On November 11, Ryan Bionda signed her national letter of intent to play Division 1 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) lacrosse at the highest level in the United States for Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina.
It may be the start of a new journey for 17-year-old Bionda, but she’s already travelled a long road since her first two seasons playing box lacrosse with the Huntsville Hawks Minor Lacrosse Association starting at age five.
Although both her parents are from Huntsville, and she attended Huntsville’s Tawingo College in her early years, she moved away with her family to Panama from grades two to eight. It wasn’t until she was 12 years-old that she returned to lacrosse, eventually playing on the Huntsville Hoyas women’s lacrosse team when she attended Huntsville High School for grades nine and ten.
“I began playing for the Orillia Lady Kings in 2015 at age 12,” says Bionda, who will be going into her seventh and final year as a Lady King in the summer of 2021. “Orillia was the foundation of my women’s field lacrosse career. They showed me the reins, and with their experienced coaches, I excelled at the sport. Lacrosse is something I’m passionate about.”
You could say Bionda’s passion for the game might have been inherited, given her ancestry.
“My family has been part of the lacrosse community, at all levels, for a long time, and it’s a line of history that I’m proud to come from,” says Bionda. “Both my grandfathers, Jack Bionda and Derek Mackesy, played lacrosse for Huntsville, as well as my father, my uncles, my cousins, and my brother Jackson. We are all Hawks.”
Bionda’s paternal grandfather, Jack Bionda, is of course one of the best-known local lacrosse players, having been inducted into seven sports hall of fames, including the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1974 and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1982. He’s been described as the greatest box lacrosse player in the history of the game, winning the scoring title every year he played a full season.
“My other grandfather, Derek Mackesy, also played NCAA Division 1 lacrosse at Duke University,” she says. “If it weren’t for my family’s influence, I probably wouldn’t have ever played lacrosse.”
Having supportive family involved in the sport certainly paid off.
“My dad and I spent a lot of time together at the field training, or in our backyard working on tactics and taking non-stop shots,” says the left-handed attacker. “With all the male figures in my life having some connection to the sport, I grew up watching men’s games.[But] it wasn’t until I found women’s field lacrosse that I had female lacrosse role models, and saw myself going somewhere with the sport.”
Because there was no girls field lacrosse program in Huntsville, commitment to her sport involved a lot of travel time and sacrifices.
Eventually, with the helpful direction of Orillia’s coach Pat Morris, Bionda says she finally caught a glimpse of opportunities ahead, and a possible future in lacrosse. “I noticed interest in the idea of pursuing a career in the NCAA during my grade 10 year,” says Bionda. As a rookie on the Orillia Lady Kings U19 A team, Bionda and her teammates had won the bronze medal that summer. She also had the opportunity to play with Team China in Hong Kong in an international tournament that took place during April 2019.
Currently, Bionda attends grade 12 at Everest Academy in Toronto, a school that offers elite athlete support and development with NCAA recruiting opportunities. It’s her second year at Everest, where she has been playing on their Women’s Prep Lacrosse Team. “We practice and train every day. I fell in love with the routine and didn’t want anything else.”
It’s a busy schedule for the student athletes. “A typical week of practice is Monday through Thursday for an hour and a half [per day]. On Friday, we have SAT/ACT prep, which prepares Canadian students for the type of testing we’ll be expected to do in order to attend school in the United States.” She describes her week of training as three days of weight/strength training, a day of speed training, and another day of cognitive training focusing on brain reaction time while on the move. “It’s a full load, and I’d be lying if I said it’s not physically draining and can make balancing school work hard. But it’s preparing me for the next level and helping me gain strengths, such as time management, balancing the student-athlete life.”
Her experience this past year, however, has been similar to so many other athletes in all sports in the province due to the pandemic. “Our entire spring season was cancelled, and we had to attend school online,” Bionda says. “It was sad to have a summer without lacrosse. Even this year, my school is able to practice and train—but we can’t play.”
When asked how she ended up with Furman University as her choice, Bionda points out the importance of matching her academic goals with her sport. “For me, academics were just as important as athletics. I wanted to go to a school in which I could experience athletic success, while obtaining an exceptional education,” she says. “I was interested in schools with strong pre-law programs. Furman has exceptional academics and prestigious majors, in which you can possibly intern within different fields of law. Combining their high-level academics with their dedication and resources provided to student-athletes, it was a given. I knew it’s where I needed to be.”
Without a doubt, Bionda has a bright future ahead of her. “I’m excited about starting my life in Greenville and becoming a student-athlete at Furman University. I’m ready to play an elevated, more intense level of women’s NCAA Division 1 lacrosse. I’m beyond excited to push myself to the peak of athletic ability.”
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