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Cassidy Spilis: Continuous improvement in tumultuous times

Junior midfielder Cassidy Spilis has overcome many obstacles in her time as a member of the Rutgers women’s lacrosse team and is now one of the program's main contributors.  – Photo by Olivia Thiel

Rutgers women’s lacrosse junior midfielder Cassidy Spilis has had an experience on the Banks that other spring athletes can relate to.

She had a freshman year that was canceled after only nine games due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and a sophomore year that only saw a schedule of in-conference competition.

This season as a junior, Spilis has been able to excel in a normal spring schedule with 44 goals and Midseason All-American honors.

After the No. 13 Scarlet Knights (10-3, 2-2) had a historic 2021 that saw first-time wins against Penn State and Maryland as well as a first-ever NCAA Tournament victory last May against Drexel.

This season, Rutgers has continued its success this season with a fast start. With wins already this season against Michigan and Johns Hopkins, the Knights have become a Big Ten team many are starting to dread playing against.

Spilis has been one of the main reasons why the team has been so successful, and her junior year comes with a previous history of Rutgers lacrosse that has not been normal by any standard. 

“Being a junior is crazy since this is my first regular season,” Spilis said. “(The team) got sent home for COVID-19 in my freshman year and last year was just against Big Ten teams. Even for the coaching staff, it has been their first normal season as well.”

With the pandemic playing a role in Spilis' career, she still saw the confidence the program had in her. She has pounced on the ability to grow as a player in a team environment that has supported her from the beginning. 

“The coaches had a lot of confidence in me and in my grade in general. It was great to play with girls my age and to play with the team coming in," Spilis said. "As I continue to grow as a player, my team continues to push me.” 

Spilis joined the program in the same season that head coach Melissa Lehman took over the program. Now in her third season, Lehman has been able to build a team that Spilis says has only grown since her arrival.

“Just how much we have grown as a whole program and how we have so many different threats all over the field. It is really amazing to have such a stacked team.” Spilis said.

While Spilis has totaled 44 goals in 13 games, her graduate student attackers Taralyn Naslonski, Stephanie Kelly and senior attacker Marin Hartshorn have also contributed to the mix. All four players have 127 goals and 182 points combined.

It does not stop with those four, as juniors like midfielder Ashley Campo and attacker Jenna Byrne, who have combined for 28 goals this season, have also seen their fair share of success.

“We have such impactful players ... me, (Naslonski), (Kelly), (Hartshorn)” Spilis said. “I did not have the game I wanted to (against Arizona State) whatsoever, and it is so amazing that there are so different people on the field who can step up into that role at any given time.” 

Not only are there impactful players on the offense, but the defense and goalkeeping also have also made their mark. Players like junior defender Meghan Ball and sophomore goalkeeper Sophia Cardello have been able to take charge on the back end. 

Ball has 41 ground balls and 34 caused turnovers this season and was named a Midseason All-American alongside Spilis. Meanwhile, Cardello was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week last month.

“Our (defense) has been so incredibly huge this year ... people like (Ball) and (Cardello) ... are such key players on this team,” Spilis said. “There have been so many games afterward where (we realized) defense was a huge part of that game ... you can’t win any games without the (defense).”

As a captain on this year’s team, Spilis has been able to take charge in a leadership role she takes with regard. She co-captains the team with returning captains Naslonski and Hartshorn. 

“Being in the role of captain is something I take with the highest respect," Spilis said. "I look up to all my captains I have had in all my years here ... and being captains with returning captains like (Naslonski) and (Hartshorn) makes it an honor to be with them ... each captain has their own different way of being influential, and when it all comes together, it becomes strong leadership for the team.” 

With or without adversity, Spilis has been able to produce and create an environment where she not only succeeds but also her team as a whole follows suit. From COVID-19 interference to a normalized season, Spilis has shown her worth, and she continues to do so as time goes by.

For more updates on the Rutgers women's lacrosse team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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