Ten semesters of school, but four years of athletic eligibility. What does that add up to? The trend of voluntarily redshirting on competitive college teams. It is most heard of with college football teams, or men’s teams in general, but what happens when a women’s college lacrosse team picks up the redshirt trend?
While I was being recruited as a Sophomore in High School, it was a huge blur. When a top-five team told me that there was a spot for me, I knew there was no guarantee of playing time, but I also knew I had the potential to. By committing to such an esteemed competitive program, I knew that playing time was just one factor and I was committing to the experience and culture of being on one of the best teams in the NCAA.
However, the experience of being on that team turned out to be very different from what I expected. At one of the first practices in the Fall of my Freshman year, I was taken aside and asked by the coaches to voluntarily redshirt, along with five other first-year students in my class. They knew how to sell it, so it felt like we were being invested in and the coaches wanted us around for an extra year of playing time.
At the time there were 50 girls on the roster. That’s right, 50 girls on a women’s college lacrosse team. It was competitive, and it was a final four team, so we all knew going in that our chances of getting quality playing time our freshman year were slim, especially when there were 17 seniors including 5th-year players.
After giving it some thought, all 6 of us decided to redshirt before fall ball officially started. That was half of our freshmen class, 6 out of 12. This was also prior to a rule change that redshirts could participate in off-season games, so the six of us practiced, lifted, conditioned, and did everything the team did besides play in games.
Once Spring came around, and we were officially in-season, things began to shift. Not only were the 6 of us isolated from the rest of the team, but there was also a disconnect with the rest of our class who did not redshirt. The most disappointing and discouraging moment came when a fellow freshman, who was starting and getting playing time that season, told us that a 5th year senior advised her not to be friends with the redshirts because “it’s a waste of time and they will never play.”
Luckily, that first-year students did not follow the 5th year senior’s advice and remained close friends with us to this day. The same cannot be said for that 5th year.
Onto ACC’s and the playoff portion of the season, there are only 35 players allowed on the sideline during these events. Due to having 50 players on the team it meant besides the people playing on the field, some players had to sit in the stands. We had to sit in the stands for our own game while sitting behind our team. It wasn’t a punishment; there was nothing we did wrong, it’s just the way things were. It was something that we had to deal with and we were expected to suck it up, not take it personally, and cheer on our teammates.
The final blow of that season occurred the week before playoff games started. The redshirts and players who never saw the field were told they did not need to come to practice that week or participate. Instead, we were asked to go home. Bizarre, right?
The reasoning behind this was that the seniors’ leases for their homes were up and did not extend through playoffs. The redshirt freshmen lived in apartments together and were asked to leave so that the seniors could move into their apartments for the entire duration of playoffs.
The week leading up to the first playoff game, while we moved out of our apartments the rest of the team left mid-week to get to the playoff site and participate in bonding activities. The morning of the first round of playoffs, that Sunday, the redshirts traveled to the game separately and drove back separately that same night. After that game, we had two weeks off to “make some money and find a summer job back home,” as our coach put it.
We did not reconvene until the Final Four tournament, two weeks later. During those two weeks, the rest of the team was given generous per diem to compensate for expenses they faced while staying at school for playoffs. The redshirts received nothing because we were all sent home.
After a year of this inadequate treatment from coaches as well as teammates, it might be shocking that all six of us stayed and didn’t transfer. Well none of us transferred because we were all given hope that redshirting would pay off for us. Where are we now you might ask?
Half of the redshirts, three out of six, have not returned to play lacrosse our senior year. One of the redshirts is chronically injured after blowing out her knee two years ago and has continued to face multiple surgeries on her ACL, MCL, and meniscus to this day. The remaining two redshirts have found success on the team and have gotten decent playing time.
Stories like this are rare to hear on recruiting trips and official visits when looking at a school because coaches do not want to highlight the negative experiences some players might have. Knowledge is key when making a decision to pick a school, to change positions, or to redshirt like myself.
* Originally published on February 20, 2019, by Morgan Hollenback