Island School's Mali McHugh is proof that lacrosse isn't for the faint-hearted


The 17-year-old star player is giving Hong Kong’s lacrosse profile a boost thanks to her dedication and enthusiasm

Lauren James |

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Mali McHugh (in red) says lacrosse might look like hockey, but it’s a lot more dangerous for players.

Tell your friends you play lacrosse and they might start imagining you attend a ’50s-style, British, all-girls boarding school. Whatever preconceptions you have about the unusual sport, which has Native American roots, it has recently experienced a revival – particularly in Hong Kong.

Mali McHugh, aged 17, has been playing for about five years. She enjoys the team spirit the game offers, as well as the much-needed break from studying.

“I like playing because everyone is really encouraging, but it is also very competitive at the same time,” she says. “It is a good kind of stress relief for the IB. Sometimes I hang out with some of my Lacrosse teammates and they help me with stuff unrelated to Lacrosse.”

The game involves chasing a small rubber ball and guiding it towards the goal using a long-handled stick with a net at the end. Lacrosse may look similar to hockey, but it has a reputation for being quite a rough contact sport and players must wear protection to avoid being badly injured when they get slashed or whacked.

“I just decided one day that I needed to play a sport,” says Mali, explaining how she got involved in the game. “I was very picky and ruled out basketball and football and one of my friends played Lacrosse so I thought I would give that a try.”

Simply “giving it a try” turned into a major passion for the Island School student, who plays for the High Performance Programme (HPP) in a defence position. Part of the Hong Kong Lacrosse Association, the HPP trains the most talented athletes to play in international tournaments. Getting on to the scheme was a proud achievement for Mali, but she has to maintain her fitness to stay part of the HPP.

“The fitness part is probably the hardest part of it because you have to run the whole field and in practices we do very demanding sprints and drills – I usually feel like I am going to die during them but I survive,” she says.

“If you want to make the World Cup team it is not enough to just do what we do in practice, we also have to go to the gym and do sprinting to be in peak shape.”

Getting on to the national team is the ultimate goal for Mali, as it will mean heading to the lacrosse World Cup next year to face off against champions Canada, Australia, England and the US.

Held every four years, the competition will take place in the South East of England in 2017. With one win and four losses in the 2013 World Cup, Hong Kong came 18th out of 19 teams, having suffered a particularly crushing 23-7 loss to South Korea.

It’s never only about winning though: Mali says her own greatest achievement was playing at the Asia Pacific Championships, held in Thailand last year. She says, “I played against Singapore, Korea, Japan, Thailand, China and Australia. Hong Kong didn’t win but we still had a lot of fun!”

Overall, it’s safe to say that Hong Kong’s international lacrosse profile could do with a boost, and with dedicated and enthusiastic players like Mali moving up the ranks, the team stands a good chance of placing higher next year.

Bench notes

What song/movie title best describes you when you’re playing your sport?
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger, Kelly Clarkson

You can have any superpower you choose for 24 hours. What do you choose and how do you use this power?
I would say super speed! In defence it is crucial that you keep up with the attackers because you don’t set the pace, you have to keep up with whatever pace they set, and anticipate what they are going to do. So it helps if you can be quite a bit faster than them [the attackers].

If you could have an unlimited supply of anything, what would it be and why?
Ramen, I just really love it.

10 years in the future, you are a famous athlete. What company do you sign-on as spokesperson for, and what product do you promote?
Under Armour, and their Lacrosse sticks.

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