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Portola’s Jadyn Zdanavage is on the move in many directions

Girls play lacrosse.
Jadyn Zdavanage breaks into the clear during a Portola High lacrosse match.
(Chris Bank)

An opposing coach yells out orders from the sideline as his players sprint in desperation to catch up to Jadyn Zdanavage’s streak of red hair weaving across the lacrosse field.

“Crash on her!” he commands. “Triple-team her. Quadruple-team her.”

Eventually, five Santa Ana Segerstrom High players circle Zdanavage. Her Irvine Portola High team is ahead 13-5 with 20 seconds left in this March 15 game, but that doesn’t matter. She wants another goal.

The ball nestled snugly in the curve of her stick’s net, Zdanavage cuts easily through the defenders. In a motion, she shifts the stick to her left hand, flings a shot and scores. It’s her eighth goal of the night.

Each of her Portola head coaches has a story about Zdanavage similar to this one that is told with awe by girls lacrosse coach Sofia David. Head coaches — plural. The next day, Zdanavage will train for lacrosse at 9 a.m., head to cross-country practice from 3:15 to 5 p.m. and then show up for basketball practice from 6 to 8 at night. In a month, she’ll begin running track. For the 16-year-old sophomore, being a four-sport athlete is a lifestyle.

And her coaches have never seen anything like it.

“She will go down as the best female athlete our school has ever had,” said Brian Barham, the basketball coach at Portola, which opened in 2016. “She’s shaping the culture of athletics at Portola.”

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Currently, Zdanavage is a varsity athlete in all four sports. She is Portola’s cross-country record-holder at three miles and won the Pacific Coast League final meet last year, coach Victor Quiros said. She’s also averaging more than double the number of goals per game than anyone else on the lacrosse team — 7.5 — in this young season.

So what drives Zdanavage to excel in multiple sports at once, to keep such a tight schedule, to — as she said — be the best at whatever she does?

Quiros has not asked Zdanavage that question. She’s just a “genuine person,” he said. The coach first met Zdanavage at Portola High’s eighth-grade athletics information night, having heard for two years about a runner with blazing hair and a gleaming smile.

The key to Zdanavage’s motivation lies in the stories told about her, such as Quiros’ testament to how she’s the best cheerleader for her teammates. How his freshmen speak of Zdanavage almost reverentially. How she shows up to each meet with hair bows for every member of the team.

“She makes every single person feel special,” Quiros said.

Zdanavage’s father, Corey, said he and her mother, Stephanie, first started enrolling their daughter in sports around second grade, not only for exercise but also social interaction since Zdanavage is an only child. Practices, her father said, were just another version of a playdate.

“I learned from a young age that when you play sports, the people who you are with, they really become your family almost immediately,” Corey Zdanavage said.

As Zdanavage grew up, sports came and went. She didn’t click with other members of the soccer team and dropped that by the fourth grade. She got bored with gymnastics. Volleyball was “too much standing around,” her father said.

But lacrosse, cross-country, track and basketball stuck. Zdanavage’s understanding of camaraderie only deepened with time, as she honed her individual skills shooting on the basketball hoop on the right side of her cramped backyard, while on the left practicing her draw controls for lacrosse with a pitchback.

As she was separated from her teammates for several months during the pandemic, Zdanavage had time to reflect on what drives her. She realized her motivation wasn’t solely internal but also came from being part of something — a team — that was greater than herself.

“When she is practicing with her teams, she has so much more energy and you can see the love of what’s going on, for what she’s playing,” her father said. “She’s done things in this lacrosse season in two games I have never seen before. And I think it’s all this pent-up energy and being able to play with purpose.”

Jadyn Zdavanage runs past the sign at Portola High.
(Stephanie Zdavanage )

Each of Zdanavage’s coaches remembers the distinct moment they met her. David recalled walking onto the field during a summer camp before Zdavanage’s freshman year and instantly seeing her athleticism was “shining compared to everyone else.”

Barham, just like Quiros, met her at a Portola eighth-grade information night.

“I went up and introduced myself, and I said, ‘Are you ready to play here?’” Barham said. “She said, ‘No, Coach. I’m ready to win here.’ And it gave me chills.”

Two years later, each coach raves about the impact Zdanavage has had on their programs. Her dedication and cross-training have set an example for others on the team, they all said. She’s been to only two lacrosse practices all year since its the same time slot as cross country, yet has completely changed the fortunes of the team.

Before Zdanavage’s arrival, Portola girls’ lacrosse program had a losing record, David said. Her freshman year, they went 4-2. They are 2-0 this spring.

“Even though she’s not with us for practice, we always look back on how she impacted our practices last year,” David said. “If there’s a move or dodge that I wanted to implement to one of my players, I kind of have Jadyn as an inspiration to say, ‘Hey, do you know how Jadyn does this a little bit?’ And then they’ll be like, ‘Oh, I get that.’”

Zdanavage also has the goal of maintaining straight A’s in school. There’s a key to balancing the workload, she said.

“I try to be present in the moment at all times,” Zdanavage said. “So when I’m doing my schoolwork, I know I need to stay focused. But then when I’m at practice, I know I need to stay focused as well.”

She has big dreams. Zdanavage hopes to continue her athletic career at the next level at Oregon or Washington. Although some might feel she’ll need to eventually choose between sports, Zdanavage is simply focused for now on staying in the present and pushing each of her teams to success. She wants to take her lacrosse team to the Southern Section playoffs, a realistic goal if her track record and start to the season is any indication.

“Everything that she touches at Portola turns into a CIF run,” Barham said.


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