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3 seniors help Okeechobee High School lacrosse program grow 4 years before sport debuts at Olympics

Senior co-captains with aspirations to play in college credit coach for helping them field team
Posted at 12:44 PM, Apr 24, 2024

OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — With 93 days until the 2024 Paris Olympics, the anticipation for 2028's Olympic trials is high. One of the nation's fastest-growing sports, lacrosse, is set to make its debut in 2028.

Okeechobee High School is making a momentous stride toward gender equality in sports. With a vision to see young women playing the game and representing America, it has taken the initiative to introduce the school's inaugural girls' lacrosse team. This step not only promotes gender equality but also paves the way for more opportunities for women in sports.

The school hired a gym teacher named Aimee Kelly six years ago.

Aimee Kelly is the girls lacrosse coach at Okeechobee High School.
Aimee Kelly is the girls lacrosse coach at Okeechobee High School.

"I started over in Vero," Kelly said. "I coached a middle school team over there. I actually helped with Vero Beach High School."

One day four years ago, students walked into her office and noticed pictures of kids wearing pennies, helmets and holding sticks on her desk.

"The group of girls (were) like, 'What is that?' I was like, 'Well, that's lacrosse,'" Kelly said.

Guided by the coach's vision and dedication, the students were encouraged to find 10 friends to start a team. Kelly then began conducting two weekly practices for an hour, with an impressive attendance of about 60 girls. This commitment and passion from the coach played a significant role in the team's formation and growth.

With such great interest, the girls were able to start a lacrosse team.

"We lost every game," co-captain Arianna Granados said.

 Arianna Granados is a senior co-captain on the Okeechobee High lacrosse team.
Arianna Granados is a senior co-captain on the Okeechobee High lacrosse team.

The coach takes the blame for the early losses.

"I had friends at Jensen. I had friends at Martin County. I had friends at Jupiter. And I was like, 'Oh yeah, let's put them on the (schedule),'" Kelly said.

With the early hiccups, the team made goals that could count as small wins.

"We would have to get a certain amount of ground balls that game," fellow co-captain Mackenzie Ayala said. "We have different plays for our offense, and the offense would have to run plays. It was just little goals that help us lead to the big goal."

Mackenzie Ayala is a senior co-caption on the Okeechobee High School lacrosse team.
Mackenzie Ayala is a senior co-caption on the Okeechobee High School lacrosse team.

The tiny milestones helped the girls win their first game three years later.

"We were actually able to pass the ball, and it started to look more like lacrosse rather than just, like, a scatter and people panicking," co-captain Lilly Maxwell said.

Now, as seniors, the captains have turned themselves into reliable young women, and the once-freshmen who knew nothing about the game have two captains looking to play at the Division I level.

Okeechobee High School lacrosse co-captains Arianna Granados, Mackenzie Ayala and Lilly Maxwell
Okeechobee High School lacrosse co-captains Arianna Granados, Mackenzie Ayala and Lilly Maxwell remember when the team first began. Now they're hoping to play at the college level.

"I think I'm going to try to play at USF," Granados said. "I think I really want to try to play club."

Maxwell has dreams of playing at Florida State.

"I went out to a clinic up there, and they're a club right now, but I think my sophomore year in college, they're going to switch over to, like, an actual varsity club," Maxwell said.

For Ayala, she's looking to stay closer to home.

"I'm going to stay in Okeechobee and stay at IRC, which is a community college, but if coach Kelly needs help, I am more than welcome to help, like, inspire new people," Ayala said.