By Julie Kayzerman
That was the goal graduate student Erin Waller set for herself when she decided to play field hockey and lacrosse at the College — she wanted to play as a Lion for the full eight seasons.
But after two national championships in field hockey and three successful years in lacrosse, Waller fell victim to injury. Suffering from bilateral inguinal hernias, she decided to get a repair surgery, taking her out of her senior lacrosse season to fall just one short of her goal.
“I didn’t get to the eighth season and it was a regret,” Waller said. “As much as maybe at the time it might’ve been the right decision physically, it wasn’t really my decision. I didn’t want that.”
While she graduated with the Class of 2015 with an education degree in iSTEM, Waller returned to the College this year as a graduate student to pursue a masters in special education.
So when field hockey and lacrosse head coach Sharon Pfluger (’82) caught wind of Waller’s return to campus, she made a last-minute decision.
Just 15 minutes prior to the annual season-opening field hockey meeting the night before beginning this year’s preseason, Pfluger called Waller into her office and asked her to help coach the team.
“It was very last minute,” Pfluger said. “One day in August, the day before preseason started, I said, ‘You know, for whenever you’re on campus, I’d love to have you.’”
And with that, Waller made her first return to her old stomping grounds in Lion’s Stadium, this time on the sideline, coaching the girls she had just gotten off the field with.
“The first game was really difficult because I just wanted to be like, ‘Coach put me in,’ but I knew that wasn’t possible,” Waller said. “But I couldn’t’ve have been luckier. The girls were so respectful. We had a mutual respect for each other. I was going to help them and they were going to help me. They helped me a lot as a coach.”
However, after helping coach the Lions to the NCAA semifinals, Waller had no idea that she’d not only be back on the sidelines of Lion’s Stadium, but she’d be returning to the field, this time with her lacrosse stick in-hand to complete that eighth season.
“It says a lot about her,” Pfluger said of Waller returning to achieve her goal. “She can persevere, she’s got a lot of courage and so many great attributes to her personality and her work ethic. She’s never going to let someone out work her.”
For the entirety of winter break, Waller mulled over the possibility of picking up her lacrosse stick again.
“I really didn’t think it was possible and I was struggling because I have to 100 percent commit to things,” Waller said about her decision to play lacrosse this season in the midst of student teaching, taking graduate courses and commuting. “I was talking to a lot of alumni and it basically came down to, I can coach the rest of my life, but I’m never going to be able to play again.”
Waller enjoyed a successful field hockey career with the Lions. As a freshman, she scored two goals in the National Championship game, including the game-winning tally when the Lions edged out Middlebury College, 3-1, in 2011.
“That game, I didn’t even realize the significance of it,” Waller said. “It really didn’t hit me until halfway through lacrosse season… and then I was like ‘OK, I want that again.’”
But the big win didn’t come again until her senior year. After the devastating news that the team didn’t receive a bid to the NCAA tournament during her junior year, the Lions came back the next season with the phrase “prove all wrong.”
And that’s exactly what Waller and the Lions did, grabbing the National Championship title in 2014 after defeating Bowdoin College, 2-0.
“Everyone wanted it. Winning it senior year… the last game of your career is a win,” Waller said. “Nobody else can say that. Only three teams in the country can say that in field hockey, so to be one of them… you did it.”
Now in her eighth and final season as a Lion, Waller is a lead playmaker on the lacrosse field and has already contributed 20 goals and 12 assists so far this season. She admits that her gameplay has significantly improved as result of her coaching stint in the fall and she hopes to help lead the team to a Final Four appearance this season.
“As an upperclassman and a leader on the team, your goal is to get girls to the (Final Four) so they know what it’s like and the fun (of) everything that comes with it,” Waller said. “You want them to get that taste in their mouths to come back. That’s your first goal and the second goal is obviously to come out on top.”
As for Waller’s coaching career, she hopes to be coaching forever.
“I’ve learned that I’m capable than more than I thought I was,” Waller said. “You might have a lot on your plate, but when you really love what you’re doing, you figure out a way to get it done.”