Penn women’s lacrosse is back in Philadelphia, but with barred access to athletic facilities and Franklin Field, the team's return to a familiar structure of normal practice and play remains indefinitely postponed.
The team is currently living in off-campus homes among teammates of the same class, including the freshmen. However, a complete team reunion has yet to occur.
Only around mid-October did the coaches receive approval to meet with players in person. Until then, contact between the coaching staff and players was limited solely to virtual meetings.
The freshmen were introduced to the rest of the team in the spring through Zoom. Small group calls of around seven players each allowed the rookies a chance to meet teammates, and larger group meetings with the coaches and staff helped familiarize them with the atmosphere and chemistry of the team.
Since arriving in Philadelphia for the fall semester, the team has been arranging lunch buddies every week to further develop individual relationships. Players have been partnered with a different teammate each week for a meal as a chance to talk and get to know one another in an environment outside of lacrosse.
“The upperclassmen [have] all been so welcoming and helpful in having us transition,” freshman midfielder Sophie Davis said. “They’ve been really inclusive, and they’ve given us great pointers.”
For incoming freshmen, the process of adjusting and finding their groove within the team is already difficult on its own. Coach Karin Corbett, who has maintained Penn women’s lacrosse in nationally elite standing for 21 seasons, recognizes how the absence of in-person practice or contact with the coaches has compounded this challenge for newcomers.
“Some kids feel really comfortable on the field, and they lead by example,” Corbett said. “They get that opportunity to show how hard they’ve worked, their work ethic, and their leadership … and [the freshmen] don’t have that opportunity.”
Yet despite these setbacks, Corbett has been able to recognize impressive drive and initiative within her players.
“These times really show the kids who have that inner drive to be really good,” Corbett said. “I think there’s some that are doing a great job of doing as much lacrosse as they can on their own in a time like this, even without having practices.”
A culture of individual effort and working hard beyond what is required is nothing new to women’s lacrosse, and the team has been diligent in proving so. As such, players have been doing everything they can to simply keep the stick in their hands.
In small groups within the team, they have been going on runs, doing wall ball regimens around campus, or improving their stick work, all while drawing on motivation and accountability from their teammates.
The players also benefit from an attentive staff of coaches, trainers, and professionals to support the players in challenges they may come across as both students and athletes.
“Because facilities and gyms are closed, our trainer has given us a lot of great speed and strength workouts to be doing on our own times,” Davis said. “We have our nutritionist, our trainer, our team psychologist, and our coaches if we ever need to reach out to someone to talk to or just need any help in any aspect.”
During these past months, women’s lacrosse was able to spend more time addressing mentality. In the spring, the team read “Victory Favors the Fearless: How to Defeat the 7 Fears That Hold You Back” by Darrin Donnelly, a book generalizing seven distinct fears and how to overcome them.
The players themselves led open Zoom conversations on their reflections of the book, which was a chance for players to open up to their teammates and strengthen their bond despite the boundaries of the virtual environment.
“In this time, I think that there are players who really found their voice in some of these small group zoom calls that we’ve had,” Corbett said. “Being able to articulate well and be vulnerable with each other, I think that’s really important for a team.”
Despite an unclear future of the season ahead, the players are optimistic. Uncertainty over next spring has not been an excuse for women’s lacrosse to dial back their ambitions. Sights remain aimed at another Ivy League Championship and national success in the NCAA Tournament, to which we can look forward to when the team finally returns to the field.
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