Princeton University ’20
Winnie Brandfield-Harvey knows that playing like a girl means dominating. It means hitting home runs, doubling an opponent in a re-defend, heading out to the track early, getting up after a rough fall. It means having the will to win, having tenacity, courage, strength, confidence.
As head of the Women Helping Empower Each Other club at St. John’s, Winnie knows what it takes to play like a girl. She started lacrosse in 9th grade, playing in goal for St. John’s and for the Tenacity Project in Houston. Fast forward four years. As a senior, she’s been named All-American for the second time and this fall, she’ll be starting her freshmen year at Princeton University, where she’ll be playing lacrosse and, maybe, joining an acapella group. (Speaking of ladies who both sing and play a mean lax game, here’s a fun fact! Did you know that Theresa Sherry used to sing the National Anthem before both soccer and lacrosse games at Princeton? Winnie, I sense performances in your future.)
As to what she’s studying? Who knows. The world is her oyster! Congrats Winnie, and good luck. We’ll be cheering for you and for all of our incredible seniors.
You were named All-American again this year. How did that recognition feel? What does it mean to you to come from a state not traditionally associated with lacrosse and to receive that kind of national acknowledgement?
It’s such an incredible honor. It’s not just the title, but the meaning behind it. When my coach, Angie Kensinger, told me the good news, she mentioned all the players in past years that had received the same award. Just hearing the names of players I look up to now and knowing that they also got that recognition made me feel so honored and motivated to live up to that expectation every day. It means so much to me, especially coming from Texas where lacrosse is not nearly as prevalent as it is on the east and west coasts. I take a lot of pride in my state and having the chance to prove that lacrosse is just as competitive here as it is in Baltimore or Sacramento is an opportunity I don’t take lightly. Ok maybe not as much as Baltimore but hey, we are getting there.
How did you decide on Princeton? What makes it the right fit for you?
Before the spring of my sophomore year, I toured Princeton and another school I was seriously considering but nothing can beat the perfect balance of academics and athletics that Princeton offers. The team is really close and was so welcoming and Coach Sailer is a legend in her own right. Her coaching experience and positive attitude reminds me so much of my high school coach and I instantly felt comfortable. The campus is beautiful and two of my older sisters will be living in New York and Boston so being just a train ride away from family isn’t too bad either.
Are you nervous? Excited?
Both. It’s difficult leaving family and living on my own for the first time is going to be weird. My twin sister and I have bunked together since I was a kid. But it’s also exciting. It’s a new adventure, a new experience of independence and growth. I can’t wait.
Do you know what you want to major in yet? What kinds of classes are you most excited about? No pressure here.
I have no idea what I want to major in yet. But that’s part of the fun. I’m excited to take some screenwriting classes but also classes in anatomy/neuroscience. My dad (orthopedic surgeon) is dying for one of his five girls to become a doctor.
What will you miss most about high school?
Of course I am going to miss my teachers and my friends and just the familiarity of my school in general. But as cliche as it is, I think I am going to miss the lacrosse program the most. My attackers asking to take shots on me on the weekends. All our themes for championship games (ex. Wearing togas for Greek Olympics theme). We even have our own holidays like Cinco de Michael where we listen to all Michael Jackson songs at practice. We are always intense but at the same time never take ourselves too seriously to a point where we aren’t enjoying ourselves. St. John’s was my first experience playing lacrosse and I don’t think I would have the same excitement and passion for the sport as I do now if I had played for any other team.
Will you talk a little bit about what you’ve been involved with outside of lacrosse? Do you feel that those commitments—whether school leadership or community service opportunities—compliment your lacrosse persona? How so?
I was fortunate enough to be the leader of WHEE (Women Helping Empower Each Other) club this year at my school. Equality on and off the field is very important to me. I want young female athletes to know that if “playing like a girl” means ripping eight meters to top corners and winning national championships then they should always take it as nothing less than a compliment. That’s why I think Tenacity is such a great opportunity for young girls, as they receive the same treatment and respect as boys programs. It’s helping facilitate and improve the girls game.
I recently came across your YouTube videos. You have a beautiful voice! What role does music play in your life? Is that something you’re interested in pursuing in any way?
Music has always been a big part of my life whether I am trying to get pumped for a game or just having fun at a concert. It’s a lot like lacrosse in that it helps me destress after a long day or a taxing homework assignment. I like to play my guitar in my room after school when I’m feeling stressed. I think I might join an acapella group at Princeton. I’m excited for that.
What’s the comraderie like on your Tenacity team?
Our coaches Tiffany Deinzer and Beth Rogers Lester do a great job of making us laugh and bringing us together through team bonding games such as “Giants, Wizards, and Elves” as well as non traditional conditioning exercises such as yoga. You bond quickly when you and your teammate are trying to make it through 10 chatarangas, I’ll tell ya. Coach Beth and Deinzer aren’t afraid to get out of their element so it makes us all feel a lot more comfortable and less stressed about being perfect all the time on the field. We also have a team GroupMe so we stay in touch throughout the week whether it’s celebrating someone’s birthday with an embarrassing throwback picture or discussing the skills we want to work on as a team next practice.
What’s the most fun you’ve ever had playing lacrosse?
My high school team goes to California every Spring Break to play even better competition and that is always a fun time. We go for about a week and when we aren’t playing games, depending on where we are, we take a trip to the Golden Gate Bridge or relax on the beach. We have lunch or dinner with some of the California teams after we play and it’s nice to meet girls with different perspectives on the game. Last year we went undefeated in California and it’s one of my favorite memories. The teams we play are amazingly skilled so we feel lucky to just play against them. Actually winning is an indescribable feat.
How did you first step into the goal? I asked Laurel, one of our Sacramento goalies, the same question because as a coach, I find it hard to convince new players to take on such a seemingly scary, unique role. How would you convince a 5th grader to be goalie?
I’m a goalie in soccer so I’ve always been comfortable with that position. I didn’t need much convincing fortunately. As for convincing a fifth grader – when kids are in middle school they all want to be the player who scores the most and that is a very tempting role. And the goalie position is scary for a lot of them. But I would tell that kid that nothing compares to the feeling of saving a shot in sudden death or setting up a goal with a great clear. The goalie sees everything and therefore, leads every player to success whether it’s telling the defense to crash or letting a midfielder know who is on their back. Your teammates know the magnitude of your responsibility and you should never feel like you are letting your team down if you get scored on. That took me a while to understand. When you get a bruise as a result of making a save, it doesn’t hurt that much, it actually feels great. Trust me.
How have you developed the mental toughness you need to succeed in goal? Did it come naturally or have you worked at it?
Soccer helped me with that before I started lacrosse, but I still struggle with it sometimes. I think everyone does. I remember in one of my first lacrosse games, the opposing team had scored up to 8 times on me, and I just started to cry in my helmet. I had to run over to my goalie coach on the sideline who calmed me down. Coming from a low scoring game like soccer where just one goal means you could lose the game, I wasn’t used to the difference. But with experience, I learned to have a short memory when it comes to goals in lacrosse. The most important thing is that you appear tough on the outside at the very least. Your teammates need to know their goalie is still in the game and you don’t want your opponents to feed off of your anger either.
Written By: Courtney Bird
June 16th, 2016