Cami Merkel had zero interest in playing lacrosse when her dad first mentioned it to her.
“He wanted me to play for the longest time, but since he wanted me to do it so badly, that’s why I didn’t want to do it,” Merkel said. “Then one of my friends asked if I wanted to come try lacrosse with her. I said OK, and my dad was really happy I decided to do that.”
Merkel’s dad, West Forsyth assistant coach Erik Merkel, was a two time All-American at Penn State. Now Merkel is ready to follow in his footsteps by continuing her lacrosse career collegiately at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
"The campus is nice and the area is so nice,” Merkel said. “I just love the cleanliness of the campus. They just built another new facility specifically for lacrosse. It definitely fits me. I like to be humble about it, but it’s definitely nice. College is way different than high school lacrosse, though, so now I’m a small fish in a big pond.”
After losing in the Final Four to Mill Creek as a sophomore, then going undefeated in the shortened COVID-19 season in 2020, Merkel and the Wolverines were eager to prove they could play with the best in 2021.
“It was by far my favorite season,” Merkel said. “I just think since COVID canceled last season, everyone was loving lacrosse so much. Everyone was way closer and we focused on team camaraderie. Everyone was so close. If you got on someone for doing something they weren’t supposed to do, the next day you were back to being best friends.”
West lost to only one team other than Milton this season, a 13-12 loss to Chattahoochee early in the season. However, the West girls put their heads down and got revenge against Cougars in the Final Four to advance to West’s first-ever state championship.
“When it comes down to it, we were nitty and gritty and worked hard,” Merkel said. “Whether it was a goal or one ground ball, we always fought through the whistle until the very end. Always hustle and work hard. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. It’s better to make a mistake and learn from it rather than not try at all.”
West made it all the way to the state championship game this season, losing to Milton in the final game of the season. Merkel led the Wolverines offense with 80 goals scored and 25 assists.
“Those last moments against Milton were definitely not a reflection of our entire time,” Merkel said. “I was a little bit sad that we lost, but I felt really good about the way we played all year. The way I played and my team played against Milton was great because we left everything out there.”
Merkel said she hopes to leave a stamp on her time at West as being someone her teammates could look up to and hopefully make the sport more appealing to younger girls growing up in the West community.
“It’s definitely grown a lot,” Merkel said. “You see so many little girls that come to our games and look up to us so much. It’s been a ton of fun watching everyone around me, including myself, grow and become better players. After one game, I had a little girl ask to take a picture with me. Of course I did, but I was so thrown off because I didn’t realize how much they love watching West play.”
On the field, Merkel said she likes how often the role of the athlete changes in lacrosse and that you never get stuck doing the same thing over and over again. She feels as though she has had a leadership role on the team for her entire West tenure and hopes she made her teammates better.
“I’ve pretty much been leading ever since my sophomore year,” Merkel said. “I’m not particularly the most positive person on the field, but more like a coach on the field. It’s not always going to be sunshine and rainbows. I’m not gonna tell you what you want to hear, but I’m gonna tell you what you need to hear.”
Merkel’s little sister, Reese, will continue the Merkel family name at West. Merkel is excited about the potential of getting to come back and watch girls lacrosse maintain their status as one of the top programs in the state.
“I’ll be interested to see how it continues on,” Merkel said. “The rising seniors are going to take over and lead the team well. Don’t sleep on lacrosse. It’s definitely a sport and it’s definitely hard. Hopefully, we brought more attention to lacrosse by going further than anticipated. Our girl sports across the board are playing at an incredibly high level.”