
Silver was so impressive during the camp, Meharg couldn’t help but take notice. Now firmly on the Terps’ radar, the head coach ended up flying out to California later that summer to watch Silver compete at the National Field Hockey Festival. Silver, when she wasn’t rolling in the mud, strutted her stuff once again with Meharg looking on.
A scholarship materialized shortly thereafter.
“When Missy was trying to recruit me, she said on my visit, ‘Come out East, it’s so different than anything else you’re looking at,’” Silver said. “I was mainly looking at programs in the Midwest, but she said, ‘It’ll be different, it’ll be fun.’ And she was right. It was different – but a good different for sure. … There is a different vibe on the East Coast with field hockey. It’s just not as big of a thing here in the Midwest as it is out there.”
The only issue was the University of Michigan also sought her services, and both Silver’s father and brother are Wolverines alums. Silver said she and her family have “a whole lot of history” in Ann Arbor, Mich., and it was difficult to pick between the U of MD and the U of M.
“It was kind of funny, my parents and I went to visit Michigan, and we didn’t even need a tour guide because my dad knew everywhere to go. But when we went to Maryland, my dad was like, ‘I was just so sure when you [and the Maryland coaches] were talking you were going to commit right there on the spot. It just seemed like the perfect fit for you,’” Silver said. “He thinks that if I want to go play at the next level, Maryland is the place for me to go. It’s going to shape you, the coaches are great with you, and it just was the perfect fit. As much as he would love to see me play at his alma mater, he couldn’t be happier that I’m going to Maryland.”
Now that she’s fully on board with the Terps, Silver said she’s focused on improving her skill-set and helping her club team to a national title. After that, she wants to aid the Terps in their goal of reaching the top of the field hockey world as well.
“To win a championship in college would just be the dream. That is the absolute goal,” Silver said. “But I remember when I was little, I would think, ‘How cool would it be to be an Olympian one day?’ And those are still sort of my thoughts even now. It’s a big dream to have, but it would just be perfect.”
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