For the Slippery Rock University women’s lacrosse team and head coach Kelsey Van Alstyne, this spring is all about starting anew.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, things look a lot different for the team in Van Alstyne’s fourth year. However, this is a challenge that she is excited for as the team finally looks to get back on the field.
“I was really stressed out when I had my baby, because I didn’t know what was going to happen with my program and by the end of the semester, I was very proud and excited at how much the team came together,” Van Alstyne said.
Van Alstyne returned from maternity leave in November, but that left the team without any staff on campus since the former assistant coach, Sarah Lamphier, left for a new job in June of last year. During her absence, she feels that the upperclassmen and captains stepped up big time.
“[This past semester] was a whole different experience for the girls with COVID and what we were allowed to do and not having any coaches on campus, so it’s been pretty hard and there’s been some frustration, but there were also some positives to come out of it,” Van Alstyne said.
Luckily, all the freshmen were able to be on campus and live together, something that Van Alstyne thinks will be really important to getting them back on the field and meshing together. Some of the players were able to work out together at the ARC, which in the long run may mean a lot to a team that, like many others, is just getting to know each other again.
To add to that fresh start, there is also a new assistant coach whom Van Alstyne has worked with before and someone she considers to be a close friend: Taryn Burkholder, who for the past three years was a head coach herself. She took over at Morrisville for Van Alstyne when she left and won the conference title (regular season and tournament) both years that there were full seasons before COVID-19. Van Alstyne has recruited her before, and when the two of them have had a team together, they have been able to make special things happen.
“The team was awesome, we have a GroupMe chat and they were getting weekly pictures of my baby girl and we did very few zoom calls, because I decided this was my time with my child,” Van Alstyne said. “These are adult girls and they’ve been with me for three years and they knew what needed to get done, so it was very hands-off and I’m not used to that.”
Van Alstyne had thoughts of shortening her maternity leave, but after long consideration she decided that she wanted to take advantage of the time she had with her baby. When she returned to in-person, she had a lot more meetings with her players and was able to get back to a version of what she’s used to. But she feels that the players who stepped up last semester are a major reason for how smoothly things went, even though the circumstances were anything but normal.
“I think it’s everything; we do a lot off the field when it comes to mental health and working together, but I think that [those leaders] are very important to the culture of this team,” Van Alstyne said. “And I think that what they’ve done will be extremely important to this upcoming season.”
This season will consist of many new starts for this team, from new players to new experiences.
Though, another thing that is new for this season is the turf in the stadium, which the women’s lacrosse team will be the first to play on. They did not get to play on the field last season as it was not finished before the season was canceled. The team will also be wearing new uniforms, so by the time they get back on the field, they will have a completely different look than just 365 days ago.
The Rock will look to get back to the postseason this year in an odd year. They missed out on the playoffs two years ago, finishing 7-9 overall. That season was the first ever losing season that Van Alstyne had as a head coach, and last year the team started out 2-3 before things were shut down.
“My biggest hope for this season is that we get to play every game on our schedule, and that there is no COVID outbreaks with us or with teams that we play on schedule and we can compete and hopefully make the PSAC playoff,” Van Alstyne said. “I hope it’s the closest thing to a normal season that we can have and that this attitude of being grateful for everyday continues, because it’s been some of the most enjoyable days of coaching I’ve ever had.”