Playing for Melli: The Inspiration Behind Australia’s World Championship Campaign & More News Here


When Hayley Sofarnos arrived within the United States this week in preparation for the World Lacrosse Women’s Championship, the Williamstown, Australia native’s first cease was not her staff lodge or her one-time stomping grounds at Penn State. Nor did she plan to hyperlink up instantly with Aussie transplants Sonia LaMonica or Jen Adams, each of whom coach at Baltimore-area faculties.

Instead, Sofarnos flew together with her father and sister to Philadelphia, the place Betsy Dougherty waited to whisk them away to her summertime residence in a Jersey Shore resort neighborhood — a Hall of Fame escort for the daughter of probably the most beloved and adorned figures in ladies’s lacrosse historical past.

“I’m really nervous to see Hayley,” mentioned Dougherty, a three-time U.S. World Cup staff member who was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2000. “When I see her and John and Jess, it’s going to make it real. I still can’t believe I’m not going to see Melli again.”

“She taught us about mateship and culture. She taught us that no matter how much effort you put in and how hard you worked on the pitch, it didn’t matter if you weren’t connected.”

AN AUSTRALIAN LACROSSE ICON, Sue “Melli” Sofarnos died unexpectedly Sept. 19, 2020. She had simply returned from an ocean swim and parked her automobile to drop off flowers for an aged buddy when she had a coronary heart assault. She was 59.

Sofarnos performed on 5 World Cup groups. She made the All-World staff in 1982, received a gold medal in 1986 and was a three-time Australian staff captain in 1989, 1993 and 1997. Sofarnos stayed on as a coach, serving as an assistant on the world champion 2005 staff and main Australia to a silver medal as the pinnacle coach in 2009.

Sofarnos was the overall supervisor of this staff — the one for which her daughter will lastly play 5 years after tearing her ACL on the eve of the 2017 video games in England.

“I still can’t believe she’s not here, to be honest. How am I functioning? My mom’s dead. It just happened one morning as we were heading to training. How your life can change in an instant,” Hayley Sofarnos mentioned. “If you can ever find a silver lining, it’s in the way our team has come together around that in our shared loss and how we continue her legacy.”

Sofarnos’ legacy stretched far past Australia. She competed ruthlessly however cherished generously.

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On the sector, Sofarnos was borderline imply.

“You didn’t want to get in her way,” Dougherty mentioned.

Off the sector, goofy as all get out.

“That’s how she did everything. It was passion,” Dougherty mentioned of Sofarnos, whose foolish aspect continuously manifested in spontaneous singing and dancing. “Competing against you, look out, she’s bringing it all. And if you’re partying with her, no doubt, she’s bringing it all.”

In a gesture that would appear nearly unfathomable immediately, Sofarnos invited Dougherty to the Australian staff celebration following their win over the U.S. within the 1986 World Cup ultimate in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. The two rivals struck up a friendship, spending time with one another’s households whereas on enjoying excursions within the ensuing years. They talked about touring the world collectively once they retired and their children had grown.

Dougherty’s sister, Julie Williams, additionally performed for the U.S. staff when Sofarnos was in her prime as a participant. They too grew shut.

“Sue aka Melli is/was a dear friend,” mentioned Williams, a 2002 National Lacrosse Hall of Fame inductee, in response to an e-mail. “Hard to speak in past tense.”

Sofarnos by no means left something unsaid — or unwritten. Hayley has a shoebox filled with messages her mom scrolled in her crazy cursive to commemorate milestones or encourage her.

On a post-it observe present in her laptop computer after she died, Sofarnos wrote in pink ink, “Why am I here? What difference do I make? Why do I do what I do?” She answered with a sequence of adjectives others have since used to explain her. “Authentic. Caring. Compassionate. Service mindset.” And in all caps, “COMPETITIVE.”

Dougherty additionally has a handwritten observe from Sofarnos, one wishing her buddy good luck within the 1993 gold medal sport after the U.S. knocked out Australia within the semifinals in Scotland.

“That is the sport defined,” Dougherty mentioned.

LESS THAN 24 HOURS AFTER SHE DIED, Sofarnos’ household established a basis in her identify. Its objective: to financially assist the Australian ladies’s nationwide staff so athletes now not needed to pay out of pocket for coaching, uniforms, journey and lodging. A crowdfunding web page raised greater than $160,000 AUD (about $110,000 USD) in a matter of months.

At a fundraising occasion in March, John Sofarnos introduced that 2022 staff’s world championship marketing campaign can be totally funded for the primary time.

“Our house had turned into a florist. We were so overwhelmed with the care and compassion that everyone was giving. How do we channel this to be purposeful? Somehow my dad had the presence of mind to do that,” Hayley Sofarnos mentioned. “We’ve raised enough money to fully fund the world championship team. And we leave the foundation in a sustainable place moving forward.”

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“It was a terrible thing to happen, but something very amazing has come out of it,” mentioned Kahli Evans, a goalie competing in her first world championship for Australia.

History is on Australia’s aspect on this world championship. Both of its gold medals — in 1986 and 2005 — got here on U.S. soil. No host nation has ever received the occasion.

And after failing to medal for the primary time ever in 2017, the staff will probably be a lot motivated.

“The Aussies love to be the underdog,” mentioned Hayley Sofarnos, whose husband, Chris Plumb, performs for the Australian males’s nationwide staff. “Mom was such a stats person. I remember specifically in ’05 when they won, she did the calculations on the number of players that played in Australia versus the United States. That will have boomed even more now. For us to continue to punch above our weight like we do and produce quality over quantity, it makes it an exciting time. It’s cool to be back in Maryland with the good vibes of Annapolis just around the corner.”

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