Of Harry Minim
NORFOLK, Va.— Lilly Siskind was determined to follow the path set by her family and play lacrosse at Towson University.
The family legacy at the school in suburban Baltimore is long and deep. Her father, Jules, was an All-American lacrosse player at Towson and is in the school’s Hall of Fame. Her older brother Max also played lacrosse there.
And while her mother, Susan Suskind, and her siblings, Zach and Ariel, didn’t play lacrosse, they all have Towson degrees.
Five family members. Five Towson degrees. And yes, Lilly admitted she pressured herself to become No. 6.
Unfortunately, Lilly, the youngest of four siblings, was something of a late bloomer in lacrosse. Yes, she had 168 goals, 65 assists, 146 draw controls, and 91 ground balls at Henderson High School in West Chester, Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia suburb.
But she gathered many of those stats after most lacrosse schools finished recruiting. Often lacrosse players sign up before they start playing in high school.
“When I was a freshman and sophomore, I just hadn’t reached that peak,” she said. “I wasn’t at the best level.
“I put so much pressure on myself because I wanted to play (at Towson). It consumed me and I didn’t play as well as I could have played.”
Towson offered her the opportunity to continue without a scholarship, which she declined.
“I wanted to go somewhere that really wanted me and could call home,” she said.
Then she turned her attention to Penn State, a lacrosse powerhouse. She began attending camps there and promoting herself to coaches. When recruitment ended, Penn State had no place for her either.
At that point, it was her last year and few schools had scholarship funds available. So she turned to the ODU coach Heath Holtwho offered her a locker and a chance to play but had no money to give her that.
She accepted the offer and hasn’t regretted it for a second since. Before she arrived on campus, Holt found her a scholarship after another recruit was fired.
Four years later, she is in ODU’s top 10 for both goals and assists. She’s tied for 19th national with 69 points, tied 26thth with 50 goals and a draw 13th on vacant position goals with 15. She is third in the American Athletic Conference with 3.33 goals per game.
Lilly Siskind With her family
ODU wraps up its home season on Saturday when it hosts Vanderbilt at 1 p.m. at the LR Hill Sports Complex. Despite being a senior, Siskind will not be among those honored on Seniors’ Day. She plans to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility the NCAA is offering due to the pandemic and will return for a fifth season next spring.
She originally told Holt she plans to graduate in May and enter the workforce.
“I said I was ready to move on and finish the book on my career,” she said. “But I did talk to my brother (Max) and as I talked to him more and more, I realized that lacrosse is part of my identity, part of who I am.
“He said if you don’t go back you’ll always think about it. If you had stayed, ODU might have won more games. If you don’t go back, you’re going to have these doubts about whose what, if so, the rest of your life.”
Holt was planning the next season without her after hearing rumors from Siskind’s teammates that she was coming back.
“She told me, ‘I heard through the rumor mill that you’re coming back,'” Siskind said of Holt. “I told her I wanted to come back if that’s ok with her.”
Of course, Holt said yes immediately.
Siskind said the mentoring she received from the ODU coaching staff and the friendships she formed with teammates also prompted her to reconsider leaving.
“My dad taught me a lot,” Siskind said. “One of the things he said to me throughout recruiting is that you always end up where you belong. i am so happy here The experience was incredible.
“I have friends at some top schools and they just aren’t happy. Even if you think it’s your dream school or place, sometimes it just doesn’t work out.”
“Heather is a great trainer, as is trainer Kellogg,” she added, speaking of the 12-year-old assistant and former ODU star Ashley Waterswho walked past Ashely Kellogg before her wedding.
“They hugged me as soon as I got here. Although it wasn’t in my family tradition, I knew I could thrive here.”
She has, both on and off the pitch. She graduates in May with a degree in Business Marketing. She will complete her bachelor’s degree in business administration in May 2023.
She has excelled academically and has been involved in numerous community initiatives including Meals on Wheels, feeding the homeless and providing a 9/11 anniversary meal for firefighters.
“Community service, something we’re not obligated to do but are asked to do, takes us far further than we could ever go on the lacrosse field,” she said.
If her parents were upset or hurt by her decision to go to ODU, it never showed, she said. They bought and immediately started wearing ODU clothing and were frequent spectators at ODU games.
Both have been closely involved in their development as players. Her father was her first coach and coached her in youth leagues for most of her career. Siskind began playing for an all-boys team in the first grade—there weren’t any girls’ lacrosse leagues at the time.
Everyone has heard of Little League Parents yelling and pressuring their kids to excel, but their mom and dad were the opposite.
“He was my coach all along,” she said, playing travel lacrosse. “He wasn’t a loud or boastful coach.”
Instead of shouting, he often used hand signals to tell his players when to up the tempo, slow things down, or just calm down.
“Whether I was playing my best game or my worst, he was always the same,” he said. “He taught us never to get too high or too low.
“I admired that about both my parents.
“When I was growing up, my mother would take us to every single tournament. Father was often with my brother.
“You don’t realize until later in life how much your parents did for you. There was a tournament every Father’s Day. I was so lucky to have her.”
Her siblings also played a part in her sporting development. They played backyard basketball, badminton, whiffelball, and any other game they could think of. And they have not let up with their little sister.
“I think that’s why I’m a bit tougher” than some players, she said. “I was never treated like the little sister. I had to win on my own and didn’t win many games.”
She was also taught that scoring isn’t necessarily the be-all and end-all of lacrosse.
“You want to feel good, but not lose yourself in the process,” she said.
“It’s so much more important to be a good teammate, to make sure you’re not a hothead, to be someone everyone can rely on.
“Scoring goals was great for me, but I wasn’t taught that. Nurturing others was the most important thing. Anyone can score, but it’s the person who does it
opens up plays and moves the ball carrying offense.”
ODU finishes its regular season next Saturday in Temple, just minutes from their hometown. The team will leave next Friday, train at Temple and then head to West Chester where players, coaches and athletic training staff will dine at their family home.
“I can’t wait,” she said.
Recently, after a 12-11 home loss to Delaware in which she had two goals and two assists, Siskind was approached by Delaware’s assistant coach Steph Lazo, a former Penn State All-American who served before joining the Nittany Lions coaching staff belonged to Delaware.
Lilly Siskind with her siblings
“She came up to me after the game and said, ‘Penn State really missed you,'” Siskind said.
“It was great that she said that to me.
“But from lacrosse, to all the friends I’ve made, to all the great things we’ve been fortunate to have in the community, I never would have ended up here if I hadn’t been rejected from those other schools.
“My father was right. I ended up where I belong.”