Leading a team on the rise

Helmed by Rall and Martire, Tribe breaks records, earns first CAA victory since 2016 season

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Jamie Holt / The Flat Hat

Belle Martire and Elsa Rall share more similarities than just a team and a passion for William and Mary’s lacrosse program. Although Martire is a freshman and Rall a junior, the former a midfielder and the latter a goalkeeper, both players have a clear admiration for the game and a maturity derived from the pivotal roles they play on what is arguably the Tribe’s best team in years.  

Each possesses an air of quiet confidence, giving thoughtful answers to even the most probing questions, but passion bursts through their calm demeanors when Martire and Rall speak of their teammates.  

“The team is my family,” Martire said. “… No matter if you’re playing on the field or if you’re on the sideline, we all work hard together. My teammates push me hard every day and challenge me and have allowed me to improve my skills.” 

She has proven herself up to the challenge, having been honored as the Colonial Athletic Association’s Rookie of the Week two consecutive weeks this season and playing just as many minutes as her fellow upperclassman midfielders. Martire has scored 39 goals and counting on the season, a team high, earning a hat trick in three of the team’s last four games. She is no stranger to hard work on and off the field. 

“I didn’t have any expectations coming into the season,” Martire said. “I just knew that I was going to do everything in my power to work as hard as I possibly could, and just do whatever was needed and asked of for what was best for the team.” 

Rall shares Martire’s motivation. Aside from practices, scrimmages and early morning lifts, Rall spends hours in the training room focusing on her handeye coordination. She describes some of the training staff’s methods as “unorthodox, and yet she trusts them with her talent; if the results are any indication, her faith is not misplaced. 

As a freshman, Rall played in 13 games, starting in two, and totaled 55 saves on the season. Sophomore year she came out swinging, making an appearance in all 16 games: 14 as a starter, tallying 159 saves and boasting a .427 save percentage, including a game against Richmond in which she notched 18 saves and a .621 save percentage, a career high at the time. Off the field, Rall earned the CAA Commissioner’s Academic Honor Roll distinction for her performance in the classroom.  

Now a junior, Rall has grown in many ways. For one, she starts every game, playing 50 minutes or more in each outing so far this season. For another, she bears the burden of setting an example for the underclassman cheerfully, letting her work ethic do the talking. 

Rall describes blocking tosses from the trainer with her back against a wall, while wearing glasses that block her vision for a split second as the ball comes her way. The instant she regains her sight, she must find and block the ball, a maddening process, as the tosses come faster and faster the longer the drill goes on. But to Rall it is worth the work, especially since the outcome of numerous games this season have come down to her goalkeeping abilities, a unique form of pressure she does not shy away from. 

Neither does she shrink from her role as a team leader. Besides putting her body between the ball and the back of the net, it is Ralls responsibility to lead the defense. Smiling slightly, she admits that sometimes she can get too caught up in trying to direct their every move. This does not stem from a desire for control; in fact, she says she trusts her teammates immensely. Rather, it is an attempt to communicate what she can see from her vantage point.  

Both Martire and Rall acknowledge the vital importance of communication between the offensive and defensive players. While they may seem like two separate entities, attackers and defenders are inextricably linked two sides of the same coin. 

“You have to have two different mindsets,” Rall said. “… But in order to get the ball to attack we have to make those stops, so there [are] a lot of factors that go into that, but communication is really important because we wouldn’t be able to get the ball up the field if there wasn’t that connection between the two. 

Meanwhile, Martire expresses trust in the defense. 

“Our defense is a brick wall, they are incredible,” Martire said. “… Elsa has just had a phenomenal season. What the defense likes to say is they try and make as many stops as possible, so they can give us room to have errors on the attack.”  

Luckily for the team, Martire and Rall keep the errors to a minimum. In a stunning 9-8 victory at Davidson March 14, Martire earned yet another hat trick, scoring three times off just three shot attempts, displaying laser-focused accuracy and nearly perfect shot selection. Martire’s final goal gave the Tribe the lead with just 18 seconds left on the clock. For her part, Rall was an impenetrable wall in the goal; she totaled a career-high 20 saves, the second best single-game performance in school history. Rall also nabbed 10 ground balls, setting a single-game school record. 

Such visible success can be both a motivator and a stressor. Both Martire and Rall try to establish an attitude of grateful concentration and find that leaning on teammates helps relieve the tension. 

“It’s definitely been an incredible experience playing the minutes that I have,” Martire said. “… It is also a little daunting, but I do know that the team has my back no matter what happens. In failure and in success we’re going to be there for each other, and that’s kind of what matters at the end of the day.” 

Rall likewise focuses on supporting her teammates and drawing on that support after tough losses, like the 12-11 overtime slip-up against Coastal Carolina March 24. Despite Rall’s stellar goalkeeping, including a save with 20 seconds left of regulation play and a crucial stop during overtime, the Tribe lost narrowly in what was clearly a frustrating outcome for the team. 

“Yeah, that was a tough loss,” Rall admits. “We didn’t really show up in the first half, which put us at a disadvantage. It can be a little frustrating, but then you have to realize that it’s a team sport and there’s so many different factors that go into a game. When it can be frustrating at times you have to look at the bigger picture.” 

The bigger picture, for this season, is promising. In March, the midpoint in the season, the Tribe had already won more games than it had in the entirety of the previous season. In CAA play, the College had not won a game since the 2016 season. That is, until this team beat Delaware in a 12-11 overtime nailbiter April 12. This is the first team consisting entirely of players recruited by head coach Hillary Fratzke rather than her predecessor, and it shows. They’ve been defying expectations since day one. Fratzke’s emphasis on the fundamentals of the game means building players from the ground up. No detail is too minute to matter to these athletes, and they’ve worked hard to improve themselves and each other. 

They’ve also made it abundantly clear that they will set the tone for the season themselves. The result is a complex ecosystem, in which each player’s strengths and weaknesses are utilized. The upperclassmen depend on the freshman for their energy, drive and focus.  

“We’ve had a lot of change this year, a lot of freshman,” Rall said. “They have just brought a completely different mindset to the whole process, and I think that has really helped the upperclassmen.”  

The rookies look to the veterans as examples of perseverance through less than spectacular seasons and dedication to something bigger than themselves.  

“We have to make the most of every opportunity and know that the work that we put in will pay off,” Martire said. “Whatever you’re doing give it all you’ve got.” 

Social class distinctions aside, each member of the team recognizes the importance of presenting a united front on and off the field. When it comes to determining the future of the team, the emphasis on teamwork doesn’t change. 

“Nothing compares to starting the season,” Martire said. “… We all knew that we had to be there for each other on a level that personally I had never experienced before. So, I think just kind of knowing that we’re all going through this experience together, the stress and the excitement, and just all the kind of emotions involved with starting the season that was kind of the defining moment.” 

Rall and Martire, record breakers in their own rights, are grounded by their teammates. They have personal goals, of course, but those are mentioned only in passing. Far less fleeting are their plans for the future of the team. They hope to take the CAA by storm, and with a victory over Delaware marking their first conference victory in nearly three years, that goal no longer seems unreachable. The closer it gets though, the more focus will be required of them.  

Despite the obstacles and the pressure, both Martire and Rall look towards the future with excitement rather than trepidation, neither one feeling the pressure of any predictions for the team except their own. They’ve each shattered enough records to know when a limit can be exceeded, and that’s exactly what they plan to do.