April 17, 2009

Van den Berg Redefines Oregon Lacrosse

by Clare Lochary | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Ilsa van den Berg, set to become Oregon's all-time leading scorer this weekend, has plenty of lacrosse left in her. The daughter of a Dutch father and South African mother, she'll play for the Dutch national team this summer at the FIL World Cup in Prague.
© Greg Wall

Ilsa van den Berg always saw herself wearing a green jersey in college. She just thought it would be at Loyola, not Oregon. When the Baltimore native took an official visit to Eugene, it was mostly out of curiosity to visit a state she'd never seen.

"When they came out and saw what Oregon had to offer, her parents said they saw sort of a glow around her on campus," said Ducks head coach Jen Larsen.

Van den Berg fell in love with the school's sports marketing program, and with the rabid college fandom of a state with no professional sports teams.

"Even if it's a sport they've never heard of, everyone's like, ‘Oh, you're an athlete! That's great!'" said van den Berg.

Van den Berg has done well by Oregon's fans. The senior has 185 career points, tied with Jen May for the most program history. The Ducks play at Cal today and at St. Mary's on Sunday, and chances are van den Berg (27g, 4a) will become Oregon's best scorer ever. Already the school's career goals leader, she's two points shy of surpassing Jen May's career mar of 185.

The most extraordinary thing about van den Berg's dominance is that Oregon uses a motion offense, so the attack isn't rigged to make her a star. She has to earn every possession and every shot -- she's just exceptionally good at it.

"She just worked really well in our system. It's not an attack that we designed around Ilsa, and she gets it done," Larsen said.

Van den Berg has a few things stacked her favor -- namely, that she's a lefty who is an easy target for her mostly right-handed teammates to hit. She's also potent in transition, and has commanded respect from her teammates since she was a freshman.

"In the past three years beforehand, she had a lot of leaders around her that dished to her.
They just saw her vision and saw what she was capable of creating. It wasn't going to sit in her hands," said Larsen.

"Now she's handing that off and showing them what a leader looks like on offense. We're going to see Ilsa's hand in a lot of the offenses at Oregon in years to come."

For now, both Larsen and van den Berg are concentrating on Cal. They are tight-lipped about the postseason. The Ducks' program is only in its fifth season and they have never earned an NCAA bid. It's hard for MPSF teams to make it into the postseason without an automatic qualifier -- the only ones who've done it are Denver and Stanford. Thus far the Ducks have defeated Denver, 11-9, with two van de Berg goals. (In an ironic twist, Denver midfielder Karen Morton scored a hat trick in the same game, becoming the Pioneers' all-time top scorer.) They were thumped by MPSF titan Stanford in their season opener, 17-5. Van den Berg did not get on the scoreboard against the Cardinal; it was the first time since 2007 and in 21 games that she'd been blanked.

Regardless of whether or not the Ducks can waddle into the postseason, van den Berg has plenty of lacrosse ahead of her. The daughter of a Dutch father and a South African mother, van den Berg has committed to play for the Dutch national team this summer in the FIL World Cup in Prague. Her Dutch relatives are slowly realizing just how good their American cousin is.

"My dad always sends the articles over to them. They've definitely start to follow up and learn more," said van den Berg. "They'll all be in Prague."

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