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Emma Russell wanted to see the West Coast again before leaving the United States and Syracuse. So, in late May 2016, Russell and field hockey teammate Alma Fenne headed to California where they went whale watching in Monterey, visited Yosemite National Park and stayed with Russell’s uncle for 10 days.
Eventually, the two went north to Oregon to watch some friends on the Syracuse track and field team compete in the national championships. After that, the pair headed back to Syracuse one last time before Russell departed for New York City, where she boarded a flight to Ireland. This time, she only needed a one-way ticket.
After calling Syracuse home for four years, Russell said it was difficult to leave. It’s more than leaving field hockey behind, 2018 alum Lies Lagerweij said. For players leaving Syracuse and their teammates and coaches, the post-graduation adjustment is difficult, Lagerweij said. Moments and rituals — like horoscope Mondays, a weekly team event at Recess Coffee where players read each other’s horoscopes — were the hardest to let go, she said.
“The simple things like getting changed in the locker room and listening to music together and hanging out before games, going to Bruegger’s for breakfast, just little rituals like that,” Lagerweij said. “I miss those a lot.”
Lagerweij still sees former teammates Roos Weers and Borg van der Velde from time to time, since all three live in the Netherlands. And Russell visits from Ireland in her spare time. Like any alumna, Weers misses her friends from SU, but it’s Syracuse’s field hockey program that she misses most.
That includes Corey Parker, the strength and conditioning coach who was key throughout Weers’ collegiate career, the woman who cleaned the locker room before the team’s 7 a.m. practices, and the lady who sat at the front desk of Stevenson Educational Center where athletes met with academic tutors.
Since graduating, Russell has had to cope with a loss of team spirit and community. In addition to four hours a day on the field with her teammates, they also ate together every night.
Teammates used to wander across South Campus and into Russell and Lagerweij’s apartment, which served as a meeting hub because of its proximity to Manley Field House, Russell said. Now, Russell relies on video calls to stay in touch with her teammates.
“It really did take me nearly a year to kind of settle back in and kind of adjust to a new lifestyle a little bit,” Russell said.
While Russell trained with the team once a week during the spring before she graduated, she talked with Lauren Brooks, an SU alum assisting the team during the fall 2015 season, about the upcoming transition. Brooks was helpful because she understood the difficulties, Russell said. Two years later, when Lagerweij wrapped up her college career, she turned to Russell with the same questions about life after graduation.
Because of the team’s lack of a hierarchy, Lagerweij said that once younger players became the leaders of the team, they felt comfortable turning to former teammates for post-graduation advice.
“Graduation is a very mixed feeling, because yes, you’re excited about what’s to come,” Lagerweij said. “But still it’s just really hard to leave a place where you’ve been for so long, that’s been your home for so long.”
For Lagerweij, she’ll always remember the time she returned to her dorm after visiting the hospital with a knee injury. Once she opened her door, she saw all her freshman teammates with a cookie cake and a card. While on a recruiting visit to Syracuse, she didn’t believe that her team would become like family — but after her freshman season, she changed her mind.
Leaving a team of people who she spent countless hours around was challenging for everyone, but Russell understood the importance of transitioning away. It takes time, Russell said, but eventually she was ready.
“When everyone’s kind of moving on, it’s easier for you to, to kind of get a move on as well,” Russell said.
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