While numerous athletes at Montclair State University decided to take their fifth year of eligibility this season due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic canceling their previous season, former women’s lacrosse player Kyle Graver chose otherwise.
“I was upset about our season being canceled but I also wanted to get my career started,” Graver said. “I talked to my coaches, parents and my fellow captains [Sydnee Sapp and Amanda Maguire] about it and we decided it was best to move on.”
So, she did just that. Graver, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry but is considering furthering her education, found a job at a lab part time after college. But the itch to remain involved with the sport was still there.
While she had decided not to come back as a player, coaching lacrosse would help fill the void of not competing anymore.
“I coached for a girls club team called 380Lacrosse for the past few years,” Graver said. “I did it during the summer and my coaches knew I was involved with that. I got in touch with [head coach Nicol Parcelluzzi] and told her that I was still in the Clifton area since my job is still here and [that] I can come help out with the team.”
The decision to bring her along was not a hard one, according to head coach Nicol Parcelluzzi.
“She’s the only three-time captain that I have ever coached,” Parcelluzzi said. “As a player, I always had confidence in her and she acted [as] an extension of the coaching staff on and off the field. Now, we are lucky to have her on the sidelines.”
Graver got the official position as assistant coach in October 2020 and has successfully made the transition from player to coach. Not returning for her fifth season was something that weighed heavily on her mind at first, but coaching has allowed her to stay connected with a program that she cares deeply about.
“I could see myself coaching here and there in the future; and getting a coaching job at a program like ours is going to be helpful in the [long run],” Graver said. “But as for me coming back to the sport, I wasn’t totally ready to give up on lacrosse. My best friends are on this team.”
As for her coaching experience thus far, Graver has loved it. As a coach, she can give more of a player’s perspective on the game that’s easier for her former teammates to grasp.
“Because I’m so newly out of lacrosse, it’s easy for me to take what I would do in a game situation and relay it to other people,” Graver said. “I think the girls on the team respect what I have to say because they know what I would do on the field.”
When a recently graduated player becomes a coach, one might wonder how their relationships with their teammates might change. For the players, it could be an awkward adjustment seeing your former teammate coaching you up on the sidelines during games and practices.
For a young coach, it can be tough to not only earn the respect of your former teammates in your new role, but also maintain a professional and personal relationship with them.
However, Graver has spent a lot of time with her former teammates on and off the field and has earned the respect of the entire locker room. This has not changed since becoming coach.
“I feel like my relationship with my former teammates isn’t very different for me,” Graver said. “I’ve always seen myself as the same person. My friends on the team don’t view me any differently either, but they also wouldn’t disrespect me and they listen to what I have to say. I know these girls and what they are thinking in their heads. When someone is down about having a rough day, I can be more personable with them.”
Graver explained how she uses her experience as a player to discuss strategies and game plans with the team.
“I feel like I understand the team dynamic more than other coaches because I competed with them,” Graver said. “As a player, I always said that my strongest asset was my game sense. Bringing that into coaching is all you really need. I see the game from a [player’s perspective], so I know that it will help the players when I can relay that message to them during practice and off the field.”
Meghan Mahlstadt was the only senior from last year’s team to return as a player in 2021. She and Graver have been best friends throughout their playing careers and were both captains last season.
Mahlstadt believes that her coaching style works very well with the team.
“Kyle’s personality on and off the field isn’t much different in my opinion, which I respect,” Mahlstadt said. “She doesn’t try to sugarcoat anything or pretend to be a big scary coach just because she has the title of one. She is fun and happy when it’s appropriate and professional in the right situations and is authentically herself every day.”
The Red Hawks entered the 2021 season having never won the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) in their program history. They also have not won a conference title since 2013. This is a goal that the team has their sights set on with most of their starters returning.
While the entire team hopes to achieve their dream of winning an NJAC title this season, Graver’s biggest priority is making sure the players leave the program with no regrets.
“For the players, I want to make sure that they are making the most of their opportunities and time here, something that I wish I did,” Graver said. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone and you’re never going to be able to get it back. There are girls on this team who never really had a shot, whether [that be because] they were injured or had other [circumstances]. They are going to be known this year. So many of our big stars have left and it’s their time to shine. I want to make sure that they get that spotlight.”