Driven by Injury


Ella Spooner

  The crowd held their breath and watched as the clock ticked down to zero, once again ending in a tied score. It was the first home game of the year. West Ottawa (WO) vs. Grandville. The teams had just finished their second overtime in a tie. The players reluctantly jogged over to the sidelines and prepared for a third overtime. 

   As the game continued on, the sky went dark and the stadium lights turned on. The temperature dropped, and flurries of snow started pouring down. Although fighting hard the entire game, it all came down to the last 15 seconds of that third overtime. 

   Grandville had the ball and was driving hard on WO’s defense. Grandville’s star attack player drove from the top of the 12 meter, passing her defender. The defense was too late to slide, and just like that, WO lost their first home game of the 2019 season. 

   As a spectator in the crowded stands that night, it would seem that the WO women’s lacrosse team was talented and popular. In reality, the program is relatively new and developing. 

   The 2004/2005 school year was the first year WO had a women’s lacrosse team. The first nine years, the team struggled tremendously and had an ongoing losing record. The team bottomed out in 2011 with only 1 win and 15 losses. The 2011 coach, Janelle Miles, commented that WO lacrosse was “growing.” Though facing a losing record, she was right. 2011 was the first year the program had enough players for a Junior Varsity (JV) team and was the turning year in program history. Ever since 2011, the players’ skills and the team’s records have improved. In 2015 the program had its first-ever winning season, with 10 wins and 8 losses. Since 2015, the program has continued to win more games.                                          

   This year, the program has two new coaches, Alisa Mason and Erin Gallagher. Both have faced tremendous success in their collegiate careers, and their success is promising to the program. Additionally, both have suffered from severe injuries during their collegiate careers. These injuries have changed their perspective on the game and have taught them life lessons they hope to teach their future players at WO.

   In sixth grade, Mason’s dad introduced her to lacrosse. Mason’s lacrosse career continued throughout high school, where she played in Perrysburg, Ohio. She was then recruited to play at Siena Heights University, a part of the NAIA division. During Mason’s collegiate career she played attack and midfield. While attending the university, Mason was team captain of her team for two years, offensive player of the year three years, and named Rookie of the Year during her freshman year. 

   Mason had many successes throughout her playing career, but unfortunately, she faced major injuries. She tore her ACL and meniscus while playing at Siena Heights. Mason explains that she had been immersed in lacrosse since sixth grade; therefore, “it was very eye-opening to see what life would be like without lacrosse. Having that mindset and always remembering to never take the game for granted changed me completely.” Mason explains how her experiences have shaped the way she coaches. “I hope I can help you girls embrace the short time that you have to play the game of lacrosse.”

   As soon as Mason graduated from college, she began coaching a JV team at Eisenhower High School in Michigan. Mason explains, “Coaching that team was really exciting because they were all first-year players and I got to teach them a lot.” After Coaching at Eisenhower, Mason then coached the varsity team at Oxford High School for two years. “Coaching at Oxford was an amazing experience because we beat their rival Lake Orion for the first time in program history.” She also explains that while coaching at Oxford, “I had the opportunity to take the girls to a women in sports leadership conference.”

   Mason’s primary goals for the upcoming season extend far beyond the lacrosse field. She hopes to have long-lasting impacts on her girls. Mason emphasizes that her coaching philosophy is to always make sure that her players “are not only growing in the sport, also but outside of the sport as well.” While coaching at Oxford, Mason took her girls to a leadership conference to further enforce her philosophy of growing her players in all aspects of life. She hopes that through her guidance and coaching, her players will grow on the field and as a person. Mason also says she is looking forward to “seeing where everyone’s skills are at and making relationships with everyone.” Also, “Obviously to make the girls better players on the field” and “That the players are having a good time while doing so, but staying competitive at the same time.”

   Mason also emphasized that she is looking forward to game days. “Since I’m from the east side of the state, I’m looking forward to seeing what the competition is on the west side…. I’ve always heard some things about Rockford, so I’m excited to see it in action.” 

   Erin Gallagher started playing lacrosse in eighth grade for Catholic Central. Gallagher was solely a defensive player throughout middle school and high school. While at Catholic Central High School, she was named All-Conference Honorable Mention. After high school, Gallagher was recruited to play defense for NCAA Division II, Alderson Broaddus University in West Virginia. Gallagher’s junior year she assisted her team to win the G-MAC conference championship. Subsequently, she finished her senior year with 2 career goals, 1 career assist, 68 career ground balls, and 46 career turnovers.

  Gallagher started her coaching career right out of college. After graduating from Alderson Broaddus, Gallagher stayed in West Virginia and coached for two years, where she worked with defensive players. Even though being a young coach, Gallagher had many amazing opportunities. She had the opportunity to go to many coaching clinics, such as the Presidents Cup clinic for two years. The president’s cup is a national tournament that takes place in Florida, where the best players and coaches attend. 

   As a new coach to the program Gallagher’s main goals for the upcoming school year is to  “learn from our mistakes in each game and learn so we can be better every game.” She also added that another “obvious” and important goal this year is to “have fun” no matter what “I don’t want to be losing games but even if we do lose we still need to have fun.” 

   Gallagher is a team focused coach who loves to be around the team. She explains that she is most looking forward to game days. “There’s honestly nothing better than game day, I love game days,” she explains.  “Or honestly pre-game day team dinners, or anything that involves the team.”

   In Gallagher’s lacrosse career she injured her shoulder badly. She explains that “it was so painful I couldn’t really pass the ball, and I had to be wrapped up like a football player for every game.” The experience Gallagher had with injuries helped her realize her limits. “It’s important to know your limits, knowing when you’re okay, knowing when your player is okay, and knowing that it’s okay to not be okay.” Gallagher, just like many players at WO, is very passionate about her sport which makes it hard to be left out. Galagher explains that “it’s because I had to make myself take breaks in those moments, that it shaped me to be the coach I am now.” 

   Both coaches have faced major injuries in their playing career, but neither let those injuries set them back. Those experiences shaped them into the coaches they are today and will play a major role in how they coach the team this year.

   Unfortunately, last year the COVID pandemic stripped athletes of their spring season. The 2020 lacrosse season was shaping up to be a successful year. Missing out on that season has filled players with anticipation for the upcoming spring season. Luckily for the players, the new coaches match their level of excitement to return to the field. The eagerness from both the coaches and athletes will hopefully carry over this spring, and lead the team to a record season. 

   With the exception of the first coach at WO, Jess Johannsen, every following coach has coached for only three years. Last year, Aaron Skomial served his third year and stepped down. Just last month, WO’s new women’s lacrosse coaches were announced. Gallagher and Mason are stepping into the coaching position this year. Nobody knows the reason for the three-year pattern of coaches, but are eager to see if it continues. Will Gallagher and Mason be the first to break the three-year curse?