Kaitlyn Cumiskey didn't grow up in a lacrosse-first house. Nobody in her family had ever played before, and she had never even heard of the sport growing up.
Now, though, the sophomore midfielder has become a vital piece of the Penn women's lacrosse team, as she currently sits tied for second on the team in goals scored this season with 12, and third on the team in total points with 15.
In the second grade, Cumiskey's neighbor gave her a couple of used lacrosse sticks. Shortly after that, Cumiskey's father signed her and her brother up for a clinic. From there, Cumiskey fell in love with the sport that now makes up one of the biggest parts of her life.
Once the Cumiskey siblings were introduced to lacrosse, the sport became a family affair. While Cumiskey's brother and sister eventually moved on to other sports, the New Providence, N.J., native's love for lacrosse persisted. When Cumiskey decided she wanted to play the sport at the next level, her family became instrumental in helping her navigate the complex recruiting process.
“They are the best support system out there,” Cumiskey said. “I have three younger siblings who all do their own sports, so that’s a lot for my parents to deal with. But they give us all so much attention and have really supported me. They knew it was so important for me to find the right school for me when committing, and [they] were really helpful then.”
When Cumiskey chose Penn, family was once again a driving theme.
“The team was very welcoming and nice, answering any questions I had,” Cumiskey said. “At such a young age, this decision is confusing, and I liked that the team was very much a family and that I would have another home here. That was a big part of why I committed to Penn.”
The team itself was eager to welcome Cumiskey into that family, with coach Karin Corbett recognizing her intelligence on the field.
“I think she has a ton of game sense,” Corbett said. “She understands the game situation and reads her player well. She can play both ends of the field and gets to her side. In high school, she stepped up on her team and was the kid they used to go to. That stood out to me.”
Coming into Penn brought with it an untraditional student-athlete experience for Cumiskey, who, along with the rest of the Ivy League, was sidelined by the pandemic.
“Last year was definitely difficult considering the fact that other teams got the chance to play,” Cumiskey said. “We had many good team captains and leaders that really focused on us and helped us practice and [made] sure we kept improving for when we compete again.”
Cumiskey’s decision to pick Penn for the team’s camaraderie was rewarded, as the upperclassmen helped make the most of their situation.
“In the fall, we were not able to get on campus, but we were lucky enough to come off campus and meet with the team to get to know people,” Cumiskey said. “In [the] spring, there was no season and the captains really ingrained into us that we still get to be out here and that every day is an opportunity to grow and improve.”
Once the season was underway, the jump from high school was apparent to Cumiskey, who particularly felt the effects of not playing from last year.
“Since our team is fairly young, we are still growing,” Cumiskey said. “I would say that experience is what I need. I want to be able to play offense and defense well, and I see every game as a learning opportunity.”
This need for game experience is reiterated by Corbett, who sees the potential for even more growth with game time.
“It’s a big jump — it is so much more physical,” Corbett said. “She has steadily improved and made a big improvement from high school to now. The improvement realistically will come this year, when she gets to actually play in matches as opposed to just practicing.”
Corbett sees Cumiskey's ability to visualize the bigger picture during the pressure points of a game as her biggest asset, saying that she has an innate talent for creating plays despite her quieter nature.
Because of that talent among a number of other factors, Corbett believes Cumiskey has the potential to grow into a truly special player as she develops into a veteran on Penn women's lacrosse.
“I think for her, the sky is the limit," Corbett said. "It really depends on what her goals are and how much she is willing to put in. She has an innate sense and an ability on the field to be a very big player for us.”