Late Bloomer

Kaileen Hart


or many, the attraction to sports is formulaic.

It’s the appeal of rooting for someone that is an underdog by nature, who is only in the situation that he or she is in because of countless hours of practice and repetition. A dedication of this sort requires maturity beyond the athlete’s years, because the foundation of becoming a great athlete is constructed at a young age—a time when it is uncommon to have a strong sense of foresight.

Kaileen Hart, from the beginning, found herself making up for lost time. The Boston College lacrosse attacker didn’t participate in organized sports until fourth or fifth grade and was automatically at a disadvantage when she stepped on the field for the first time.

“My friends were like, ‘Oh, you should join the soccer team … and the lacrosse team too,’” Hart said. “I remember being really, really bad … but I still had a lot of fun so I kept playing.”

One of the friends who helped convince her is currently a star attacker for Northwestern, one of the most storied women’s lacrosse programs in the nation. Shelby Fredericks met Hart in first grade, and the two have remained best friends to this day.

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redericks has always been a stellar athlete, one that Hart found herself looking up to on the field quite frequently. In ninth grade, the inseparable tandem joined the Long Island Top Guns, a local club team coached by Shannon Smith, a Northwestern player at the time.

“[Smith] was my biggest inspiration,” Hart said. “She was the one that took my lacrosse [career] and completely turned it around … She made me into such a good lacrosse player.”

All of a sudden, Hart realized that she could be a difference maker on the field for the first time in her life—it was now up to her to put in the work to make this possible. Almost immediately, Smith’s impact on Hart was noticeable. Fredericks saw her friend develop an insatiable work ethic at this time, one that made the sky the limit.

“[Hart] decided ‘this is what I want to do, and I’m going to work very hard at this’ … once that happened, it came very quickly for her,” Fredericks said.

Hart and Fredericks worked hand-in-hand as they grew in talent and experience. After school, they would grab their sticks and practice until their parents called them home for dinner. They pushed each other to be the best players they could be, drawing them even closer than they were before. To top it all off, they shared captainship responsibilities for three years, from 10th through 12th grade, at Babylon High School.

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ince their high school was small, it was constantly viewed as the underdog when they were underclassmen. They were a positive influence on the program and by their senior season they finally felt like they had put a competitive group of women on the field. Because of this, confidence was at an all-time high heading into a playoff game against Shoreham-Wading River.

“When I was in [in my first year of high school], [Shoreham-Wading River] beat us by 20,” Fredericks. “Every year we were inching closer and closer.”

The rival high school was bigger, and always had a better lacrosse program than Babylon. It was Hart and Fredericks’ last game against them, and they were determined to beat them for the first time in school history. The co-captains went into the game with the mentality that they needed to play a perfect game if they wanted to leave victorious. It started off according to plan.

What happened in this game would go on to be the most formative experience of Hart’s development as a lacrosse player: In the first half of the game against Shoreham-Wading River, Fredericks fell to the ground while holding her knee and wincing in pain. She had torn her ACL. For the first time in Hart’s playing career, she did not have her best friend by her side.

“I didn’t even really score any of the goals in high school. She scored all of the goals, and I was just, like, her buddy,” Hart said. “[When she tore her ACL] I was like ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do?’”

Hart didn’t know what she had in her: The New York native spearheaded the team’s brilliant second-half effort. When the clock hit zero, Babylon found itself on top of Shoreham-Wading River, 8-7.

“[That win] was a testament to Kaileen having the mental toughness to not get shook by me going down, and to hold everyone together and give them belief,” Fredericks said. “That’s 100 percent why we won that game. It wasn’t because we were the better team, it was because she let the team believe that we could win.”

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year before that, Hart was an 11th grader who was completely unsure about her future. Before a summer league game, her coach told her that BC head coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein wanted to talk to her on the phone. Prior to being told this, Hart had not put much thought into pursuing college lacrosse. She had never talked to a college coach before, and was extremely nervous about this spur-of-the-moment conversation. Hart was pleasantly surprised when Walker-Weinstein made her feel at home from the moment their phone conversation started, which made Hart more comfortable through the process.

Walker-Weinstein invited Hart to join her upcoming summer camp. In the month of July, heading into her senior season, Hart made the trip from Long Island to the Heights. She loved the attention that Walker-Weinstein gave her in camp, and sensed that she wanted her on her team. After talking it over with her father, she decided to commit to BC following the camp’s conclusion, never even considering another school.

As a freshman and sophomore at BC, Hart had a lot of adjusting to do. For the first time in her life, she was away from home. She also had to learn to adapt to a new schedule. Her typical day during the offseason started with a 5:30 a.m. workout, which lasted until the first of her three daily classes. All of these combined factors proved to be difficult for her at times.

Playing time was few and far between at first, and when she did get in the game she was overcome with nerves. After recording just a total of six goals as a freshman and sophomore, Hart decided to focus on the cerebral side of her game as she headed into her junior season.

“I think 90 percent of your game is mental, and every time I would go in [as a freshman and sophomore] I would shake,” Hart said. “Junior year I came to the realization, ‘Why was I so nervous all this time?’ I think I really just changed my mindset.”

A renewed feeling of confidence helped Hart make great leaps as a junior. She became a go-to attacker for the Eagles, scoring 49 goals and recording 75 points. To the outside eye, her breakout season was a complete surprise. But Smith, who watched her develop as a player, expected this all along. She always knew that Hart could be tremendous, and thinks she took her game to the next level by playing with a more aggressive style junior year.

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ast year, the Eagles were 6-2 leading up to a March 8 road game at No. 1 Maryland, the eventual undefeated national champions. This game proved to be a significant midseason test for BC, which, at the time, was still trying to establish an identity. The Eagles trailed, 8-5, in the waning minutes of the first half. Hart kept BC alive by scoring two goals before halftime.

Though Hart would score a then-career high four goals, the Eagles were not able to stick with the Terrapins in the second half, falling 21-13. The game was a microcosm of the team’s regular season: It was good enough to compete with anyone, but was never going to be the favorite over top-ranked opponents.

Nevertheless, flash forward two months, and the Eagles were in the NCAA Tournament. As the stakes got higher, and every decision on the field mattered more than ever, Hart had to take herself back to the days of playing club lacrosse with Fredericks to keep things in perspective.

“When I start to get nervous in a game … I try to take a deep breath and say in my mind, ‘It’s just lacrosse,’” Hart said. “[In those moments] you just have to be confident in your skill set and not choke under the pressure of people watching you.”

Throughout the tournament, every BC player seemed to be playing up to the peak of her ability. The Eagles were able to roll through Canisius and No. 9 Syracuse, clinching a berth in the Elite Eight against No. 7 Southern California—a matchup that would be played in Newton and serve as the showcase for Hart’s best performance of her three-year career. She tallied a career-high seven points, propelling the Eagles to the Final Four for the first time in school history.

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he Eagles went on to defeat Navy in the semifinals to earn a spot in the National Championship where it faced a familiar foe: No. 1 Maryland. Hart was in a position that she never expected to find herself in. To Walker-Weinstein, it was expected all along, dating back to when she made her recruiting call to Hart when she was a junior in high school.

“[Walker-Weinstein] told me, ‘We want to win a national championship,’ and at that point, BC wasn’t even on the map,” Hart said. “I was like, ‘This lady’s insane but I believe her.’ [When we got to the national championship] I was like ‘she told me we were going to get here,’ which was pretty crazy.”

Even though the Eagles lost to Maryland and finished as national runner-up, Hart’s faith in Walker-Weinstein’s vision has not withered. This year, the Eagles are 6-0, and are ranked No. 2 in the nation. Unlike the time when Walker-Weinstein first talked on the phone with Hart, the Eagles are officially on the map.

“I don’t even think most of the people in the locker room know we’re [No. 2] right now,” Hart said. “That’s our expectation now … we say before the games, ‘Now, we’re the team to beat’ … we can’t have the underdog mentality anymore, which I personally love to have.”

By this point, Hart—a late bloomer by definition—has shed the underdog tag. Over the weekend, she tallied a career-high 10 points against Brown, becoming the 25th member of BC’s 100-point club. A lot has changed since she received a call from her coach that changed her life.

As a senior captain once again, she is looking to deliver a win that is a program-first, like she did when she beat Shoreham-Wading River. Only this time, she’s seeking a national championship.

Featured Image by Keith Caroll / Heights Editor
Photos by Keith Caroll / Heights Editor and Julianna Glafkide / Heights Staff 

Charlie Sommers

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