In general, many athletes spend years training in order to achieve varsity status. It’s common to see players spend most of their high school careers on the junior varsity team (or the varsity bench) to develop their skills before earning playing time. But, for sixth grader Raquel (Raqui) De Marchena, earning a spot on varsity was no challenge. Although still in lower school, she has already begun to pave her way into a key role on the varsity girls lacrosse team.
In the team’s first preseason game against Spanish River High School, De Marchena scored two goals for the Patriots to help achieve victory. She also scored one goal against Cardinal Gibbons to help reach the 15-4 victory, totaling three goals so far.
“[I like being on the varsity team] because everyone’s so positive. I like watching older teammates play because I can watch and learn [skills] from them, see how they do it,” De Marchena said.
Getting to this point still took hard work and dedication. “I started playing when I was seven years old. Before playing for Madskillz, I played for [local teams such as] Chaos and Weston Warriors. I started playing for Madskillz when I was in fourth or fifth grade because all of my friends were starting to play there and it seemed fun,” De Marchena said.
De Marchena currently plays low right attack for Madskillz 2029, a travel team based in Delray Beach, Fla. This Madskillz team is the best-ranked team in the state, so De Marchena travels an hour each way to practice with the most competitive players nearby.
“[We put in the time to drive Raqui to Delray Beach multiple times a week] because she loves it. She loves being with her team,” Raqui’s mom, Monica De Marchena, said. She also added that “Raqui loves the [varsity] girls and nothing makes her happier.”
Most middle schoolers are currently playing recreational lacrosse to have fun and immerse themselves into America’s fastest-growing sport, but De Marchena wanted a bigger challenge – hence her varsity position.
Raqui comes from a lacrosse family: Fedor De Marchena, Raqui’s father, played Division II lacrosse at Bentley College, and her 10-year-old brother, Rafael De Marchena, also plays competitively. Raqui’s accomplishments are no surprise since she’s had top-notch coaching from her dad since day one.
Corey Engelhard, the varsity girls lacrosse head coach, knew that De Marchena was capable of this endeavor. “When I look at Raqui, I do not see her age; I see her lacrosse IQ and her ability. She is one of the stronger players at Heritage and earned the right to be on the varsity team,” Coach Engelhard said. “[So far], even though she is the youngest varsity lacrosse player Heritage has ever had, she has exceeded all of my expectations.”
A concern of Coach Engelhard’s was De Marchena’s size. At only 4-foot-10, Coach Engelhard has to ensure that the game isn’t too aggressive before putting her in. “Being so young, I wasn’t sure if her size would be an issue, but she is strong for her size and very tenacious. I try not to put her in positions where I feel her safety is a risk; I only put her in positions where I feel she can shine and do her best,” he said. Monica De Marchena agrees: “I was scared [to let Raqui play varsity] at first because of injuries, but Coach Engelhard is an amazing coach and looks after her, so I have no worries.”
Raqui mentioned that all of the high schoolers have acted kindly and welcomed her with open arms. With her new nickname, “Raquster” (courtesy of senior midfielder Maya Dobrinsky), Raqui has proven to be entertaining during practice with her silly pick-up lines and stick balancing acts.
“I love Raqui and her radiating positive energy that brightens any room,” Dobrinsky said. “[I came up with the nickname ‘Raquster’] because she’s like a rockstar.” Senior defender Oreamo Belleh agrees. “I love the kid. She’s funny, smart and kind,” she said.
While earning district or regional athletic honors is a goal for any strong varsity player, De Marchena also has other goals for the rest of her high school (and middle school) career.
“I want to teach everybody younger than me and make them feel welcome like I did,” she said. Considering her teammates expressed nothing but kind things about De Marchena, this goal definitely seems attainable.