by Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor
Photos: Geoff Schneider/Sports Union
When you hear of Butler University, the first thing that comes to mind is their basketball program that almost won the National Championship a few years back. Butler has that Hoosiers type feel to it.
It’s a school that prides itself on academic and athletic success. Besides its basketball program, the school is very good in football, baseball and other sports. What a lot of people might not know is that Butler has a women’s lacrosse team that competes in the Big East.
Lacrosse is an upcoming sport and Butler is playing with the big boys. They play with the likes of Notre Dame, Georgetown and Villanova. It’s a very daunting task for a brand new program, but one they are ready to take on.
Maybe that’s what drew Sacred Heart Academy’s Kayleigh Colleary to the program. The late bloomer had many offers from a lot of Division I schools, but settled on Butler as her destination.
I chose Butler because of the atmosphere, academic rigor, and competition their program has to offer. I knew from the start that I wanted to attend a school with a huge sense of community, and I found exactly that on Butler’s campus,” stated Colleary. “It’s a smaller school which allows for a close-knit feeling but the basketball games give off the same energy that a bigger school would. Academically, Butler is challenging and offers several different successful programs for me to choose from. I actually didn’t have Butler’s lacrosse program on my radar until very late in my recruiting process. I had visited a few other Big East schools like Georgetown and Villanova, but for some reason Indianapolis didn’t interest me much. However, my dad is a big basketball fan and encouraged me to reach out the fall of my junior year. After communicating with the coaches I went down for an unofficial visit and fell in love with everything about Butler, including the city. I’m so glad I took that opportunity to explore all of my options because I don’t think I would have found my perfect fit otherwise. I’m also so excited to be a part of a newer program.”
Western New York is becoming a hot bed for girl’s lacrosse. More and more young women are being recruited to play at the Division I Level. In years past the players were coming out of tradition schools like Lancaster, Frontier and Hamburg.
But, as the sport has grown, other girls are getting the opportunity to show what they can do on the biggest stages. Starting her lacrosse career late, Colleary didn’t know what to expect when she entered Sacred Heart her freshman.
She had only stated playing the sport in eight grade, and was raw. She didn’t even start her club career until her sophomore year of high school - which is considered late for recruiting purposes. Even though she came from a non tradition lacrosse school like Sacred Heart, and non traditional league in the Monsignor Martin, Colleary was out to prove that she belonged on the biggest of big stages.
“I definitely felt like I needed to prove myself more to be noticed by other schools, but I think I would’ve felt that way regardless of the league I was playing in,” stated Colleary. “Recruiting was definitely stressful, and I was fearful that the schools I loved wouldn’t be interested. It was also tough because I started playing lacrosse in eighth grade, and my first full club season was the summer before my sophomore year. At that point I felt super behind on recruiting because so many girls had already been contacting college coaches. If given the option to go through the process again, I don’t think I would. In the end, everything worked out. I found a great fit for me and it made my process worthwhile.”
The process has been an interesting one for Colleary so far in her young, budding, lacrosse career. She was an All-WNY honorable mention, but you probably didn’t know that. So far during her career Colleary has flown under the radar, which is fine by her. Colleary knows what she can do on the lacrosse field. She knows the type of player that she is. She doesn’t need awards to tell he dhow good she is.
In her earlier lacrosse career, Colleary started out with Empress Lacrosse before switching and hooking up for a team out of Rochester. Rochester schools are known to be a little bit more ahead of the Buffalo schools when it comes to lacrosse.
This gave Colleary an opportunity to showcase her skills to an entirely different set of players, and eyes, as she was looking for the right fit - and to improve her game.
“I feel that I fly under the radar somewhat when it comes to WNY lacrosse. I was honored to earn All-WNY Honorable mention, but knowing that I work hard and love the game is much more important to me than recognition,” stated Colleary. “Choosing a travel team was pretty tough for me, especially since I felt inexperienced compared to other club players. I started out at Empress for my first entire season the summer before my sophomore year. I absolutely loved it I had a great team with some amazing friendships and my coach was extremely talented. However, for me personally, I found that looking into Rochester and Syracuse for the summer before my junior year would help me improve as a player and with my recruiting. I’m incredibly grateful that I had the support to enable me to practice in Rochester, as some aren’t as fortunate. I found Relentless Hustle, based out of Rochester, and it was the perfect fit for me. The girls on the team had been playing together for years and there’s a huge difference in lacrosse between Section V and Section VI. I eventually decided to email the head of the program, Rick Pound, explaining that I wanted to challenge myself and try out for his team. He replied and said I was welcome to come out and practice with them, so I took my opportunity. I think that practice was one of the best times I’ve ever played, and I was grateful enough to earn a spot on that team a few months later. It is funny though, looking back, because Coach Pound admitted he was skeptical about my ability just because I was from Buffalo. I’m so glad I made the move to Rochester when I did. The summer before recruiting really kicked up I was exposed to tons of college coaches playing against some of the top competition there is. I also improved tons from his coaching and I think my decision to play for Relentless ultimately contributed to my ability to play at Butler.”
This summer will be different that most for Colleary, and other athletes. As of right now there won’t be a summer travel season. But, things could change midway through the summer as restrictions are getting lifted every week.
Without a spring season, cancelled because of the virus, and possible no summer season, Colleary could go an entire year without playing. That makes it tough to stay sharp, and keep those skills where they need to be.
“Losing this lacrosse season was incredibly tough for me. After playing with Relentless Hustle, a club team out of Rochester, over the summer I have improved significantly, and I was so excited to compete with that improvement in the MMA. Our team this year is a special team, and I was hoping to bring home a state championship for Sacred Heart. However, I’m grateful that I still have one more season at SHA- hopefully this will be the lucky season where we bring home our first state title,” stated Colleary. “Without a travel season I’ll continue to do strength and conditioning workouts to keep myself in shape. Lacrosse wise, I’m lucky to have a bounce back and goal so I try to implement high speed workouts as often as possible. My travel team is currently doing virtual training on Zoom a few times a week, but I’m hoping that if social distancing guidelines change I’ll still be able to train with them in person. My teammates have an incredible amount of talent and practicing with them is always challenging and beneficial.”