Let's just get the shower question out of the way. Ginny Capicchioni, the first woman to play on the U.S. Indoor Lacrosse team, showers when the guys have left the locker room, but she changes in the same locker room before the game. Moving on.
Capicchioni has a few things on her mind other than where she puts on her 40 pounds of goalie gear, like the fact that when Team USA heads to Prague in May, she will be protecting the goal for a group of men she's barely met.
"I respect each of them," says Capicchioni, who speaks with a grainy Jersey accent. "It's a very talented team, and it's the same thing with every other team I play with. I expect to keep the ball out of the net and beyond that, I don't care what anybody thinks. I'm sure they have lives and great personalities, and the ones I’ve met are really nice. When it comes to playing on a men's team, if you get your job done, they don’t mind that you're there."
The 31-year-old New Jersey native didn't always play with boys, the lacrosse stick or the goalie pads. The older girls at her Catholic high school in Oradell recruited her for the field hockey team, which took her to Sacred Heart to play Division I.
"The coach wanted me to tend goal for the lacrosse team, too -- which I thought was dumb," Capicchioni says. Goalie carried a certain sense of lame in her mind, ever since playing indoor soccer as a kid. “My dad was the coach and he wanted me to tend goal. I always thought of it as a glorified bench position."
That glorified bench position came with a lot of annoying gear, some which Capicchioni decided to leave out. In May of 2002, naturally, she broke her collarbone in half. Four months later, she decided to try indoor lacrosse. Another four months and she was a playing with New Jersey Storm as the first woman in the National Lacrosse League. What can a girl do next? Go to Canada for nine years to get your rear kicked by guys who exit the womb hitting balls with sticks.
"I spent those first few years in Canada getting used to seeing myself as a player instead of a woman," says Capicchioni. "It was necessary for my coaches and teammates to see me as that."
Canada taught Capicchioni to be "a villain." Just like that rubber ball, no one needs to get too close. Making friends with players on the all-male teams was last on her list -- but once in a while, a lucky guy gets close.
At the 2009 World Cup in Prague, Capicchioni met a fellow outsider named Ryan Wheeler. He was from Ohio and played Division II at Manhattan College, clearly not a member of the usual East Coast, Division I elite.
"That was looked down upon," Wheeler says. "And I knew what it was like to go to Canada and be the American. I was bemoaning this to Ginny in Prague. She says to me between drags of her post-game cigarette (cue the Jersey accent), 'You know Ryan, I understand everything you’re sayin'. Imagine trying to do everything you've done with lacrosse over the past 10 years. Now imagine you have a [female body part].'"
Yeah, that shut him up. But the two outsiders became fast friends. In fact, her closest lacrosse friends are all outsiders of some sort.
Like Pat Crosby.
"I started on an amateur league in Philly," Crosby says. "It was the first time I'd played lacrosse and I approached a male goalie first, who just started laughing at me. The next person I turned to was Ginny. We hit it off right away. She took me under her wing and now she’s one of my best friends in the whole world."
Crosby says it was his seriousness -- and their shared North Jersey backgrounds -- that passed Capicchioni's test. Only the strong survive it.
"She definitely had a wall up when we first met," says player and friend Ryan Hotaling, who's joining Capicchioni in Prague next Month. "She's fighting a different battle than everyone else in that locker room. But when we met, we just clicked."
The Syracuse-native met Capicchioni three years ago in Prague. On the field and off the field, Hotaling says, his friend is open-minded and has no problem telling you how she feels.
"As a person and as a lacrosse player, Ginny has a huge heart -- and she's actually pretty outgoing," Hotaling says. "We had mutual respect, and that grew to a friendship. Now we're in constant contact."
Hotaling believes if his friend puts her mind to something, it happens. "I think the best way to describe Ginny is just to look at what she's doing right now -- what she's accomplished."
So for a woman who puts every ounce of her heart and mind into lacrosse, is there anything else?
"I know there will be a time and a place when I put the pads down, but I can't really think about that right now," Capicchioni says. "I have a hard time relaxing."
It might be those four shots of espresso, which Capicchioni must have poured over ice with cream and sugar before every game. "The death drink," she says. "Either play well or have a heart attack." No one wants to carpool to games with the one player who arrives at least three hours early to ensure the espresso is just so and the leg pads are on properly. So that adds to the whole 'villain' image. But Capicchioni wants you to know she isn't early because she's so excited to play. She will be late to the turf if a single pad is incorrectly placed.
It may come as a shock, but after the games, plenty of the guys go out. You won't find Capicchioni throwing 'em back, though.
"She's not one to go to the bars," says Hotaling. "She's down to have a good time, but no, she's not going to get hammered drunk."
The problem with being so serious is that Capicchioni is constantly praised for her passion and tenacity, and less so for her very real talent. Sure, dedication is a compliment -- the hard work shouldn't go unnoticed. But the goalie wants to be noticed for being a great athlete. In a recent news article, Team USA GM Graham D'Alvia compared her to Rudy. A friend read her the article -- she never reads them herself -- and while the words were meant as praise, she wasn't too flattered.
"It's true that her work ethic is second to none," says Crosby. "But her playing speaks for itself. By the end of the season, you know whose team it is. She's the captain. She's the leader."
"People want to detract from her talent," says Wheeler. "Some say it's a publicity stunt for the league –- a way to attract people to indoor lacrosse. But in my humble opinion, she’s the most talented box goalie on Team USA."
Unlike the NFL or NBA, where the most talented players get to shine no matter where they grew up or went to school, lacrosse still carries an elite mentality.
"The cream is not always given a chance to rise to the top," he says. "I only hope they do the right thing in Prague and let her play."
Aside from her family (who she prefers to keep out of the media), a few carefully vetted teammates and the occasional ball, does anyone or anything else get close to this unrelenting goalie?
Actually yes: God. She’ll find a church in any city, though you won't find her at a crowded mass. She prefers to light candles in private. Hardly the stuff of villains.
Before every single game, along with her Death Drink and beneath the 40 pounds of necessary burden, Capicchioni wears two saint necklaces. Saint Rita, Patron Saint of Impossible Dreams and Saint Sebastian, Patron Saint of Athletes and Soldiers.
She always dons both because, "you never know which one you’re going to need that day."
Opposing players will need more than that.