Dealing with Challenges of Adjusting to College Lax, PHS Grad Lopez-Ona Finds a Home at Michigan
MAKING STRIDES: Mariana Lopez-Ona heads up the field last year in her senior season for the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team. This past spring, Lopez-Ona made her debut for the University of Michigan women’s lacrosse team, tallying one goal in three appearances for the Wolverines as they went 5-1 before their season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Mariana Lopez-Ona started from day one of her career with the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team in the spring of 2016 and ended up tallying more than 300 goals over the next four seasons.
Heading to the University of Michigan last fall to join its Division I women’s lacrosse program, things didn’t come so easily for Lopez-Ona.
“The college game is just so much different and faster,” said Lopez-Ona, a 5’9 midfielder.
“There is a lot more work involved in bringing it up to that level. When you start playing outside of the high school realm, it is just a shock when you first get there.”
In dealing with those challenges, Lopez-Ona found she was able to lean on her teammates.
“One of the most beneficial things is that it is somewhat different from high school because everyone is so insanely supportive of each other,” said Lopez-Ona.
“You are all going through the run test and tough coaching together and you are basically living together. If you are having a bad day at practice, your teammates are there to pick you up.”
Former PHS teammate and star goalie for Michigan, Mira Shane, also helped to pick up Lopez-Ona’s spirits.
“I talked to Mira a lot throughout my fall about practices and everything; she was really, really helpful,” said Lopez-Ona.
“I was insanely lucky to have someone like that, she helped me through the adjusting and all the typical freshman stuff like getting used to the team, the college experience, the coaches and everything.”
Buoyed by that support, Lopez-Ona threw herself into a role as a backup, scoring one goal in three appearances as Michigan went 5-1 before the 2020 season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Any time you are on the bench, you want to be on the field but I think the bench energy is so much different than in high school,” said Lopez-Ona.
“You are there to give all of your teammates support in everything so even when you are on the bench you feel like you are contributing. You are helping everybody, you are making your teammates feel better. The bench is really fun, someone will run down the line after a goal and everyone is cheering. Someone comes off the field for a break and you are there to support them and to tell them they are doing amazing and to keep it up.”
Making her college debut in a 10-8 win over Jacksonville on February 9, Lopez-Ona experienced some butterflies in her stomach as she got on the field.
“Before the Jacksonville game, I was freaking out; we had our final team meeting before the game and I was going back to my hotel room with one of the seniors who is really good friends with Mira and knows my sister [former Penn lax player Emilia] as well so she was always super nice and helpful to me,” said Lopez-Ona, who was credited with a shot in the victory.
“She helped calm me down. The game was nerve-wracking. It takes a little bit to get rid of that freshman feeling and then it just feels like you are playing with all of your best friends because everyone is so supportive.”
Two weeks later, Lopez-Ona notched her first career goal, tallying late in the second half as Michigan defeated Colorado 20-7.
“We were up by a little bit and I went on; I was in the attack position when I am typically a middie because one of our attackers had gotten injured,” recalled Lopez-Ona.
“I hear one of the coaches in the background saying ‘get one, get one.’ I was so nervous because I was thinking oh God, they expect me to perform here. I cut and someone fed it from behind and after I shot it I fell over and tripped a little bit on the defender. I fell into one of my teammates. I was really happy but all I remember is literally not being able to control myself because I was like flying and then I was oh my god, I have to drop my stick and all of these things. After that, it was I want to get in and do more.”
But as the 13th-ranked Wolverines were getting ready to play at Cincinnati on March 13, Lopez-Ona and her teammates learned that they were not going to get the chance to build on their early success.
“We were just about to have our pregame walkthrough practice and then we were going to get on the bus and drive to Cincinnati,” said Lopez-Ona.
“Our coach texted the captains and said we are going to have a meeting in 10 minutes. Our coach walks in and immediately it was just silence because everybody can see in her face that she is insanely sad and then we found out that the season was canceled. It was very sad for me because I wanted to finish out the year and make sure I had my time with my teammates to keep getting comfortable and keep being a part of the community. It was more sad for the seniors because this was the end of their trip. It was so very sad to see everyone’s reaction.”
Back home in Princeton, Lopez-Ona has been doing some training with older brother Johnny, a former PHS lax star, and Emilia to keep sharp.
“Working out is a little bit difficult because there is no weightlifting or anything,” said Lopez-Ona.
“Johnny and I have been using some really old dumbbells that we found in the attic. I have been trying to run outside, it is doing as much as you can now. I can do wall ball and shoot at nets. We have our old stuff that we haven’t used in a while. My sister is around to play with me.”
Although she is not around her Michigan teammates, Lopez-Ona is still in touch with them.
“We had a few full team Zoom sessions in the beginning and now we are doing smaller things,” said Lopez-Ona.
“I am a midfielder so all of the midfielders and the middie coach will have a Zoom talk. I have been talking to the other freshmen a lot. With all of the new technology it is not too hard to stay connected but it is weird to think that I would still be there right now.”
Once Lopez-Ona gets back to Ann Arbor, she will have a fresh perspective regarding things, both on and off the field.
“I will just have a greater appreciation for college as a whole; I dreaded going to class sometimes,” said Lopez-Ona.
“Playing college lacrosse, you have to do run tests and you have to do conditioning; those parts are tough and you miss the people cheering you on through all of it. You miss the feeling of ‘wow, I just ran that 1,000 yards’ or whatever and you are doing it all together. When we come back, it is probably going to be different. Going through this whole situation, no matter what, everyone is going to use every moment to make the most of it.”