After nearly two years of preparation, the inaugural UChicago women’s varsity lacrosse team is poised to compete. The team is a mosaic of unique zeal and talent that stems from the passion of the players and coaches. While the team is young, with a majority of first-years, their youthful energy has made their preseason truly fruitful. As trailblazers for UChicago’s foray into the world of varsity women’s lacrosse, all involved are set on making a terrific impact.
The team’s formation derives from a combination of efforts of several alumnae and perfect timing. Franny Franklin (’16), Alexa Bieler (’17), and Katie Mott (’18) were members of the women’s club lacrosse team who pushed and worked for the University to form an official varsity team. Their efforts paid off in 2016 when the University had to add another varsity women’s sport. As the fastest-growing sport in the country, lacrosse was the perfect answer to this need. Since then, the University has worked to assemble a team built on UChicago’s academic rigor and a love for the game.
In 2017, the University hired coach Kate Robinson, a seasoned coach from Whitman College. Robinson played DIII lacrosse at Catholic University of America before starting her coaching career. Since being hired, Robinson spearheaded recruitment and arrangements for the team’s first season. She spent the 2017–18 academic year training with the club team while simultaneously recruiting for the upcoming varsity season. Robinson explained, “It was a smooth transition to this program due to support from the athletic department and administration of the University. I worked with the club team for a year before the varsity team was formed. I also had a year to recruit which was great as some programs do not get this.”
Sixteen girls were recruited to the program for its inaugural season. They were initially attracted to combination of the program’s high energy and UChicago’s intellectual environment. Kathleen Harrigan, a first-year defender from Syracuse, New York, commented, “UChicago was the best opportunity for me to study and be successful while also playing for a team with awesome coaches who care about the program.” The unique lacrosse experience UChicago offered was heightened by the factor of being on an inaugural team. Ali Sheehy, a first-year midfielder from Farmington High School in Connecticut, explained, “I knew I wanted to play at a school that promised an academically rigorous environment. Ultimately I was passionate about the opportunity to play the sport I love while also influencing the foundation and values of a program.”
The team is heightened by the presence of six upperclassmen from the club lacrosse team. The adjustment from club to varsity was eased by Robinson’s work with last year’s club team. Furthermore, these girls are eager to take on the challenges presented by competing at the varsity level. Captain Maya De Jonge commented, “We’re all new so we all work together to figure out what the standards and attitude of the team should be. The recruits bring positive energy to the team. We all vibe really well together.” These girls offer a source of guidance and leadership to the frontier-esque atmosphere of the team. First-years turn to them, on and off the field, for help and advice. Sheehy explained, “Upperclassmen help us figure out the ropes of UChicago like adding and dropping classes. All of us complement each other on and off the field. On the field, our combined strength and skills are great.”
The team has tremendous energy due to its unique composition. In most programs, first-years do not have starting roles from the beginning of their season. However, due to this year being the team’s first season, first-years have a slew of opportunities to test themselves and take on responsibility. First-years will play starting positions and help cement the team’s image. Harrigan observed, “In high school when you were a first-year on varsity you felt small and powerless. Now that we’re the majority there’s a lot of responsibility on us. It’s really empowering.” Even with the challenge of practicing around Chicago’s recent extreme weather, team members continue to be mentally tough. De Jonge commented, “We have positivity and smiles practicing through the cold weather. People are good-natured about the conditions and continue to work really hard.”
The team’s drive and work had built up to their upcoming first game against DePauw. For five months they’ve trained and lifted tirelessly, putting in six practices and three lift sessions a week in their regular season. Practices are catalyzed by the unique dynamic of the young energy and strong coaching staff. Sheehy noted, “It’s amazing to play and reignite our love for the game. We’re in such a daunting, but welcoming environment for lacrosse.” The team is focused on developing strong culture and chemistry for the program. All members are dedicated to creating an energetic and stimulating foundation to the year and team. With these goals, the players and coaches have taken their first strides into the frontier of varsity women’s lacrosse.
The women’s lacrosse team will play its first game on Stagg Field on February 23 against DePauw at 1 p.m.