Freshman year in high school is never easy, and the challenges involved often unfold in young-adult books, songs, TV shows, and movies. For many first-year high schoolers, blending in is the skill most desired. The last thing you want to do is stand out.
In her first year at Orange High School, Katie Wolter was an exception to that rule. A lacrosse player on travel teams for much of her life, Wolter wanted to continue her playing and represent her high school. There was, however, one issue that many would have considered a road block to her hopes of playing as a Panther: No girls team.
Undeterred, Wolter shared with her brothers — one who in the past played goalie for Orange — her desire to play for her school. Her brothers were close with the lacrosse team coach, Chandler Zirkle, and they implored him to take a chance on their sister. Otherwise, they told the coach, she would have to go to a boarding school or a private school to play.
The coach — in a way that identified with the freshman brain — said she could try out for the team, but she would be treated like everyone else.
“The coach said ‘She’ll have to work to play,’” Wolter said. “‘She’s gonna be just like everybody else.’ And I actually did pretty well.”
Initially, she said, being the only girl on the team was a little weird and uncomfortable for her. “But the guys are all super nice. And I’m treated just about exactly the same as they are.”
Now a starter in her second season as keeper for the Panther’s boys lacrosse team, Wolter lets her performance on the field set her apart from others. At press time, the team was undefeated in the conference at 11-0, and 15-2 overall, and in the state playoffs.
“I really think we have a good chance of making the state championship if we keep up our hard work and playing as a team and totally just giving it our all,” Wolter said.
She’s been playing lacrosse since she was in the fourth grade, participating on girls lacrosse travel teams, and also playing for a boys team. But playing for her high school team held a whole different meaning to her.
“Winning for the high school team just feels a lot bigger,” she said. “It feels cool that you’re around a lot of your classmates and these people who see you as a normal person will also see you as a good athlete.”
Playing lacrosse on girls teams and on boys teams provides Wolter with a perspective that most of her teammates don’t have, and has likely helped her hone her skills as a goalie, which is the only position she plays.
“Both games are very different,” she said. “Guys shoot a lot harder and faster, and girls shoot with a lot more precision and finesse.”
If she had to pick, Wolter said, defending against the girls’ shots is more challenging because of their accuracy. But she believes playing against boys teams will benefit her future in lacrosse.
“I think it totally has,” she said. “I’m so much more used to an aggressive play style and fast pace, which I think will actually help translate a lot into college lacrosse, which is much faster than high school lacrosse.”
For now, though, Wolter is enjoying the high school lacrosse experience. She said the highlights of the season have been winning games against cross-town rival Cedar Ridge High School and East Chapel Hill. Orange has a young team, with many of its players being sophomores and juniors. Wolter said she’s learned characteristics that will help her as she becomes a leader on the team.
“I’m probably keeping my confidence up even when we get down,” she said. “I’ve definitely gotten better at that. But at the beginning of the year, we played some 4-A schools. It was hard to be like, ‘you’re still fine even though they’re shooting these big shots on you and making goals.’”
Surprisingly, as a goalie, giving up a goal isn’t what brings her the most frustration. “Probably causing turnovers. That is one that really gets on my nerves. When I throw the ball and it ends up on the ground and the other team picks it up. That one really irks me,” she said.
And who are her biggest fans? Her brothers, who lobbied so hard for her to have a chance to play on the Orange team.
“They are some of my biggest fans, and they love seeing me succeed,” Wolter said. “I just love having them watch me play. I’m hopefully making them proud.”