It started off as a joke. After all, Hannah Graves was a high school freshman at the time, playing mostly with older girls, so of course she was going to get teased.
A teammate, noticing that Graves was the shortest player on the team, affectionately and amusingly dubbed her Hobbit, one of the diminutive characters in the J.R.R. Tolkien novels and the subsequent movies. It was meant in fun and everyone had a good laugh.
And then, wouldn’t you know, the nickname stuck.
Even today, said Graves, a 2016 graduate of Glacier Peak High School, “people on my lacrosse team only call me Hobbit. One of my best friends goes back and forth because I was friends with her before (getting the nickname), but for everyone else it’s Hobbit. Even some of my close friends that don’t play lacrosse use it interchangeably.”
And if someone actually calls out Hannah, her given name, at practice or in a game, “half the time I won’t even turn around because I’m just not used to hearing it,” she said.
Graves is indeed small compared to her peers — she is 5 feet, 1¾ inches, “though I like to say I’m 5-2” — but on the lacrosse field few players stand taller. An attacker with the Snohomish lacrosse team this past season, she not only played well enough to be named one of four high school All-Americans from the state of Washington, she was also the state’s first winner of the prestigious Jackie Pitts Award. The honor recognizes an elite group of seniors from across the country for their abilities in lacrosse, their contributions to growing the game in their communities, and their achievements as students in academics and citizenship.
“She’s just a bit of a thing,” said Snohomish coach Christine Ryan, whose team includes athletes from Snohomish, Glacier Peak, Lake Stevens, Marysville Pilchuck, Monroe and Archbishop Murphy high schools. “But even though she’s a very small player, she’s as fast as anything and she’s super tenacious. She’s just an unbelievable athlete.
“I think she’s learned to make (her size) an advantage rather than a disadvantage,” Ryan added.
“And she’s tough too. She gets tossed around (in games) because she’s small, but she bounces right back up every time.”
Graves started playing lacrosse when she was 7, largely because her father was competing in a men’s league. She also played soccer as a younger girl, but eventually had to make a choice between the two.
It turned out to be no choice at all.
“I was always way better at lacrosse than I was at soccer, and that’s probably because I put way more work into lacrosse than I did into soccer,” she explained.
“It’s weird because soccer was with all my friends and lacrosse was with a bunch of people that I didn’t go to school with, so one would think I would’ve liked soccer more.”
But in the end, she said, “I was ready to not play soccer. I just loved playing lacrosse.”
The appeal, she went on, is that lacrosse “is different from what everybody does around here. You don’t find a ton of people in the Northwest that play lacrosse. It’s really complicated, but at the same time it’s like a lot of other sports. With the fundamentals of how you run plays and how you play defense, it mirrors other sports like basketball really well.”
Graves, who also plays for a Seattle-area club team, helped Snohomish to a 9-5 record this past season and a spot in the state playoffs, where the team reached the quarterfinals. She led Snohomish in scoring with 62 goals, an average of 4.4 per game.
But those goals do not come easily. As an attacker she is constantly getting banged, whacked and otherwise punished by defenders, with all of them bigger — and some much bigger — than she is.
“I end up on the ground more than anybody else on our team,” she said. “There’s an ongoing joke about it. And there are some games when I just get destroyed. But I’ve gotten used to it and itdoesn’t really hurt most of the time.”
Graves had opportunities to play at the NCAA Division I level, but never found a school that felt quite right athletically and academically. She instead decided to attend Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California, a Division III athletic program, but a school with a strong academic reputation. With a 3.96 high school grade-point average, she intends to study neuroscience or perhaps biology as an undergraduate with medical school as the eventual goal. She hopes to have a career as a neurologist, either in research or clinical work.
As she goes forward, both in the classroom and certainly in lacrosse, she seems likely to make an impact.
“Here in Washington she’s pretty well known in lacrosse, so people don’t view her size as something that’s going to impede her ability,” Ryan said. “I think when she goes into a bit of a bigger pond, she’ll probably be underestimated because of her size, but she’ll easily prove people wrong.
“She has a motor on her that’s just non-stop. She just plays hard the entire time and I think she’s going to do really good things at the next level.”