Cover photo courtesy of the WPLL
By Jason Felts
Introducing the first installment of our newest blog series, Monkey Business. We take the time to speak with some of the biggest names in Lacrosse, past, present, or future, to get an insight on their path in the sport, the legacy they want to leave, and the steps being taken to #GrowTheGame.
It was Memorial Day weekend way back in 2012 that the legend of, then high school junior, Kylie Ohlmiller started. Injured at the time, Ohlmiller watched Northwestern take down Syracuse to win their 7th National Championship at Stony Brook University, just down the road from her hometown. Seeing how the crowd reacted to the game and realizing the impact and role-model status that the women on the field had in the lives of younger lacrosse players really made Ohlmiller dedicate herself to the sport, and work to someday have a similar impact.
“I like to dream big, so when I got to go to the 2012 National Championship, it gave me an actual, physical feeling to get to dream about. Being in that stadium and seeing the fact that so many people come out to watch women’s lacrosse and that these women are role models to all the little girls and all the fans out there gave me something to reach for. It really kept me motivated throughout high school to elevate my game and want to get to that point,” Ohlmiller said.
What would follow that fateful day would quickly blossom into one of the most illustrious college lacrosse careers in history. Admittedly lightly recruited in high school, Ohlmiller sat down with Stony Brook head coach Joe Spallina and outlined her goals and the goals of the program, and ultimately decided to stay close to home and become a Seawolf.
“Coach Spallina saw something in me that a lot of other coaches and a lot of other programs didn’t really see at the time. He really helped guide me through that potential and painted that out for me. I didn’t really want to stay home in Long Island, but it ended up being the best decision of my life.”
Photo by John Strohsacker
Ohlmiller quickly took the women’s game by storm, winning America East Rookie of the Year as a freshman, followed by 3 All-American seasons, including a historic junior year in which she scored 164 points, breaking the single-season points record. By the end of her collegiate career, Ohlmiller held the NCAA Women’s single-season points record, all-time assists record, and all-time points record.
“Every gameday was a new adventure. Every team threw something different at me, especially these last couple years when Stony Brook was ranked in the top 5 or #1 in the country. We got every team’s best game, so that was always a new experience as a player. It helped me grow as a player and as a leader to step out of my comfort zone and make sure that I was ready to go for each game because I knew each team would throw something different at me. A lot of hard work goes into each week to get ready for gameday at the end of the week.”
Playing alongside fellow record-setter Courtney Murphy, who holds the NCAA all-time goals record, and her younger sister, fellow 100-point scorer Taryn Ohlmiller, the Seawolves vaulted from a mid-70s ranked team in the country, to sporadic stints as the #1 team in the land.
Photo Courtesy of Excelle Sports
“It was pretty surreal because we were just two typical Long Island girls that came out of high schools that weren’t top dawgs, but we bought into the dream that Coach Spallina was throwing out there in front of us. It still is surreal, I don’t think we ever really saw it coming. There were always those dreams in the back of our heads that we wanted to get to the top, but it was really cool to have (Murphy) by my side, she made my job a heck of a lot easier,” Ohlmiller said of the records she and Murphy set at Stony Brook.
“Not a lot of people get the chance to play with their siblings, so it was really cool to see (Taryn) buy into the Stony Brook culture and want to come play alongside me. We’re best friends off the field and definitely work well together on the field. It was really special, I’m going to miss that.”
Going into college, the post-collegiate playing career wasn’t much of an option for Ohlmiller, as leagues like the United Women’s Lacrosse League (UWLX) and the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League (WPLL) did not yet exist. However, thanks to the creation of the leagues, Ohlmiller was given another chance to shine. After her record-setting career, Ohlmiller was selected as the #1 overall pick in the inaugural WPLL collegiate draft, and is a member of the New York Fight in the league’s first season.
“It was an honor to be selected 1st overall. There was so much talent in that 2018 class that I’m surrounded by, with players like Marie McCool, Lydia Sutton, and Gussie Johns, but it was really cool to see my name up there. It’s pretty crazy to know that I went into college and there wasn’t a professional women’s lacrosse league. I thought that once I was done with my four years of college, I was done with lacrosse, but it was really cool to know that out of college, my lacrosse career wasn’t going to be done, and that I could pursue my passion at the highest level,” Ohlmiller said.
The WPLL looks to change the landscape of the women’s professional lacrosse world, tweaking rules from the college game to make the game faster and more enjoyable for fans and players alike.
“(The WPLL) is very fast. You’re playing with literally the best players in the world from the best international teams and the best colleges in the world, girls with just insane careers from all different ages. Being one of the younger ones, that adds a little bit of a star struck element for me, but at the same time is really exciting and really cool to be a part of. The fact that you can shoot from outside the 8 (yard line) and it counts for two goals is really cool and something I’ve not had a chance to do before. It’s also just more physical and there’s less whistles to make it more fun for the fans to come watch.”
In her first season, Ohlmiller helped lead the Fight into the playoffs, netting hat tricks in each of her four regular season games, and being the first WPLL player to make it into the ESPN Top 10 (the second time she was featured in the Top 10 in her career) in the last game of the year, a 19-10 victory that sealed the Fight’s playoff spot.
“It’s been great so far, getting to be in a spot to continue to grow the game and grow the future generation’s love of the sport.”
Growing the sport of lacrosse has been a huge point made by the WPLL, who run a “Futures” program, a nationwide development program for high school girls across 12 regions of the country that focuses as much on lacrosse as it does on character development and leadership.
“There are big aspirations for the sport. It’s hugely growing right now, which is what we want. We want it to be in as many countries and as many states as possible, and want to be getting these girls and boys to the next level. That comes with having a lot more colleges starting up programs for more opportunities. It’ll be really cool to watch the WPLL and the MLL grow and see the game get bigger and inspire the next generation. Ultimately, I know we want to get the game into the Olympics, so that would be really cool to see in the next 8 or so years.”
Photo Courtesy of Stony Brook Athletics
A recently signed member of the Brine/New Balance sponsored athlete family, Ohlmiller is on the front lines of new technology being entered into the women’s game, including the women’s Warp, which is still in development stages.
“I actually love (using the Warp). I think it’s been a long time coming, and we’ve seen how much success the men’s warp has had with Warrior, so (Brine) has just been trying to perfect it, and the fact that it’s coming out soon and that I get to play with it and promote it has been an honor. I’m really excited about it and I love the idea behind it, the fact that you’re never going to have to worry about pulling on your strings because you think your stick is going to be illegal, and that it’s not going to adjust or anything if there’s a rainy game. The fact that they went through all this technology to provide that for the women players is pretty special and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Photo Courtesy of the WPLL and BDZ Sports
Ohlmiller recently wrote an article outlining her greatest tips to the college recruiting landscape, and how to approach the next stage of a young player’s career. When asked about the progression of her own career, she preached the importance of having an open mind, and stepping into new experiences with a clean slate.
“One of the biggest things is to make sure you go into a new journey, whether it’s a new travel team, college, middle school, whatever it is, go into it with a blank slate and an open mind. Anything that happened before with a different school or different team is going to be different. I think a lot of players expect things to be the same when they move to a different scenario, but ultimately you have to be able to learn differently from different people, and you have to be ready to roll with the punches because sometimes life throws weird things at you. Being ready for that and open and optimistic and looking forward to enjoying the journey is the biggest thing, and that comes with an open mind.”