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Credit: Son Nguyen

When the Ivy League season was canceled, Gabby Rosenzweig wanted to stay at Penn.

“That was the hardest choice, deciding to transfer,” Rosenzweig said.

Rosenzweig’s time at Penn would make her arguably the greatest women’s lacrosse player ever to be a Quaker. In 2019, she took the single-season points and assists record with 98 and 63, respectively. In 2020, during the second game of the season, she became the all-time leading point-getter in Penn women’s lacrosse history on an assist to her teammate and best friend Erin Barry, ultimately notching 247 career points before the season was unceremoniously canceled.

Staying at the program that she had spent so much time with was her first priority. However, Ivy League policy states that graduate students can’t play on varsity teams — if Rosenzweig were to stay, she would have to pick up another year of undergraduate study. Rosenzweig was already taking just a few classes part time on her way to graduation.

“After a while of looking through academic options, it didn’t seem like it was the smartest choice or the choice that made the most sense,” Rosenzweig said. “I wanted to get a master’s degree, and unfortunately Ivy Leagues don’t let you do that and play sports. That was one of the biggest decision makers for me.”

After Rosenzweig decided to transfer, the decision of where to go was much simpler, not just on Rosenzweig’s end, but also for the staff at Duke. Duke coach Kersten Kimel was not only keeping a general eye out for transfers who would suit the program’s needs, but she was also actively seeing if Rosenzweig would transfer.

“When there was talk of all of this in the summer, Gabby was somebody who was on our radar that we were going to want to pursue, if she in fact entered the [transfer] portal,” Kimel said. “We’ve played Penn. We’ve known about Gabby, we’ve had to scout her, prepare for her, and yes, unfortunately get beaten by her and her teammates.”

Contrary to Ivy League schools, which have closed facilities and limited training capabilities, Duke has been continuing mostly as normal. There have been a few changes — for one, Duke would ordinarily have five weeks of competition in the fall, which had been canceled — but the team has still been able to do weekly practices while adjusting to the new coronavirus restrictions.

The team is optimistic that it will have a season in the spring. For Rosenzweig, the draws to come to Duke came from that optimism, the team’s culture, and its academics. The academics proved to be a bit of an adjustment. Rosenzweig is getting a Master of Management Studies, making her one of four total fifth years currently playing women’s lacrosse at Duke and the only transfer.

“We’re on such a different schedule than the undergrads, so that’s kind of challenging sometimes, being in tune with how things are going between undergrad and grad,” Rosenzweig said. “The grad program is really team-focused, which is something that’s really different from undergrad, too. You’ll have group projects and stuff, but you’ll have the same team for half of the year.”

The most important adjustment for Rosenzweig was to build a good relationship with her team. Ever since being at Penn, Rosenzweig has always prioritized getting to know her teammates and coaches on a personal level.

“I know Gabby really well, and she’s someone who needs to know that she has the chance to build a relationship with the coaching staff,” Penn coach Karin Corbett said. “[The coaching staff at Duke] got how important that was Gabby. I think Duke was a good fit for her.”

“When I started looking at transferring and going to a different school, I wanted to go somewhere that had similar values to me,” Rosenzweig said. “I value team culture so much and leadership and how we treat each other.”

“One of Gabby’s strengths is that she’s a great leader and she’s also a very connected kid,” Kimel said. “She thrives off being connected with her teammates.”

As a fifth-year player and a transfer, Rosenzweig had to rebuild all her team relationships from scratch. Over the summer, Rosenzweig took the time to get to know each of her teammates on a personal level. She sat down with each of her teammates over Zoom, especially the athletes who she would spend the season playing attack with.

“She did a lot of that work even before she came to Duke, which I really admired because I didn’t ask her to do that,” Kimel said. “I really, really appreciate that she took the initiative to start establishing this relationship before she stepped foot on campus.”

It took a little bit of time for Rosenzweig to adjust to Duke’s system, but the transition was mostly smooth sailing. Even with different offensive schemes or new ways of getting things done, the core and end result would be the same.

“Lacrosse is lacrosse, which was something I was worried about before I transferred. Is it going to be different? It’s still the same sport,” Rosenzweig said. “There are some little things that make me laugh sometimes with how the teams do things differently. We were joking that they just wear leggings to practice, when at Penn, we would wear shorts over our leggings. [There are] things that are such a norm from team to team that don’t really matter but are fun to compare.”

Now at Duke, Rosenzweig is optimistic about not only having a season but also being able to play nonconference games. Last season, Duke felt that the team was just gaining momentum when the remainder of the season was canceled. Now a little bit older, the team is confident in picking up from where it left off.

“I want to win an ACC championship and beat a lot of the ACC teams,” Rosenzweig said. “It’s really fun for me because I’ve never played a lot of the competition, and the ACC is considered one of the best leagues. I want to win a championship here and make it far in the national championship.”

“Gabby is absolutely someone who’s going to help us take that next step forward,” Kimel said.

As for any sort of personal achievements: “Right now, it’s just on the team achievements. With my fifth year, my goal was to have the most fun playing than I ever have and be able to have a weight lifted off my shoulders, not feel the pressure of having to do everything or be this big leader,” Rosenzweig said. “It’s been really nice, and I’ve been having so much fun. I have a whole new sense of gratefulness.”

Rosenzweig’s transfer has also been an opportunity for her to reflect upon her growth over her four years at Penn.

“I can’t imagine myself as a freshman doing what I did and going to a whole new place. I was thinking that I was going to feel like I did as a freshman, but it really hasn’t been like that,” Rosenzweig said. “I’ve just grown so much, and my teammates and coaches at Penn have helped me grow into a much stronger and more mature person.”

“She was one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached. She was a kid who would go out there and wreck things for hours,” Corbett said of Rosenzweig’s time at Penn. “She was a kid who was going to put that time in— as a coach, you can’t ask for more. She got where she was from purely hard work and she set that example for the team.”

Rosenzweig’s attitude and answers reflect that. Her greatest memories from Penn naturally include breaking the points record at Penn and the three consecutive years of playing in the Ivy League Tournament, but also the hard work she put into the team.

“Working towards a collective goal with people you love so much: Those are the fondest memories I have,” Rosenzweig said. “Working really hard, running in the rain, things like that with those people.”

Now, having taken her talents to North Carolina, Rosenzweig is looking to help the team all she can and add one more championship — from a completely different conference — to her legacy.

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