2/5/2015 2:23:00 PM
By: Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Sports Media Relations
Kelsey Yenco is proud of her heritage. In fact, her Lehighsports.com bio has listed Italy as the place she’d like to visit.
She can now cross that off her bucket list.
Over this past winter break, Yenco traveled to Italy as part of a senior training pool trip, among those eligible for Italy’s national lacrosse program. It was an experience that culminated a love for lacrosse, a love for her heritage and a desire to travel abroad, all into one unforgettable ten-day experience. In the process, Kelsey helped grow the sport she loves.
“I think everybody is proud of where they come from, proud of their background and proud of their culture,” said Yenco. “Being Italian is a big part of who I am. Big family dinners and other Italian customs were big aspects of childhood. Experiencing that Italian culture has always been something I’ve wanted to do.”
Kelsey’s chance came when the coaches asked 24 individuals to travel to Rome. In early September, she found out she was invited before receiving a detailed itinerary in December.
The trip had many purposes, not only to identity some of the best talent for the country’s initial women’s national team, but also to grow the game of lacrosse.
“We met with Italian players every morning and played lacrosse with them. We ran a bunch of clinic-type drills to teach them skills they could take back to their teams all around Italy,” said Yenco. “Lacrosse is fairly new to all these girls. A lot of them only started playing because they took trips abroad to the United States, saw the game and became interested.”
The number of organized lacrosse teams in Italy is very minimal, so the 24 individuals on the senior training trip made a significant impact. One goal of the trip was to assess the Italians’ skill level while teaching and showing them ways to improve.
“It was a great opportunity to bring the game that I love over to people who have an appetite to learn,” said Yenco. “It wasn’t only to grow the game for the girls we taught, but to also grow the game in the country as a whole. When we were wearing something that said Italia Lacrosse, people asked us countless times on the subway or while walking, ‘what is lacrosse?’ It wasn’t just Italians who asked us. We had French tourists ask as well.
“It was interesting to meet people who have no idea about the sport, all the while it’s something we’ve been playing for 10-12 years now,” Kelsey continued. “Lacrosse is the fastest-growing sport in America. The hope is to grow the game abroad as well.”
The players on the trip featured a talented group, with ages ranging from high school to collegiate and post collegiate. The group didn’t only play with Italian players. Their last two days, they even scrimmaged people from Austria, Switzerland and Germany, so they helped teach the sport to individuals beyond Italy.
Yenco has hopes and aspirations to make Italy’s first-ever national team, but that wasn’t the biggest takeaway from the trip. Regardless of the outcome (making the team or not), she will have a lot of positives to fall back on.
The trip helped Kelsey prepare for the upcoming college season, training with other players in similar situations.
“A lot of times over winter break, you don’t have the opportunity to really play,” said Yenco. “I had the chance to go over to Europe and have almost a study abroad experience which I haven’t done in my four years here.”
“There are so many fabulous opportunities to study and play abroad during semester breaks,” said Lehigh head coach Jill Redfern. “We are very excited that Kelsey took advantage of this travel opportunity. We always encourage summer and break opportunities for our student-athletes.”
Off the field, Yenco was able to meet some Italian family members for the first time, some relatives from her father’s side of the family that she had never met.
“I was able to learn more about the Italian culture,” she said. “There was a language barrier, but one of the adults and one of the children spoke English. Very little, but their eagerness to use English and talk to me was really sweet. It made me want to go back, spend more time with them and learn their language so I can communicate better.”
Lacrosse has been good to Kelsey; it’s helped her gain a tremendous opportunity at a prestigious institution like Lehigh and it led her overseas for an enriching experience. She isn’t taking anything for granted, however, and is giving back to the game any chance she gets.
One way Yenco’s growing the game is as an assistant coach for high school players through Tri State Lacrosse Club.
“Tri State Lacrosse Club is in Wayne New Jersey, but they practice all over North Jersey and have a Pennsylvania team,” she said. “We run clinics, winter leagues and summer leagues, all to keep girls in shape so they continue to get better for their high school seasons and potential college careers.”
Kelsey also works for Goal Guardian, which is a goalie combine, measuring skill sets, athletic ability and personality. The objective is to give NCAA coaches a more precise measuring stick for the goalies they’re interested in recruiting.
Personally, Yenco credits a long list of people who’ve helped her get to where she is today, a senior and veteran member of a Division I Lacrosse program. Her father was one of her biggest influences. He played college lacrosse at Kean University and signed Kelsey up for lacrosse when she was in the fourth grade.
“I fell in love with the sport right away and jumped at every opportunity to play,” said Kelsey. “I played in my back yard, I played youth then I joined a club team in middle school. That’s when I got more serious and decided I wanted to play at a higher level. I have a lot of people, between my high school coach and the club programs that I work for now, who have really pushed me and helped me train since day one.”
Now, Kelsey is giving back and helping grow the game in several different ways. Her training trip is the latest example. Making Italy’s national team would just be an added bonus from the trip. For Italy, hopes are to create a team for this summer’s European Cup, along with the World Cup in 2017.
“The opportunity to play for a national team is in a lot of athletes’ goals and dreams,” said Yenco. “I would love to play for Team USA, but the chance to represent another country, where it’s so new, is an exciting venture. I have that pride, background and love for Italy. It’s something I’d love to show if I had the chance to represent the country on a bigger stage.”
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