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In a family of lacrosse players, a game of catch doesn’t involve baseball gloves or a football. If you ask someone like Carrie-Jo Farrugia, catch could only mean taking the lacrosse sticks outside and sending the hard, rubber ball back and forth.

Lately, Farrugia has been sending that ball across the field – and into the opponent’s net – at Niagara University, where she is a junior attacker with preseason all-conference honors.

Farrugia has nine goals for the Purple Eagles through the season’s first five games, tied for the team lead. She was Second Team All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference last year after finishing with 19 goals and 36 points. She majors in biochemistry, to boot.

“She has natural ability and great stick work. She’s really worked hard to become our best attacker and best finisher,” said second-year Niagara coach Wendy Stone. “Our offense runs through her, there’s no question.”

Natural ability is sometimes a misleading phrase in sports. What people mean to say about these players is that they calculate and execute so fast and with such precision that they don’t even appear to be thinking about what they’re doing, almost as if the answers are just coming to them naturally.

But that’s never really the case. Instinct like that comes from practice and repetition in immense quantities, going through situations so many times that they become second nature.

Farrugia’s repetitions come from a life spent around the game. There were plenty of games of catch with her sisters at their home in Elbridge, west of Syracuse. She played competitively growing up, of course, and she also learned from watching her older sisters, both of whom also played collegiately.

Brittany, the oldest sister, left home first to play for Canisius. Rianne opted for rival Niagara, and C.J. followed Rianne’s footsteps to Lewiston. They all played the same position, but with each girl being four years apart, they never got to play against each other.

C.J. gets texts of encouragement from her sisters after each game, and in the age of smartphones, she especially enjoys when her sisters watch Niagara games online and send her Snapchat videos of her making plays.

Their best advice on playing college lacrosse?

“Just enjoy it and live it up while I can,” Farrugia said. “(Rianne) always talks about how much she misses it and how she wishes she could go back and just play again. I really take that into consideration and really enjoy it while I can.”

The Purple Eagles open Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play at the end of the month. They were picked eighth out of nine in the preseason poll, but Farrugia sees signs of a team on the rise.

“Niagara lacrosse is really going somewhere, in my opinion,” she said. “From past history, you can see the improvement. People come up to us and say it looks so much better. We’re beating teams we haven’t beaten in the past. Everything’s a big improvement.”

For that improvement to continue, Niagara will need its best player to lead the way.

“She plays a very determined game,” Stone said. “She’s not the most vocal kid but will speak up when needed. She’s a captain for us and a real leader. She has quiet conversations as opposed to yelling at people, but she is a competitor and really shows that on the field.”

And who knows? The Purple Eagles might even surprise some people.

“I think we really want to make it to MAACs (conference tournament), make a statement, let people know what we’re about and what Niagara lacrosse is and prove to people that we can do it,” Farrugia said. “It’s been awhile since we’ve been to the MAACs, so this is our year to really show people that we can do it. Our program is developing in that direction.”

email: nveronica@buffnews.com