Sep. 19, 2017

The Ongoing International Journey of Batten's Star Lacrosse Alumna Daniela Eppler

A year out of Batten, graduate Daniela Cecilia Eppler found herself deep into international lacrosse, her Team Mexico facing off against Spain. Just minutes into their match, Eppler assisted with her country’s first goal in the game to tie the score 1-1. Mexico prevailed, 8-7.

The win, Mexico’s first in international women’s lacrosse, was one of three victories for Team Mexico at the 2017 FIL Rathbones Women’s Lacrosse World Cup.

Daniela Eppler, left, at the World Cup (photo courtesy of Abraham Piña, photographer of Team Mexico)

The wins in this past summer’s competition were “a big accomplishment for us,” recalled Eppler. Mexico also defeated Belgium and Colombia.

“Mexico was the first Latin American country to ever to win an international women’s lacrosse game. It was a pretty cool experience just to have those victories, and the growth of the team was pretty incredible, considering that a lot of the girls had never really played before.”

Eppler, center (photo courtesy of Abraham Piña, photographer of Team Mexico)

(Another Cavalier also competing in the World Cup was Daniela Kelly, now a 4th-year player on the UVA women’s lacrosse team, who played for Italy’s squad.)

Eppler finished 10th in points overall among the 286 players who competed on 25 teams in World Cup play. Eppler scored 27 goals and had 2 assists.

Due to her extensive lacrosse experience, Eppler served as the player-coach of the team, along with head coach Diego Valdivia and assistant coach William Eigo.

Eppler, 32, named MVP of the game against Colombia, holds aloft the trophy doll traditionally given to the top player of each match (photo courtesy of Abraham Piña)

Following Eppler’s outstanding career at UVA, the victories by Mexico provided further evidence that her skill and commitment remain as strong as when she started for the Cavaliers.

“Her competitive spirit is always on, but the passion, intensity and freeness she played with always felt different than most others,” said UVA women’s lacrosse head coach Julie Myers.

“She wants to win and works to win, but she wants the effort to come from everyone that she is competing with and against…so that the ‘battle’ is balanced, competitive, and successful—where you get something out of it for everyone—but where she comes up on top.”

Eppler at UVA (photo courtesy of VirginiaSports)

Eppler’s rich lacrosse experience started with her school years in Baltimore, where she graduated from Roland Park Country School, and continued into her stellar career at the University of Virginia, where she started every game for four years.

She benefitted from solid coaching, at high school and on a local club lacrosse team, with a strong emphasis on academics.

“I learned a ton at high school, and I had great coaches in high school, but I (also) learned so much from my club team, Skywalkers Lacrosse, to play lacrosse just because you love it. The club team also honed in on the importance of academics.

“I have always studied very hard, and my parents really were instrumental in me focusing on my studies. And the director of the club, Michael McLaughlin, was very adamant about both loving the game and succeeding in the classroom, which was something I really identified with.”

There were not professional lacrosse opportunities then, and “even now your don’t really get paid enough to have it as a career, so it was really important for Michael McLaughlin that his players understood that, yes, lacrosse was great, and that we should play because we love it, but it was also important to him that we understood the importance of academics, as well, so that we would have a bright future after graduating from college.”

The same commitment to academics and athletics proved true for her college years.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better experience, as an athlete, being part of a better team, with more supportive coaches or teammates—I couldn’t have asked for a better experience than I had at UVA.

“That played a huge role in my ability to pursue two things that I really love. I’ve always loved academics. I’ve always been interested in learning. I’ve been a hard worker in the classroom. I’ve really enjoyed the academic aspect of my experience at the University.

“But, at the same time, I love sports, and they are something that I am extremely passionate about. I think that having the two—loving both things so equally—I think that was key to my success, because I was willing to work hard both on the field and in the classroom.

“Having that support system behind me, from my teammates and my coaches, really allowed me to be successful in the two.”

That support system helped Eppler secure her new opportunity to be a player and coach at Durham University in England. Eppler will be a student-athlete enrolled in the International Social Work and Community Development master’s degree program. She will play for Durham University’s women’s lacrosse team, and also will coach some of the other women’s lacrosse teams at the university. “They have many (teams) at different skill levels,” she said.

“Julie Myers and Lindsay Rogers, an assistant women’s lacrosse coach at UVA, were very instrumental in my getting this opportunity to go to Durham. They were at the World Cup, and they came to a number of my games to watch me play, and they knew I was interested” to continue in lacrosse. They connected Eppler with the head of the women’s lacrosse program at Durham, “and so that’s really how I got the opportunity, which is pretty cool.”

Eppler’s coaching abilities are strengthened by her ability to play multiple positions. As Myers recalled, Eppler was a defender in her first two seasons, and then “moved to the midfield her final two years.”

“She is one of the most competitive people I know. She worked at her maximum year round and stayed healthy. She had some injuries that she pushed through, so she didn’t play without pain, but the pain of not playing would have been greater!”

Eppler has left her New York City job at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, where she provided transfer pricing consulting services. She expects to start at Durham in early October.

But Eppler will remain connected to lacrosse in both the United States and Mexico.

Next summer she will play professionally for the New York City Fight of the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League (WPLL).

This will be Eppler’s second season in professional lacrosse. Another U.S. professional women’s lacrosse league, the United Women’s Lacrosse League, just completed its second summer of competition. Eppler played for that league’s Philadelphia Force team this past summer.

Also next summer, Eppler will serve as coach of Mexico’s Under-19 women’s lacrosse team, which expects play in the World Cup competition next year. “There need to be enough players; it’s a work in progress,” she said of the new team. She looks forward to coaching for in Mexico next summer, while returning to the United States to play in professional games with the New York City Fight.

Eppler is one of three UVA graduates recently chosen in the inaugural draft class for the WPLL, which selected 100 players for five teams. Alumna Morgan Stephens is with the Baltimore Brave, and alumna Casey Bocklet will play for the Philadelphia Fire.

Eppler, Stephens, Bocklet and the league’s other players will be recognized publicly Sept. 30 at the U.S. Lacrosse headquarters at Sparks, Md. The players will take the field during the Inaugural Weekend, at a Showcase Game and Legends Celebration.

At UVA, Eppler earned a bachelor of arts degree in Foreign Policy before entering Batten to earn her master’s degree in Public Policy. Her applied policy project for her degree was “Battling Water Scarcity in Xilitla, San Luis Potosi, Mexico: Solutions to Bring Water to Rural Communities.”

Epper worked with a non-profit organization, Ecoparadigma, and its executive director, Dr. Adrian Figueroa, to conduct her research and policy analysis, and met with Figueroa in Xilitla.

Eppler’s interest in social issues in Mexico began years ago, when she would visit the country with her brother, John, and her mother, Cecilia, who would travel to Mexico City to perform neuroscience research in low-income area hospitals. Cecilia Eppler is of Mexican heritage. Eppler’s father, John, is a physician from Baltimore; he played for three years on the UVA men’s lacrosse team before devoting more time to pre-medicine studies.

Myers summed up Eppler’s abilities this way: “What makes Daniela Daniela is she is the best combination of fiery, intense, driven, smart, athletic and goofy—all rolled together. She holds herself to the highest of standards—on the field and in the classroom—but she finds fun and laughter along the way. It is truly awesome and unique.”

Recalling Eppler’s play with the Mexico team this past summer, Myers cited her skills as “a player, a leader, and an on-field coach to a young and relatively inexperienced team. She found ways to help her team compete—and, most importantly, found ways to help her teammates contribute to the team’s success. She encouraged, directed, and moved the ball through them as she set her teammates up to make a play and/or finish the shot. She stayed with them, behind them, and, yet, in front of them by setting the tone and leading the way.

“The inclusivity of her presence made me as proud of Daniela as I’ve ever been. She did what most others would not have been able to do. And you know what? She made it fun for herself, the team, and all the families that came to watch Mexico step onto the WC stage.”

Eppler expects her dedication to lacrosse to continue for decades.

“What has really driven me to play lacrosse my whole life and has fueled my commitment is my love for the sport. I truly love lacrosse, the game itself, the competitiveness of it, and the relationships that I have created because of it.

“That is what drove me to train as hard as I did and to always give 100 percent of my effort. I have always loved the sport, and that love only became stronger during my time at Virginia. Throughout my whole life, even once I am too old to play, I am confident I will always find a way to continue to have lacrosse in my life, one way or another.”

 (photos courtesy of Eppler; Abraham Piña, photographer of Team Mexico; and VirginiaSports)