NISKAYUNA — Niskayuna High School sophomores Luisa Arana and Manuela Cabrera knew they wanted to play a spring sport as part of their final months of their stay in the United States.
The choice for the two exchange students from Spain: softball or lacrosse.
Arana and Cabrera knew more about softball . . . but they also remembered how much fun lacrosse had looked in one of their favorite TV shows, “Gossip Girl,” when one of the show’s main characters had played the sport.
“So we were like, ‘We’re trying out for lacrosse because the show made it look more fun,’ ” Cabrera said with a laugh. “We feel like we would fit better with lacrosse.”
They jumped into the opportunity with both feet.
“The two of them came over to me the Friday before tryouts and said, ‘We’ve never played the sport before; what do we do?’ ” Niskayuna girls’ JV lacrosse coach Meghan Kirwan said. “I told them, ‘I can supply you guys with equipment. Come ready to hustle, ready to learn and be coachable.’ ”
The pair of 15-year-olds are two of seven exchange students taking classes this school year at Niskayuna High School as part of the International Scholars Program, now in its eighth year at the high school. This year’s group includes two students from China and five from Spain.
The pair did not disappoint in a sport that was foreign to them.
“It seems like teenage girls are the same everywhere; they fit in so great, they are so awesome,” Kirwan said. “I am so happy to have them. They showed up on the first day of tryouts ready to go.”
Both had to adjust to the nuances of the sport.
“Catching the ball and running at the same time is tough,” Arana said. “Learning how to coordinate your hands and feet, I think that’s the toughest.”
Arana was named one of the JV team’s captains this season.
“She has such a great attitude. She’s so positive. She’s encouraging to all the other girls,” Kirwan said. “She plays basketball, so the setup offensively and defensively are pretty similar. She’s picked that up pretty quickly. As a midfielder, she sees both ends of the field very well.”
Each exchange student lives with a local host family during the school year, and becomes part of a new community. Arana and Cabrera, though, quickly grew a bond.
“I got here two weeks before Luisa,” Cabrera said. “I was so happy I had her. It was going to make me feel more comfortable. I was like, ‘Let’s hang out until we meet more people.’ It was better to not feel alone.”
Cabrera, who is from Madrid, is hosted by the Eldaye family — parents Claude and Erin Eldaye, and children Gabe, a Daily Gazette basketball all-area team member this past winter, and Meagan, who plays on the Niskayuna girls’ varsity soccer team — in Niskayuna. Arana, from the city of Bilbao, is hosted by the Casella family in Alplaus.
“We were nervous, we wanted to make sure Manuela was comfortable with us, our family our two dogs,” Erin Eldaye said. “I think they [Cabrera and Arana] are comfortable now, finding their niche, making all these great friends.”
Both students are active in sports in Spain, but not at the high school level.
“Sports in school is not really a thing,” Arana said. “People play them, but it’s in clubs. I play basketball, tennis and I boxed during the summer.”
Cabrera has danced throughout her life and was part of the Silver Warriors’ football cheerleading squad in the fall.
“I wanted to do something related to it; fortunately, I got on the cheer team,” Cabrera said. “I was so excited. We don’t have anything like it in Spain.”
Just as lacrosse was new to Cabrera and Arana, their native language was new to most of their team.
“They’ve been teaching us Spanish, so we’ve been thinking about making some of our plays in Spanish to throw off other teams and incorporate a little bit more of their culture,” Kirwan said.
The junior varsity season ends this week for Cabrera and Arana. Then, the countdown begins for the school year to end and the duo to return to Spain.
“I will miss my lacrosse team, my friends, my host family and some special people that I met here,” Cabrera said.
The pair will be able to share memories of their year in the Niskayuna Central School District and also bring back something new to introduce to their friends — lacrosse.
“Some people are like, ‘What’s that?’ ” Arana said of her friends back home in Spain. “When I tell them it’s from ‘Gossip Girl,’ they understand. I told them, ‘When I go back, I’m going to teach you!’ ”