Sometimes finding the right niche can take a while. Though Mercer Island High School graduate Elena Skouras did end up finding exactly what she wanted, it was on a different route.
The 2012 MIHS grad started playing lacrosse in sixth grade and realized later in high school that it was something she’d like to continue playing in college.
“Recruiting for lacrosse, you have to start sophomore year really, but I didn’t really know that I was good enough to play until my junior or senior year,” said Skouras. “I was really late on the whole recruiting process, which was unfortunate for me because I was going to camps and they were looking at sophomores, and I was like, why didn’t I have that opportunity?”
Once Skouras knew she was interested in playing, she started going to camps, but had a run of bad luck. Stanford was interested, but a broken wrist sidelined her.
“I went to the Stanford one and on the first day they said I broke my wrist, so I was in a splint the entire time and they were looking at me to see if they wanted to recruit me, but I couldn’t play,” she said. “I came back home and I go to an orthopedic surgeon, and they said it wasn’t broken. So I sat out for nothing. That was really tough because I finally realized that I did love lacrosse and I wanted to do something with it. It became that lacrosse wasn’t going to be my primary entrance into college, and people were saying you could go to a lot better academic school than if you do lacrosse, but I was just too late to do that.”
It was a setback, but luckily for Skouras, she was accepted at the University of Southern California, and while she wasn’t offered a scholarship to play for the Division I girls program, she knew it was a good school, and it had a women’s club lacrosse team.
“I got into USC and they had a program and everything. I thought, I can play D-I lacrosse, but I feel like when you go to college and you play lacrosse, you do your sport and then you go to school,” she said. “I’m a very academically driven person, and I didn’t think I could do that. In high school you could play soccer, basketball, lacrosse, whatever, but in college you really do have to pick because it’s a year-round commitment. I wanted to be in a sorority and experience college life, but you couldn’t really do that. I was talking to the coaches about playing D-I, but they said they couldn’t give me a scholarship because it’s too late, but ‘we can definitely see you and you can play.’ It just seemed like with the commitment level and everything, my freshman year, I wanted to do good academically and get into the groove of college. So I decided to do club, and it was actually the right level of competitive atmosphere that I needed.”
The women’s D-I team at USC was a new program last season, and in part the club team attracted many players with D-I experience.
“A lot of players had played D-I; they were a year ahead of me, and they dropped down to club and said this is so much better and this is so much fun, and so we did that,” she said. “We did really, really well that season. It was the best USC has ever done. We took ninth in the nation, with an 18-4 record, which is unheard of — USC lacrosse was always a joke in the past. We did really well.”
Skouras finished the season tied for the most goals on her team at 69, with 13 assists and 89 points. She averaged 3.9 points per game in the Western Women’s Lacrosse League.
The highlight of her first season on the team was surpassing their expectations.
“Our initial goal in the season was just to make it to our league playoffs. We ended up making it to the championship and then we ended up going to Nationals and ending up getting ninth, and honestly we didn’t even think we would make the playoffs,” she said. “Just sitting there looking at your teammates and seeing how far you came was such an amazing feeling because we never in the world thought we could ever get there. I think that was awesome. It was the first time in USC history that the girls lacrosse had ever gone that far.”
The Trojans finished with a record-setting season, and in the process of playing, Skouras discovered how deep her love of the game went.
“I just think that you shouldn’t let go of your sport just because you don’t play D-I. I think you should continue because it’s really nice having something you’re passionate about. You meet so many people and so many friends in lacrosse, and you get to travel together and it’s really fun,” said the attacker.
Though the club team was still a time commitment, Skouras said for the USC team, it was less than most others.
“We do have to make some sacrifices, but what was really unique about our team was that we were one of the most competitive teams in our league, but we only practiced two days a week and everyone else who was the same ranking as us practiced five days a week and conditioned every day,” she explained. “It just showed us that for our team, it was about having fun and playing because you’re passionate about it, not making it a job. I feel like when you play D-I it becomes a job and you lose that intrinsic satisfaction for playing a sport. It gave me that adrenaline rush of playing.”
She said she plans to play again next season, and is still considering moving up to Division I, but doesn’t know how it will pan out yet.
On Mercer Island, many of the high school players are encouraged to coach younger teams. This helped Skouras realize that continuing to play was something she wanted to do.
“On Mercer Island they give you a lot of opportunities to coach,” said Skouras. “I coached a seventh-eighth grade team and a third-fourth grade team one year. Mercer Island just provided you with a lot of opportunities as players to see every aspect of the game, playing it and seeing it from the sideline, and I think that really helped me grow as a player. It helped me understand what my coaches had been telling me. So I would be coaching my seventh, eighth-graders and tell my head coach, Liz Shields, and she would be like, this is what I’ve been telling you!”
Skouras, who was a two-time all-state team member in high school, said for anyone interested in playing in college just to get out and play the game as much as they can.
“I think that it’s hard because no one really knows they want to really play sophomore year — I feel like sophomore year you’re not really thinking about where you want to go to college as much,” she said. “I think that for advice, they should just go to camps, because I know that’s where you get recruited a lot. But also joining select teams, like in soccer, but I just think if they are passionate about the game and they are willing to sacrifice your time to be on select teams if should be a sign that maybe they do want to pursue this in college.”
Skouras is a business major at USC, doing an accounting internship with Costco this summer.
“I may not go accounting, but I’m a person who is a hands-on learner, so I like to do things to see if I like it. That’s why I tried lacrosse, to see if I liked it, and I love it,” she said.