First Person: Rise of the Phoenix – Our First Dance

By Brittany Dipper, Assistant Coach, Elon University @ElonWLax

Sunday Night: Let’s begin where it all started! After losing earlier to JMU in the CAA Championship all we could do was wait and see if all the hard work we had put in throughout the season was going to pay off. Not knowing our fate, we anxiously waited on the bus, for 9 pm to roll around. Cramped around cell phones and computers we watched the NCAA Selection Show (thankful for buses with Wi-fi!). As each team got called and spots started disappearing you could feel the nervous, excited feeling all around. Since we were on the bus there was a 20 second delay between the staff and players. But there it was, the last spot announced! It took everything for the entire staff not to say anything yet and then the bus erupted with screaming and cheers! Elon’s name was announced and in our fourth year as a program we were going dancing for the first time ever! This moment is one I know that no one on the bus will ever forget. This group of 38 players had made history and it was nothing but smiles all around. Virginia was our opponent, and a quick 45-minute drive down the road to Chapel Hill was our destination.

Photo courtesy of Elon Athletics Communications.

Wednesday Afternoon: Earlier in the day the attackers had a film session. They watched our previous game against Virginia to prepare for our second meeting with them. This allowed them to focus on the things we needed to work on for the game on Friday. After the film session, it was practice time! Practices for this week, as for the entire year, mainly focused on us, and what we had to do for Friday. If we could take care of the little things and play Elon lacrosse, we were confident the rest would fall into place.

Wednesday Evening: Now that our physical preparation for the day was complete it was time to focus on our mental preparation. We had a Skype session with our amazing sports psychologist and spiritual leader, Jerry Lynch. During our session, we discussed writing our own story… to create what we wanted for ourselves this weekend and not listen to all the other stories floating around from the outside. Before we wrapped for the day, the coaching staff thought it was a good idea to remind the team to just enjoy every moment of this experience. As many of us know, these opportunities do not always come along and these experiences are bigger than just a game. We warned them not to take this opportunity for granted and encouraged them to appreciate all that was happening to our team. They earned another week to practice, play, and compete together. Climbing mountains was a post-season theme for us, and this mountain was another one to conquer together.

Thursday Afternoon: With final exams in full swing, we waited until everyone was done with exams that day and loaded up the bus for Chapel Hill. The bus ride was a little different this time, as we did some fun team bonding. Earlier in the week, the coaching staff went out and bought t-shirts for the team to decorate. On Tuesday morning we put a shirt in everyone’s locker with a number attached. Whoever’s number they received, they made a shirt for. And I’ll tell you what – they were super creative and funny. Not only did everyone get a shirt made from a teammate, but the coaches also got in on the action and decorated neon trucker hats that said “TTFY” (secret team info, can’t divulge the meaning). I have to give a shout out to Under Armor, who provided the team with a fresh new hoodie pullover (Thanks UA)!  Needless to say the team was stoked and ready for the weekend ahead!

               Photo courtesy of the author.

Thursday Evening: After checking into the hotel, it was practice time at North Carolina. In their new hats and shirts, the team was ready to go for a great practice. We did our usual pregame practice routine and then ended with a solid game of Maroon vs. Gold kickball. Gold has been dominant in our Phoenix Olympics this year and they won the game 2-1! After practice, we headed right to one of our favorite things… Team Dinner. Boy can this team eat, and can we do it well! After a great team meal, we headed back to the hotel to wrap up the day. As we do the night before every game, we met for our team visualization. We also took some time and let people share their stories they wrote earlier in the week leading up to game day. One more sleep until game day!

Friday Morning: FINALLY, IT WAS GAME DAY!!! The day was no different than any other game day, except we had some players taking final exams at the hotel. But hey, that’s why they are called STUDENT-athletes. After they crushed exams we had a great team breakfast together and then it was off to our walk-through. Our walk-throughs are a little different than most. For us, it’s a time to connect, get loose, and have fun together. With the music blaring, stick-work started, followed by attackers shooting and the defense playing the blink game and charades. All in all, it was a great morning and everyone was in the right frame of mind.

Friday Afternoon: Like I said before, we love to eat, so off to Panera (shocking I know, what team goes to Panera?!) for our pre-game meal. With a full tank of gas, we arrived at North Carolina and the locker room started going crazy! I have to give a quick shout out to my two favorite people, Guns & Kacie, for the good luck FaceTime call I received right before we headed out to the field! As the team did all their pre-game cheers, dancing, etc., you could hear them all the way down the hall. We knew they were in a great place and ready to take on Virginia.

Friday Evening: Game Time. 5:00 pm and the whistle blows for the opening draw. All the preparation and planning has come down to what happens in the next two hours. The first 10 minutes did not go as planned, as Virginia jumped out to a four-goal lead. But even with that early stumble, the team never felt defeated. They continued to play hard and never gave up, not even for a second. Going into half-time we were down 5-2. Even after Virginia scored three quick second half goals, we didn’t give up. We continued to climb the mountain together and started to find the back of the net. Unfortunately, our second half comeback fell two goals short, as Virginia came out on top this time, 11-9.

Friday Evening: Post-Game. The outcome of the game is certainly not the one we anticipated and was a heartbreaker. Even though there were tears and our season was over, we remained united and supported one another. We know that this one game does not define our incredible history-making journey together. I couldn’t be prouder of the effort every single person on this team has put forward. There were certainly times during the game when we could have given up, but we remained positive and played together. The team played their hearts out; they were fearless, and pushed themselves until the final whistle blew. After the game was over, we wrapped up on the field, and were met by our amazing parents, friends, and fans for a tailgate. Tears were shed, but there were also great laughs shared to celebrate a year of successes and firsts for the program.

Speaking of firsts, I must end this by congratulating our inaugural class, who in a short few years left their mark. This group of Seniors came into a program with no history, no traditions, and in four short years are leaving having accomplished things they were told they never could. They made history on multiple occasions, and left greatness for future Phoenix to follow. Proud is truly an understatement, and watching them not only grow on the lacrosse field, but into young women has been a honor. Thank you Liv, Ally, Jane, Anna, Weiss, Brighton, Paige, Lane, Sloane, Erin, Bridget, and Rachel. You said, “why not us?” and you did just that!

The sting of a loss, especially post-season, is always hard to swallow, but with time and remembering the bigger picture, the accomplishment of getting an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament is an extraordinary achievement nonetheless. Good luck to everyone still competing to make it to Gillette Stadium (Sorry, but I can’t resist… GO TERPS!).

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