March 10, 2008
By Amanda Bremer, Sports Information Student Assistant
Caitlin McKinney wouldn’t be easy to find in a crowd, standing at just over five feet tall. She’s impossible to miss on the lacrosse field, however, as I watch the lightning quick senior dash down the field and scores a goal, leaving the opposition behind.
Her characteristic speed and scoring are similar to that of soccer star Mia Hamm, her childhood influence.
“There weren’t that many lacrosse stars growing up, and I was really into soccer, so Mia Hamm was a big influence, especially when the U.S. [women’s soccer team] won the gold medal,” she says.
So how did McKinney end up playing lacrosse?
“My coach from Archbishop Carroll [High School in Radnor, Pa.] really opened my eyes to scholarship opportunities [for lacrosse] in college. We would visit different schools and play in different tournaments, and that’s when I really started to focus on lacrosse rather than soccer. “
McKinney garnered interest from several schools, but ultimately a phone call from Irish head coach Tracy Coyne and a campus visit moved Notre Dame to the top of the list.
“Initially when I was looking at schools, I was not into the idea of going to school 10 hours away from home,” McKinney recalls. “Tracy called and I was still unsure, but I came out on a recruiting visit and I loved everything about [Notre Dame]. The other schools didn’t even come close after that.”
McKinney has compiled an impressive resume, with 128 goals and 63 assists for 191 points in her three-plus seasons. She also has received several individual awards, including a pair of all-BIG EAST honors and IWLCA second-team All-America recognition last season.
This year, she was selected as one of the top 20 players in the country by Lacrosse Magazine in the publication’s preseason preview. While very thankful and appreciative of her personal accolades, she also acknowledges those that have contributed to her successes.
“It is obviously very rewarding after putting in all the hard work, but I’ve had so much help along the way from my teammates, coaches, and the strength and conditioning staff,” she comments.
Along with personal success, the team has made great strides during McKinney’s time here, including a NCAA national semifinal appearance in 2006. Last season, however, didn’t end as planned.
“The feeling of watching the [NCAA tournament] selection show and being left with nothing was horrible,” recalls McKinney.
The team looks to return to the NCAA tournament, and has started strong, going 4-2. McKinney herself has played well, ranking second on the team in scoring with 14 goals and 22 points, including a career-high-tying seven points (five goals, two assists) in the season-opening win over Canisius. She now has scored a point in a school-record 45 consecutive games, dating back to her freshman season, with 108 goals and 54 assists during the streak.
“We have a ton of talent, motivation and team cohesiveness,” McKinney says. “Working hard isn’t even a question. We’ve definitely set the goal high, we just need to play our game and not underestimate any opponents.”
National polls seem to agree, ranking the Fighting Irish as one of the top teams in the country.
McKinney adds, “The polls aren’t really that important, but are nice for team morale. Winning and just playing the best we can is what’s important.”
Home field advantage may also help the team advance, as Notre Dame has been selected to host the BIG EAST Championship this year.
“It’s really exciting. We will be playing in the football stadium, so that’s really cool,” remarks McKinney.
McKinney, along with fellow senior Becky Ranck, has been selected as co-captain for the 2008 season. They look to help the team stay motivated and playing well.
“We try to keep things balanced, focusing on our play, but also on everyone else. If someone is having a hard time, we try to pick up on that and help them out at practice. I want to set an example of working hard, but also try to bring energy to practice and keep it fun.”
This role is just one of the many ways McKinney has grown over her four years at Notre Dame. She compares the position to managing a business.
“You have all these people you want to keep motivated, and you have a boss that you want to keep happy so you mediate between the two. It’s not always easy to do the right thing, especially when you’re tired, but you just have to ignore it and not let people see it. “
Off the field, McKinney has also grown. She laughs as she cites calculus as one of the most difficult subjects she has faced at Notre Dame.
“I always worked hard and saw results in high school,” she notes. “Here, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get more than a C in calculus. That helped me realize everyone has certain talents, and you just have to find what you’re meant for.”
As her time at Notre Dame comes to an end, McKinney recalls her favorite moment and has her sights set on creating another.
“My sophomore year, when we beat Georgetown to go to the Final Four, was such a highlight and everything that went with that experience,” she remembers. “This year, winning the BIG EAST tournament at home in Notre Dame Stadium during my senior season would be the cherry on top of my career here.”
It’s been said that lightning doesn’t strike the same spot twice. Caitlin McKinney is the exception, as she continues to bolt down the field and pile up points, hopefully en route to an NCAA tournament berth and a successful senior season.