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  • Matt Ondesko

Mental Toughness

Updated: Aug 20, 2019

by Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor Photos courtesy of Cheryl Hagen

Ask any athlete what the worse thing for them could be and they will say sitting on the bench. Athletes are used to starting and playing in the games. They don’t like sitting on the bench - feeling like they aren’t helping the team.

It’s demoralizing when an athlete is sitting on the pine. They are used to be a starter. They are used to being the man, or woman. They are used to be counted on to lead their team to victory.

In high school they are the big man on campus. Everyone knows who they are. When they get to college it’s a different story. Playing time is hard to come by. Getting in games is few and far between.

It’s easy to doubt yourself. It’s easy to have self doubt creep in.

Mercyhurst women’s lacrosse player Jenna Hagen knows all to well what it’s like to go from playing all the time in high school to barely getting on the field in college. It hasn’t been an easy transition for Hagen who has been used to staying on the field all the time.

“Over the past two years I have not seen the field as much as I would like. It has been difficult because by the end of my sophomore year of high school I was used to starting. Lancaster is known for having talented teams so I was playing among some of the best in Western New York,” stated Hagen. In college though, I’m playing among the best from pretty much everywhere and anywhere. I found it very humbling to play on a team with so many highly skilled players. My freshman year I began to come to practice a little early or stay afterwards to practice my stick skills, driving and shooting. Sophomore year I finally made the travel squad, a group of 24 players selected to travel to games that required an overnight stay. I felt I was making some headway at least. I have learned something each and every day being a part of this team. I also have had many gifted players to look up to during my time here. I am looking forward to the next two seasons. I had a pretty good fall ball season this past year and am hopeful I will get more opportunities to help my team out this season and next.”

Not getting on the field can really attack a player mentally. As Hagen stated earlier she didn’t even get on the travel team her freshman year. She practiced just to practice. Knowing that you won’t play can be very disappointing.

Hagen knew college wouldn’t be easy. She just didn’t know it would be this hard. She needed to make sure she was strong mentally to be able to get through the tough times. Those times when she wasn’t on the travel squad. Those times when she wasn’t getting into games last season.

“Mental toughness is a BIG part of college athletics. I have been fortunate to have teammates that have inspired me to continue to work hard which has helped me to stay focused. Last year, one of our captains, Taylor Izzo, took some time out to work with me,” stated Hagen. “There are many others that have given me a shout out at practice or a kind word after a game that have helped me to develop mental toughness. Toward the end of the season last year, my grandparents, who were among my biggest supporters in high school, where able to make it to a home game. I was excited they were coming and hopeful I would get some playing time.  Before the game, I was told I was being named a game captain. It meant a lot to me that my family was able to be there that day and it felt great that my teammates thought I was worthy of the honor. I also did get to play that game. Having a supportive family and teammates has contributed to my successes on and off the field.”

Through everything that Hagen has been through she never thought about transferring. Student-Athletes who don’t get playing time early normally will seek playing time else where. They want that chance to prove they belong at the next level.

While lacrosse is important to Hagen, so it an education. Everyone knows how competitive Hagen is on the field, but she is just as competitive off it. She could have easily went to a different school and sought out more playing time.

Mercyhurst, however, offered her a lot more than lacrosse.

“I think it is normal for most freshman to think about transferring at some point. I chose Mercyhurst though for many reasons, not just lacrosse. I liked the school, ultimately fell in love with Mercyhurst's Education Department and wanted to prove to myself I could do better on the field,” explained Hagen. “Don’t get me wrong, freshman year was intimidating. Our class is extremely talented. We had three freshman starters, Kira Kolb, Kenzie Shanahan and Lacey Netti. Other freshman like Brenna Fosco and Emma Hubert were also getting more playing time. We had many, very talented upperclassmen too. Earning time on the field was at a premium. I just really wanted to be out there. So I stayed.”

Hagen also gets to go through this experience with fellow Western New Yorkers. The Mercyhurst roster is riddled with some of the best lacrosse talent that WNY has to offer. Being able to go through the highs and lows is definitely an experience Hagen wouldn’t pass up.

“We have SO many girls from WNY. It is a ton a fun to be playing next to some of the top girls from our region including current teammates Emma Hubert, Angie Simon, Sydney Reeves, Katie and Molly Meegan, Cassie Ellis, Raelyn Tiberio, Alexa Perna, Paige Cocina and Emma Falter - as well as former teammates like Taylor Izzo and Grace Lawson,” stated Hagen. “Emma Hubert and I also came off the same summer travel lacrosse team from Stampede. A lot of the other girls also played for the Stampede program. We have a good time and of course there is some competition for playing time but everyone always seems to support each other for the good of the team. There's also occasionally some ribbing with each other when our high school alma maters meet back home. In the end, we will have a lot of great memories both on and off the field.”

If it was just lacrosse, it would be an easy adjustment for Hagen. But, it’s called student-athlete for a reason. Hagen has been able to juggle a full school load with lacrosse and other activities.

She has been a true student-athlete and is happy for the experience she has seen over the first couple of years.

“One of the greatest challenges I have found in regard to being a student-athlete is juggling everything. As a freshman, I was adjusting to so many new things here and each year it seems there’s more to do,” stated Hagen. “Athletically, there are practices, games and the weight room. Academically, there are classes and homework as well as clinical and field placements in various schools as part of my major. Mercyhurst also stresses volunteering, so each year I am involved in activities such as the Special Olympics and Erie’s Beast on the Bay, which is an obstacle course event in the fall. Finding the balance between athletics, academics and personal time is so important.”

She’s also grateful for what lacrosse has given her. It’s easy just to play a sport just to play. But, Hagen has been so many people a long the way that lacrosse has given her a lot more than she probably thought it would.

Between playing for the Stampede (travel) and Lancaster High School, Hagen is taking away friendships that she thought she would never have made. It makes the journey she is on so much more.

“I would like to add that I am grateful for all the people I have met along the way because of lacrosse. So many have had a positive impact on my life. Lancaster varsity coach Julie Buccieri taught me to keep going. She would tell us “You can do anything for a minute.” (And then another minute, and another minute etc…) My Lancaster teammates taught me the meaning of “Heart, Hustle, Family”… our motto,” stated Hagen. “Stampede coaches Katie Ryan and Meghan Portka also helped me with my lacrosse game and showed us how to search for opportunities to play in college. My teammates and coaches here have pushed me and inspired me to work harder, do better. Family and friends have been supportive throughout this entire journey. When it’s all over, I am hopeful I will have had the chance to make a positive difference for my team – but also walk away with good friends, great memories and a college degree that will open more doors for me.”


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