World Games: For Mannon, Back to Birmingham, via Israel

Olivia Mannon. Photo by Jodi Applebaum

by Larry Brook

(Israel InSight) — Three years ago, Birmingham’s Olivia Mannon was sporting a silver medal from the 2019 Women’s European Lacrosse Championship as a member of Team Israel, getting ready for her senior year playing for Fresno State, and thinking that it would be cool if, by some chance, she were able to play for Israel in the 2021 World Games in her home town, Birmingham.

Of course, Covid intervened, pushing the World Games to 2022, but that was one of many unanticipated twists for Mannon. Still, Mannon will be part of Israel’s national lacrosse team in the World Games, and she is “very excited” that indeed she will be returning home wearing the blue and white, and perhaps showing teammates some of her favorite places.

“It would be fun to take the team to Vulcan” and show them “the old neighborhood,” she said, while continuing to promote the growth of lacrosse.

Alex Freedman, director of high performance for Israel Lacrosse, said they were excited to have Mannon back after her experiences in 2019. “She has been a really strong member of our national team since then,” and she is “excited for her to be a home field advantage.”

It is a busy summer for the team, as some members will be at the World Games in Birmingham, while others are competing in the Women’s World Lacrosse Championships in Towson, Md., from June 29 to July 9.

There were two tryouts for the team last fall, and after Mannon was named to the national team, the next question was which competition she would do. As team officials looked at the rosters, they figured that there weren’t enough defenders going to the World Games team, so her destination was set.

As one of very few athletes competing in the World Games who haveactual Birmingham roots, “I’m happy to represent the city,” she said. Haylie McClenney, who grew up in Morris, 20 miles north of Birmingham, will compete for Team USA softball.

Formative years

Having spent “some of my most formative years there, to see what Birmingham looks like now makes me excited,” Mannon said. “It’s a beautiful place to grow up, and I get to come back and show people the lacrosse side of things.”

Mannon picked up lacrosse in second grade in Chevy Chase, Md., where she lived before moving to Birmingham in 2008. She was in fifth grade at the time, joined the Greater Birmingham Youth Lacrosse Association and was told she could play with the middle schoolers.

While attending Altamont School, she played soccer for Altamont but went to Mountain Brook to play high school lacrosse, as the sport is still in its early stages in Alabama. With a leg up on the competition because of her start in Maryland, Mannon excelled, and Mountain Brook won the state championship her freshman year. The next three years, they were state runner-up.

Soccer was at the same time of the year, leading to a strange situation when Mountain Brook was playing John Carroll in lacrosse while Altamont was playing John Carroll in soccer at the same time — so she wound up playing the first half of the soccer game, dashing over to finish the lacrosse match, then back to the last part of the soccer game.

In 2015, Mannon signed with Fresno State, starting all 16 games as a true freshman in 2017. As a sophomore, she set a single-season record with 64 draw controls and ranked in the top 30 nationally. In both her sophomore and junior years, she was an All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation defender and on the conference all-academic team.

She and one of her college teammates went on a Birthright Israel trip that was a partnership with Israel Lacrosse, and as part of the trip, there were tryouts as Israel’s national team could have three non-citizens compete in the 2019 Women’s European Lacrosse Championship, which was being held in Israel. She made the team and had to quickly adjust her summer schedule.

Mannon participated in all eight matches for Israel during the tournament, winning silver as England defeated Israel in the championship game.

After that, “the pandemic really did a number” on her plans, Mannon said. She went back to Fresno, where she had been an All-Mountain Pacific defender her junior year, but a week before the first game of her senior season she broke her hand in a “freak accident” during practice.

As she was gearing up to return from the injury, Covid hit, and on March 12, 2020, all sports were shut down. She would finish her degree on Zoom from home, which at that point was Omaha, her parents having moved there a couple months earlier. She received her degree in political science, summa cum laude.

In Omaha, she was able to familiarize herself with her new neighborhood through walking and running during the shutdown.

As for lacrosse, she decided to hit the transfer portal, and Oregon expressed interest. She spent her Covid year of eligibility at Oregon, which went 3-9, but she was credited with giving the team a big defensive boost.

Still, the experience was rather odd, as “it was pre-vaccine, so everything we did was masked up.” She worked on her Master’s in Public Administration, graduating in June.

She stayed in touch with the Israeli Lacrosse organizers, hoping to play in the world championships, which were postponed from 2020.

Last fall, she went to the team tryout in Boston, and started the immigration process. “I don’t recommend trying to become a citizen of another country during a pandemic,” she said.

As her academic work was on 11-week terms, in mid-February she went to Israel and officially made Aliyah, received her passport and citizenship card. Her time in Israel was then extended by a case of Covid.

Now that she has received her degree, she is the new chief of staff for a state representative in Oregon, but they were able to work out her participation in the World Games. “This is such an extraordinary opportunity,” she said.

Being the only player actually from Birmingham “I’ll probably have the most fans in the stands,” but she’ll still have to readjust to the Alabama heat. “Since being on the west coast, I’m a softie.”

The team gathered over Memorial Day weekend in Baltimore, coinciding with the NCAA Division I championships. They scrimmaged and practiced the new sixes format for the first time.

The format, which was recently invented, is being introduced at the World Games in a bid to get lacrosse into the Olympics. Mannon said it is a faster game, “like basketball on a 70-yard field.”

Because of that, the players tire quickly and “there is definitely a strategy.”

Reflecting on her time playing lacrosse, she said it “has brought me so many places and built so many wonderful relationships. I have a lot of gratitude and appreciation for what the game has done for me.”

And, “to be representing Israel and be in the blue and white, there is a very surreal experience with connecting to your spiritual and cultural heritage and recognizing Israel is so much bigger than you.”