By Brian Logue
More than 1,300 of the nation’s top high school girls’ lacrosse players will compete May 24-25 in the US Lacrosse Women’s National Tournament in Bel Air, Md. The tournament dates to 1933 and since 1981 has included high school players. This year’s tournament will feature 66 teams representing top players from various regions around the country.
During her high school years, Heather Leigh Albert was one of those players.
“She thought it was a great thing with people from all over the place,” said Gene Albert, Heather’s father.
Tragically, Heather Leigh Albert died in an accident in 1993. She was 21.
“She was a naturally talented athlete and she loved the team camaraderie,” said Brooke Watson, who coached Albert at Perkiomen Prep in Pennsylvania. “She loved life, bottom line. She made friends everywhere she went.”
Among her biggest loves was lacrosse. Through the help of Watson and then Harvard coach Carole Kleinfelder, that led to the establishment of the Heather Leigh Albert Award, which is presented to the outstanding player in the Schoolgirls’ Division at the US Lacrosse Women’s National Tournament.
The award is under the umbrella of the HLA Foundation, which uses a logo that was designed by Heather. She drew the figure used in the logo one night during study hall at Periomen.
“She should have been studying, but we got our lacrosse angel,” Watson said.
Less than a year after Heather’s death, Beth Potter became the first recipient of the Heather Leigh Albert Award. Potter went on to earn All-American honors at Virginia, becoming the first in a long line of distinguished winners of the award. The list includes two players that went on to play for the United States in World Cup competition (Lauren Aumiller and Katie Chrest).
In many cases, the award is the springboard to putting talented players on the national radar. Emma Hamm won the award in 2006, the summer after her junior year at the Baldwin School (Pa.).
“It was the most surprising thing ever,” said Hamm, who went on to earn All-World honors in helping the U.S. team win the 2007 U19 world championship and was a three-time All-American at Duke. “I’m so glad I won it because it got my family connected with the Albert family. They treat you with so much respect.”
Each year, as many as four generations of the Albert family come to the National Tournament to present the award and soak up the atmosphere of an event Heather loved. “Watching the girls play brings me back to the way she played,” said Watson, who serves on the selection committee for the award.
“It’s a bittersweet thing,” Gene Albert said. “Heather used to be the blonde girl with the ponytail running around. There are a lot of tears, but they’re happy tears. In 20 years, this has evolved into a really comfortable, nice thing.”
The Alberts’ involvement in women’s lacrosse also has evolved. They have expanded their sponsorship support of the National Tournament, helped coordinate clinics around the country and sponsor tournament teams that have played in Vail and Lake Placid under the Team HLA umbrella.
“Team HLA has really helped open up the foundation,” said Sean Albert, Heather’s brother, who coached Team HLA to the women’s elite championship at Lake Placid last summer. Legendary high school coach Kathy Jenkins usually coaches the team at Vail each summer.
The first invitations for Team HLA go out to recipients and finalists for the award, and then it expands from there. Team HLA allows the foundation to bring more people into the family, and more importantly, to get to know them better.
“It’s fast,” Gene Albert said of the ceremony at the National Tournament. “With Team HLA, we’re out there for several days with the kids. We take them out to dinner and really get to know them. The kids are just great.”
One such player is Florida native Courtney Swan, who is enjoying a breakout season for Virginia. Swan was a two-time finalist for the Heather Leigh Albert Award in and went on to play for Team HLA in Vail in 2009 and 2010 and last summer in Lake Placid. “It’s not just a tournament team,” Gene Albert said. “They’re embedded in our family.”
At the tournaments, when the team gathers in the huddle before going out to the field, the cheer is always either “HLA” or “Heather.”
“You hear 20 of the best players chanting your daughter’s name all these years later — that’s got to be an awesome feeling for a parent,” Sean Albert said.
And that is the driving force behind the Albert family’s dedication and involvement with the sport. Through Team HLA and through the US Lacrosse Women’s National Tournament, Gene Albert said Sean’s kids feel like they know Heather, the aunt they never got to meet.
“When you lose a child, your biggest fear is that they’re going to be forgotten,” he said. “With the foundation, Heather won’t be forgotten.”
Heather Leigh Albert Award Winners
1994 – Beth Potter
1995 – Jacque Weitzel
1996 – Sheehan Stanwick
1997 – Sheehan Stanwick
1998 – Kellie Thompson
1999 – Lauren Aumiller
2000 – Kristy Dirks
2001 – Katie Chrest
2002 – Kathleen Miller
2003 – Jennifer Hauser
2004 – Megan Bosica
2005 – Megan Bosica
2006 – Emma Hamm
2007 – Amanda Jones
2008 – Kelly Austin
2009 – Taylor Trimble
2010 – Taylor Trimble
2011 – Taylor Ranftle
2012 – Maeve McMahon
2013 – Kelly Myers
US Lacrosse Women’s National Tournament
May 24-25, 2014
Co-Sponsored by Harrow and the HLA Foundation
One of the nation’s most prestigious recruiting events, this tournament features 66 teams that represent regions across the country. Players are selected to represent their region after local tryouts. This year’s National Tournament will also serve as an evaluation round for players trying out for the 2015 U.S. Women’s U19 team.
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