RBHS lacrosse goalie Ella Gomez is a team captain and emerged as a leader last year when the Bulldogs made their first-ever IHSA playoff appearance. (Bill Stone/Contributor)

Riverside-Brookfield High School senior Ella Gomez entered high school trying lacrosse and athletic training like older brother Sam. Her effort and talent has forged her own path – and slightly different from her original plan.

The Bulldogs’ fourth-year starting goalie now will continue lacrosse at NCAA Division II West Virginia Wesleyan College while pursuing sports medicine.

“I was going to join the Navy and go to medical school there. After four more years [playing lacrosse], I’ll join the Navy for medical school,” Gomez said.

“Freshman to sophomore year [in lacrosse], that’s when I really started realizing if I dedicate enough time, I could get good at something.”

Gomez’s progress coincides with the growth of RBHS lacrosse. Her freshman year, the young program was one junior varsity team. Last season, the Bulldogs (10-7) made their first IHSA state tournament appearance.

This season, she’s a team captain with seniors Alyssa Pencak and Sarah Wood and junior Ava Regan.

“I feel like I’ve seen them build the program and it’s really nice to be a part of it from the ground up,” Gomez said.

The Bulldogs (2-2) edged DePaul College Prep 13-12 last week. Most of the scoring came from junior Maggie Durkin (6 goals) and Regan (5 goals).

Last season, Gomez had a .530 save percentage, stopping 180 shots and allowing only one or two goals three times.

“She’s been wonderful. It’s hard to find a goalie and she’s taken her game to the next level because she’s played with multiple travel teams just to get herself better,” coach Matt Bultas said. “There’s games I guarantee we wouldn’t have won without her stopping balls.”

Sam Gomez, Ella’s brother, is a 2018 graduate and played for the Bulldogs. Ella began lacrosse in co-ed leagues with younger brothers, Xavier Alvarez and Alexander, an RBHS sophomore. Both also are goalies.

Before her sophomore year, Gomez began playing traveling girls lacrosse with Yetti and currently plays with East Avenue after the clubs merged. She also coaches younger players. 

“It’s good for me to start teaching and be patient with people, showing them how to do something right,” Gomez said. “Straight from playing goalie, it’s helped me to move on. When you’re getting scored on like the 10th in a row, you have to just be able to forget it.” 

Last season during prom weekend, the Bulldogs lost to Maine South 19-3 minus several players. Gomez, who had a season-high 20 saves, remembers that now as a breakthrough. 

“It was very hard trying to keep everyone’s heads up,” Gomez said. “I feel like I matured a lot. It really helped me understand you can have a really good game but still lose.”  

Gomez also has grown through being a student athletic trainer.

After what she’s seen, Gomez takes every precaution to keep herself healthy, especially using knee pads. She isn’t shy to share that knowledge. 

“Maybe my teammates think I’m a bit much, but I’m very nitpicky about stretching and making sure we’re not pulling any muscles,” Gomez said. “[As a trainer] I’ve definitely learned how to work under pressure and be really precise with what I’m doing when somebody’s hurt. You have to be calm with them.”

During one home varsity football game, several Bulldogs developed cramps. While head trainer William Frey tended to other players, another needed immediate assistance. 

On her own, Gomez went onto the field, helped the player to the sidelines and relieved the cramp. 

“I’m kind of shy,” Gomez said. “It seems so small now but it was a very big deal for me, kind of doing something independent like that.”