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Unselfish Hallberg uses speed to lead Hawks

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Mill Creek's junior Emily Hallberg is the girls lacrosse captain for the second straight year and is among the Hawks top scorers.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Mill Creek's junior Emily Hallberg is the girls lacrosse captain for the second straight year and is among the Hawks top scorers.

If Mill Creek lacrosse head coach Brian Williamson has any complaint about Emily Hallberg, it's that she's too unselfish sometimes.

"When I have to get onto her, it's not because she's doing something wrong," Williamson said. "It's encouraging her to be more aggressive, to take the shots more often.

"Because she'll dish it off, she's just that kind of player. She's a big-time team player. Sometimes you'll maybe not even notice her, not because she isn't playing well, just because she's not jamming it in the goal."

Hallberg is working on it.

"I just don't want to be seen as a ball-hog," the junior said. "I want everyone to have an opportunity."

One of the fastest players in any game she's in, Hallberg can absolutely put the ball in the net. She routinely scores four and five goals in a game. But there may be other games where she doesn't have any.

"Either way, when we don't have her, we miss her," Williamson said. "She has a great stick and she has a ton of speed."

Hallberg also prides herself on her defense.

"Especially one-on-one," she said. "People have a hard time getting past me, so I have good footwork. I also pass the ball a lot. I won't be selfish. I only take goals when I know I have it."

Playing on Gwinnett's highest-ranked team -- the Hawks are 12-1 and No. 6 in the state -- means Hallberg has a lot of options when it comes to passing the ball. Mill Creek is rolling through its schedule and expects to improve on last year's playoff run. The Hawks advanced to the second round last season, winning the first girls playoff game in Gwinnett County history before running into the buzz-saw that is Milton lacrosse.

"We learned so much from that Milton game," Hallberg said. "And we got killed."

Playing in tough games or tight games is what she likes best. Hallberg is a pressure player, which might, like her footwork, be because she used to be a serious gymnast.

Hallberg started gymnastics as a 6-year-old and only quit at 13 when a foot injury sidelined her.

"What I really loved about it was the tumbling," Hallberg said.

Because of that, she briefly took up competitive cheerleading. It just didn't click for her though and, in eighth grade, her mom was asked to help a friend coach a lacrosse team.

"My mom said, 'Sure, I'll sign my daughter up,'" Hallberg said. "And I fell in love with it."

Hallberg was lucky to be in the Mill Creek district. The Hawks hired Williamson nearly five years ago with the intention of starting up a varsity lacrosse program. The first season was Hallberg's freshman year. Mill Creek made the playoffs the first year and then made more progress last season with Hallberg already one of its co-captains as a sophomore.

Like the program, Hallberg continues to improve.

"She's always been one of our faster players, but she's gotten progressively faster," Williamson said. "She's one of the fastest females I've ever seen run and move in years of coaching a variety of sports.

"She was a good player as a freshman, started. She started as a sophomore and, looking back, it's hard to believe she's gotten better. She was good then. She's even better now."

Hallberg rarely turns down a chance to play. She plays all year, including during the summer for the Milton Eagle Stix.

"She'll just get an email from a random team and go play," Williamson said. "She went and played some scrimmage game with Alpharetta because they were short players. People know her. They know her name, they know her speed and her talent.

"Her stick, her right and left hand, she's just gotten so much more ambidextrous. It's hard to tell which one is dominant sometimes. She's just a complete player. She's one of those players you wish all 12 played the game like she does."

It's not just because of Hallberg's efforts on the field that Williamson lauds her.

She's a straight-A student. She's heavily involved in her church and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. She comes out to help coach the feeder teams of 11- and 13-year-old girls.

"She's very encouraging at practice," Williamson said. "If you were standing around watching, you would hear her, 'Good job, so-and-so, good job.' She's that player encouraging everyone.

"She's just a role model."

Hallberg is devoted to the sport and wants to play in college. There's some convincing to be done with the South just recently emerging as a fertile field for player development.

"Most coaches are looking for girls from the North," Hallberg said. "(The Eagle Stix) beat like all the Northern teams we play. They're like 'Georgia? This team is from Georgia?'"

Hallberg has yet to figure out what college she might go to.

"I'm basically interested in anyone who would be interested in me," she said. "The only thing is, I want to try to stay in-state. I want to try to get HOPE because I have a really good GPA. But the teams here aren't really that developed yet. I don't know. I'm still confused on what I want to do. I'm still emailing tons of coaches."

She has time though -- and plenty to play for until then."This season is going really, really well. I'm really proud of everyone," Hallberg said. "I think we could definitely be there (with the perennial powers). Because everyone works so much harder over the summer just to get better. I think we could do it. It'd be hard, but I think we could definitely hang with them this year."