From the moment Katie Knaus began playing lacrosse a decade ago, it was clear that she was on her way to an impressive career.
Knaus, a Berlin native, has compiled a long track record of success in the sport, and her skills have allowed her to embark on an unforgettable journey, which culminated this summer with her competing for New Zealand (NZ BLAX) in the FIL Women’s Lacrosse World Cup in Oshawa, Ontario.
Not only that, she captained the team and was one of its leading scorers.
Knaus first traveled to New Zealand when she spent a semester abroad there through Massachusetts’s Gordon College. While working with the Creation Care Study Program, Knaus fell in love with the beauty of New Zealand and the warmth of its citizens, and decided that she must return there.
Knaus graduated from Gordon in December 2010 as one of the best players in the lacrosse program’s history. In the fall of 2011, she returned to New Zealand and wasted no time establishing herself on its national team.
After contacting the head coach and being invited to train with the squad, Knaus was eventually offered a roster spot. As a team member, she was required to train in Auckland three times a week for eight to nine hours, a commitment made all the more difficult by her two-hour commute.
Knaus, who worked as a black water rafting cave guide, admitted that the combination of her commute and the team’s grueling training sessions weighed heavily on her.
“I had by far the biggest commute of anyone, and it was tough to handle,” she said. “All of us had to put ourselves out there completely for training to go well. It took a lot of discipline and energy from me, but in the end it was completely worth it.”
If Knaus felt weary during her first year of competition in New Zealand, she did not show it during matches. She was a three-game MVP with the BLAX at the 2012 Down Under Cup in Melbourne, and led the College Rifles and Auckland Central club teams to national championships. These accomplishments, along with Knaus’ performances in training sessions, helped her make the final cut for the 18-person World Cup squad, unveiled April 1.
“When I read my name on the final roster list, all the hard work I had put in became 100 percent real, and I had to step back and appreciate how cool it all was,” Knaus said. “How often do you get the chance to represent a country while doing something you love?”
Knaus being named to the team came as no surprise to current Gordon lacrosse head coach Cory Ward, who was an assistant when Knaus played there.
Ward praised Knaus’ scoring ability and the outstanding energy level she displayed at Gordon.
“Katie flies to the goal and has a knack for scoring quickly,” he said. “Teams did everything they could to try and stop her from scoring, but it was like they weren’t even there. She just doesn’t have an off switch.”
Knaus said the lessons she learned about teamwork at Gordon prepared her well for the World Cup.
“When I first got to college, I wanted to do everything myself and take it to the cage every time,” Knaus stated. “But over time, I realized how important it was to get your teammates involved and work in synch with them, and that by doing this we would all get better together.”
The BLAX warmed up for the World Cup by winning the Down Under Cup in June. Also, the team competed against club and college teams in Maryland and Virginia.
New Zealand kicked off the World Cup play July 12 with a 19-3 shellacking of Finland. Knaus tallied three goals in that one.
New Zealand was outstanding in its first five matches, going 4-1 to win Pool D.
Knaus selected the team’s 13-4 win over Ireland July 14 as its best performance of the tournament, stating that it came out ready to play and was outstanding on both ends.
No. 7 seed BLAX could not sustain that level of success in the Championship Round, however, as it was upset by No. 10 Israel July 17 and blown out by Japan the following day.
The BLAX ended World Cup play with a 20-5 win over Austria to finish 5-3, good enough for 11th place in the 16-team field.
“We played outstanding throughout the World Cup,” said Knaus, who scored 13 goals in Oshawa. “Our finish doesn’t give credit to the amazing lacrosse we played as a team. We became one team with one focus.”
Knaus’ off-the field experiences there were every bit as memorable. Teams stayed together in one dorm, allowing players to make many friends from different countries. Also, during the World Cup, Knaus was able to spend lots of time with her family, who she had not seen in more than a year.
Knaus is confident that New Zealand’s performance in the World Cup will help boost the popularity of the sport with girls in New Zealand. The sport is growing quickly at the high school level in the country, but is still in its infancy at the club and national level.
In fact, the BLAX do not receive funding from the New Zealand government, meaning that players have to self-fund their involvement with the team.
All told, Knaus spent more than $20,000 while with the BLAX, a small amount of that coming from online donations.
Knaus is hopeful the team’s World Cup showing will motivate the government to provide funding for it, and said she would be proud to be a catalyst for that decision.
Unfortunately, Knaus has to leave New Zealand within the next few months, as her visa expires at the end of the year. She will miss her second home and playing with the national team, but plans to return to New Zealand for a visit as soon as she can.
Though Knaus’ future is somewhat up in the air, she is not concerned. She plans to let her adventurous spirit guide her.
“I know I want to continue playing lacrosse in one way or another,” she said. “I talked to some Canadian players at the World Cup about competing up there, and will look at other opportunities. I’m not sure what I’ll do for a career right now. We’ll see what the future brings.”
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