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As Penn women's lacrosse finds itself in the national top ten yet again, the breakout season of senior attack Emily Rogers-Healion, including a team-high 18 assists, is a major reason why.

Credit: Alex Fisher

From a developmental standpoint, a collegiate athlete’s freshman season is critical. It is a time of learning by doing, developing skills, and getting an initial taste of college athletics. For those reasons, it is unsurprising to see some players fail to meet expectations after missing their freshmen season with injuries. That said, Penn women’s lacrosse’s top playmaker, senior attack Emily Rogers-Healion is a rare glowing success story after missing her entire freshman season.

Recruited from Ward Melville High School in Setauket, New York, Rogers-Healion was brought in to aid an offense that already featured proven attackers like Iris Williamson, Tory Bensen, Nina Corcoran, and Catherine Dickinson.

Given the strength and depth of the team’s attack – which scored just under 10 goals per game in 2013 – it was unclear how much playing time Rogers-Healion would see as a freshman. Coach Karin Corbett was confident in her abilities to someday start for the team.

“Recruiting Emily we felt that way. We liked her vision. We saw that as a recruit she could be a really good feeder,” Corbett said.

Perhaps it was because of all of Rogers-Healion’s potential that the team was dealt such a devastating blow when the Setauket, NY native had to miss her entire freshman campaign with a concussion.

Given the neurological impacts that concussions can have on a person, physical and also mental recovery were at the forefront for Rogers-Healion while sidelined. Fortunately, she had a support group of her own in injured teammates.

“Luckily, there was a group of us that were together, injured, my freshman year. It made the process of watching a lot easier,” Rogers-Healion said. “Being with people also going through something really tough is helpful.”

For the coaches, it was imperative to ensure that time away from the playing field does not equate to a year without any development. Corbett, having coached plenty of injured players over the years, ensured that no player would lose out on the opportunity to learn.

“We want to make sure they’re paying attention in the drills, watching video with the team so they can hear a lot of teaching points.”

On top of that, Rogers-Healion worked with then-sophomore McKenzie Hunt on stick skills. Hunt, also an injured attack, would stay on the sidelines working on her stick skills to make up for her lost season. That ultimately helped Rogers-Healion raise her game heading into her sophomore year.

The 2015 season, Rogers-Healion’s sophomore campaign, would be the attacker’s first on-field collegiate lacrosse action. Adapting to a steep learning curve, Rogers-Healion was thankful for her teammates’ help and understanding throughout the return process.

“It was tough at first but luckily everyone was really patient with me and gave me the time I needed to catch up to the pace everyone was at.”

Rogers-Healion recalls her own personal difficulties and struggles with entering the lineup as a sophomore. To her, the return process felt slow. To her teammates, she hadn’t missed a beat. Teammate and junior attacker Caroline Cummings had rave reviews for Rogers-Healion’s debut.

“She came back from her injury very strong,” Cummings said. “It was really impressive how quickly she was able to get into college play after her injury.”

In her sophomore season, Rogers-Healion saw the field in a limited role but made an impact on numerous occasions. Appearing in 14 games, the feeder scored six goals and added six helpers.

Those numbers are impressive for a sophomore attack coming off the bench. For it to be Rogers-Healion’s first season playing only reinforced what Corbett knew all along, that she had starting potential.

With that performance, Rogers-Healion had made her case for extended playing time in 2015-16, her junior season. She would play in all 20 games and make 12 starts, finishing fifth on the team in points (with 34) and catching fire as the season wound down.

The Quakers returned to the Ivy League throne in 2016 and would go on to make it to the NCAA Quarterfinals. The attack, driven in large part by program legend Nina Corcoran, was a well-oiled machine. Rogers-Healion also played a role in that.

Still, if Rogers-Healion wanted to become an impactful full-time starter, she would need to change how she saw herself as a player.

“She was comfortable being a role player last year, albeit a big one, because that’s how she saw herself,” Corbett said.

Heading into her senior season, Rogers-Healion had taken her feedback from coaches and assessed herself from there. She saw herself as having more to give as a feeder, but also wanted to develop as a goal-scorer. The goal was to develop into a more balanced attacker.

Rogers-Healion’s first-look as a cutter in 2017, Cummings marveled at her teammate’s development over the years as a feeder, albeit not in the quarterbacking role that Corcoran had played in 2016 from behind the net.

“Emily’s the feeder, I’m the cutter. Emily’s learning how to feed most efficiently so having this feeder-cutter relationship has been tremendous. She’s taking on Nina’s role [as a playmaker] in stride and I’m excited to see what she has left.”

Corbett also had high regards for the senior’s improving playmaking ability.

“She ended up with a good amount of assists last year,” Corbett said. “Losing Nina, she knew that she needed to be somebody that we wanted the ball in her stick. She makes really good decisions.”

“She’s very strong when she gets double-teamed and her vision is good on a haphazard play. She’s grown into the player we knew she would be.”

Despite the kind words from her teammates and coaches, Rogers-Healion’s development as a player was not finished. She wanted to help the team score goals and that meant looking for the shot more often than she had in the past.

“I’ve struggled a lot with becoming someone who is goal-oriented. The way I’ve always played is wanting to be someone who makes plays for other people. I get a lot of joy out of that,” Rogers-Healion said.

However, she knew that the team needed goals and that she could be the one to provide those goals. The results of that new line of thinking speak for themselves.

Taking a more balanced approach in 2017, Rogers-Healion is having her best season yet. Last year, Rogers-Healion had 17 goals and 17 assists in 20 games (starting 12). This year, she has started in all 12 of the team’s games and has 21 goals and 19 assists, in a three-way tie for the point lead. As Coach Corbett recognizes, Rogers-Healion has only gotten better since the season’s start.

“In the first couple games, her points and her shots are not a lot,” Corbett said. “We needed her to see herself as more of a big player, somebody who can draw the slides, score, and feed, but not just be a feeder, because she has the ability to score and dodge and she has really taken that on and you can see that in how she attacks the goal and how many shots she’s getting in a game.”

Given her selflessness as a playmaker, it is to no surprise that Rogers-Healion extends her role as a helper to player development. Cummings is quick to notice the work that her teammate has done in helping to show her freshmen teammates the ropes.

“She has grown tremendously. She has taken the freshmen underneath her wings and helped them grow. She has helped them to be more implemented in our attack,” Cummings said. “She’s kind of the point guard of our attack.”

Rogers-Healion is fond of the freshman class and sees great talent and potential from the 10 underclassmen. Luckily for the entire program, that abnormally large class has quite the mentor, as Rogers-Healion has made it her duty to be as supportive towards these freshmen as her upperclassmen were towards her.

“Being injured my freshman year was really difficult for me in many ways – I struggled emotionally and physically. Because I had such a difficult time, I wanted to make sure that nobody else was in that situation or to try and pull out as much confidence as [they could exude].”