Lacrosse star adapts, stars despite rare leg condition

Cameron Smith

Westborough (Mass.) High girls lacrosse star Cassandra McGill made her name in state lacrosse circles in large part by competing with an almost unstoppable internal motor. As a midfielder, she tracked back to shut down attacking opponents, frequently stripping the ball and starting a fast break of her own. And all of that praise doesn't even bring her shot, widely considered one the best in the state, into consideration.

Westborough girls lacrosse attacker Cassandra McGill
Westborough girls lacrosse attacker Cassandra McGill

Yet, according to the Boston Globe, McGill has been completely unable to compete the way she had grown accustomed to as a senior, the result of a painful and debilitating medical condition that limits blood flow to her legs because of an expanding muscle, which traps an artery. The incredibly rare condition is called popliteal artery entrapment syndrome, and few around McGill had ever heard of it before the team's stalwart star was diagnosed.

There are few cures for the condition, and even an angiogram (a special x-ray that uses both die and a special camera to diagnose changes in blood flow in an artery) which would be needed to decide how to proceed with treatment, would have ruled McGill out from at least two weeks of competitive lacrosse.

Unwilling to give up that much of her final scholastic season, McGill asked her coach to come up with a way to keep her on the field. The answer was simple, with Westborough deploying the senior co-captain as a point attacker, who receives the ball at the top of the key on breaks and looks to distribute it to other goal scorers.

The results have widely been considered a success.

"She was a 100-yard player before, now she's turned into a 50-yard player," Westborough coach Colleen Debish told the Globe. "And she's really more selective of what she does. But this kid is so efficient."

In fact, she's efficient to the point of complete exhaustion on the field. According to the Globe, during a game earlier this season McGill received the ball from a teammate, but could feel her leg seizing up before she took a step. Knowing that she couldn't run, the attacker patiently held back, faked movement and eventually picked out a teammate with an incisive pass. Immediately afterward she collapsed on the field and eventually had to crawl off the field.
McGill's growing comfort in her new role has coincided with the Rangers' run toward a state title. Westborough will compete in the state semifinals with an eye on revenge, facing off against state power Longmeadow, which has eliminated Westborough in each of the past three seasons.

No matter what happens in that match up, McGill still has plenty more lacrosse in her plans. The senior plans to play for Division II power Stonehill starting next spring, but will only continue if her leg condition improves. If it never does, well, then she can rest assured that she left a stirring legacy with the program she helped lead for four years.

"If she could play every game 100 percent, and not be injured, God, I don't know," said Megan Sullivan, a fellow captain for the Rangers, the three-time defending Division 1 Central champions. "It would be scary."

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