Season, interrupted

May 7, 2020

Sports, Voices

Women’s lacrosse was undefeated and ranked 10th in one national poll when the season was abruptly canceled on a Friday in March. Head coach Allison Kwolek talks about leading her team through the sudden change.

Interview by Matthew Dewald

You were having a great season when everything was called off. What made this such a good year for you?
We had a solid group of returners who had experienced back-to-back championships, and we had two transfers who came in and made an immediate impact. Then you add in a very talented freshman class that was ready to go from the start. That combination was a catalyst to a promising season.

We also had a fall season where they saw a lot of success against great competition. We had a lot of confidence going into the spring season.

Can you walk me through learning that the season was officially canceled?
At the end of Wednesday morning practice that week, I told the team that I was still optimistic that we’d move forward with our season. By Wednesday afternoon, the Ivy League had canceled spring seasons. With more cancellations that night, I knew that it was only a matter of time.

On Thursday morning, I told them that things had shifted so much that we were just trying to make it to Saturday to play one more game.

When the NCAA tweeted on Friday that it had canceled spring championships, I called the team for a meeting and told them that our season was most likely going to be over.

So you never even made it to Saturday?
No, we didn’t. I was thankful that we had Friday. We already had a catered meal because of spring break, so I said, “We’re going to have a final team lunch together, celebrate our season, and spend that time with each other.”

The coaches and underclassmen put together a little senior day for our seniors. We had flowers for them, and the underclassmen made posters to try to give them a senior day that they weren’t going to get in April.

It had to be particularly bittersweet for the seniors. What was your message for them?
I told them that they’ve had a huge impact since their freshman year and have contributed so much to the program on and off the field. They narrowly lost the A-10 championship as freshmen and then won their sophomore and junior years. They injected such great energy into the program.

I also said that I know that when they leave Richmond, they’ll have the skills to be highly successful.  They should be really proud of what they’ve done.

How did your conversations with players shift after the initial shock wore off?
Well, obviously we are all apart now, so it’s more like how we communicate in the summertime and over winter break. They’re back home and enjoying time with their families and loved ones.

Their days have changed so much. As players, they didn’t have any downtime. It’s such a 180 for them. I’ve heard from parents that they’re really sad to see the season end, but they’re also happy to have their daughters home.

What are some of the lasting lessons that you hope your players are learning through this?
This puts things in perspective, and life is bigger than lacrosse. As athletes, they’re used to making sacrifices, and I think they understand that they’re making a sacrifice for the health of the nation. It’s tough that this is unraveling for everybody right now, but I do think that they have that perspective.

What advice do you have for coaches who might have to go through some sudden change like this in the future?
The biggest thing is that the players know you care about them and that you’re here for them. That has been the most important thing.

It’s normal to be afraid to say the wrong thing, but as long as you’re conveying that you’re here to support them, that’s what matters the most.