Kelly Ryan is an exemplary assistant coach. She runs drills, commands her team effectively and molds successful players but spectators don’t get to see Ryan’s many quirks and characteristics that make her so much more than the authoritative figure calling plays and building a defense.
To really know Ryan means to see her through the eyes of her lacrosse players. The ones who know that her favorite artist is Lil’ Wayne and hear her listening to him on every bus ride; who witnessed her embody this affection in her Halloween costume.
“She was a candy ‘rapper.’ She dressed up like a music rapper but stuck candy wrappers all over herself,” said freshman defender Emily Stevenson.
The players laugh as they recall her lack of skills in mathematics. They are the ones who wake up for early-morning practices and hear her tell them to “empty your tanks,” and know just how passionate she is in building the team’s ferocity.
“We’re super intense, we have the girls work hard all the time. We don’t let little things go. If we’re sprinting, we have them sprint all the way through the line. We have expectations when we give them instructions,” Ryan said.
Really knowing Coach Ryan is seeing her pick up a stick and hop into the drill when you need a partner. It is hearing her voice in the middle of the field, telling you to communicate with your teammate, and reminding you to celebrate after a successful play.
Players are not afraid to take risks, because she’s “never mean,” according to Stevenson, and she appreciates a hungry offense. Knowing her is looking to her for her “energetic spirit” when you are in a funk, because “it’s going to motivate you and boost your confidence.” When energy is lost so is focus.
“That’s a big thing with her, she is always telling us to keep our focus,” said freshman midfielder Shannon Sweeney.
To know Ryan is to believe that “she knows what she’s talking about because she was a dual-sport athlete in college,” according to freshman midfielder Amanda Rom.
After attending and competing for four years in both basketball and lacrosse at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C, players are confident in her when she is constantly reminding them to run the defensive play she has named “fire.”
From the outside, you would never know that she is always one step ahead of her players; that she can point out how best to improve before they even realize something was wrong with their game.
From the outside, you would never know that she is passionate about defeating St. Leo University; that she talks about it all the time, reminding her players to always work harder than them now, so they will know what to expect later.
You would never know that she is “weird,” “relatable,” “energetic,” “approachable,” “positive.” To know this, you would have to know that she has modeled her coaching style after three people that she’s finds especially inspirational: her college lacrosse coach, her college basketball coach and current head coach Kelly Gallagher.
“I like to take a little bit of everyone and mold it and add a little bit of me and make it my own,” she said of Gallagher.
To others, Ryan is the rigorous and fervent coach that any Division II program demands, but from the perspective of the players who know her best, she is so much more.
Tess Sheets can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org