Senior defender Jenna Marchinetti glanced down at her left wrist during the Bombers’ game against Elmira College on March 25 at Higgins Stadium. Written on her forearm in black permanent marker was one word — “fierce.”
As she looked up, she eyed the ball as it passed between Elmira teammates. As they moved down the field, an errant pass soared over the head of its intended target, and it fell to the ground. Marchinetti quickly ran toward the ball with two purple jerseys bearing down on her. A flurry of sticks and legs surrounded the small, white 5-ounce ball, but ultimately Marchinetti, collected it in her stick and passed it up the field.
Each member of the women’s lacrosse team inscribes a word or phrase on her arm before every game. The markings serve as a motivator, a reminder and a symbol of unity. The current team members aren’t sure where the tradition originated, but upperclassmen on the team passed it down four years ago to the current seniors when they were freshmen.
The word “fierce,” which Marchinetti chose, complements her strength and power as a defender. She said the markings help give the team a tenacious attitude.
“For me, it provides extra motivation,” she said. “If we’ve had a couple of tough defensive sets, I can look to it and remind myself of my attitude going in, and it gives me that extra push during tough parts of games.”
The ferocity Marchinetti focused on played out during the Bombers’ last game against Elmira, as the Blue and Gold forced a season-high 24 turnovers and allowed a season-low 13 shots on goal en route to an 18–4 victory.
Every season, returning players teach the tradition to the new members of the squad. Marchinetti said she believes her new teammates have been receptive to the idea, given that every member of the team embraces the ritual. Players pass around a single black permanent marker in the locker room just prior to games as they carefully select which word will adorn their arms.
Freshman attacker Gabrielle Berne said she quickly adopted the team tradition without being told directly to do so.
“It’s one of those traditions that you pick up without even being told, but the upperclassmen gave us guidance as to how meaningful it is,” she said.
Each player has a different process for marking herself. Senior goalie Brittany Romano said some players will have dozens of different words etched onto their arm during their careers, while others will write the same word every game.
“It really depends on the player,” she said. “Me, personally, and a couple other people have a different word every game. So it’s just something, that day or that week, that you’ve been working on to keep you going. My word recently is ‘strong’ — so just keep headstrong, keep body strong and be a strong player and leader outside of the field.”
A large poster was made from a photo taken during the 2012 season, and it currently sits atop the wooden lockers in the women’s changing room. In the photo, members of the team put their arm in, creating a circle. Words such as “fight”, “our time” and “empower” are written in on the players’ forearms and reflected in the image.
Senior defender Anya Eckhardt said she writes the same two words before every game to make sure they stay within herself.
“I write ‘no regrets’ on my arm every game because then I know I’m always going my hardest, and I’m not letting my teammates down,” she said.
Head coach Shannon McHale said she had never seen a team marking itself before games prior to beginning her career as the Bomber head coach in 2012 and was intrigued by her new team’s tradition when she first arrived.
“At first I thought, ‘That’s really cool,’ then I thought, ‘Is the ink seeping into your skin? Is that dangerous?’” she said jokingly.
Despite the unorthodox nature of the ritual, McHale said she appreciates the cooperative culture this tradition imparts to her players, noting that team members take the lone initiative for this activity. She has a copy of the poster in her office and the image serves as her desktop background.
Marchinetti said she thinks McHale acknowledges the benefits the tradition brings to the team.
“She knows it’s mostly driven by the players and by the upperclassmen,” she said. “She doesn’t have an active part in making us do it, but I think she supports it and likes that it gives us a little extra motivation in games.”
Senior defender Katie Long prefers to change up her phrase because it allows her to be more flexible and adapt to different situations. She said the word guides everything from the way she can utilize her speed and to the technique of her stick.
“Every game it switches, and so I kind of think of something that I want to work on or something that inspires me,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll put ‘all out’ if I just want to have a lot of energy that day or I’ll put ‘intensity.’ I like switching it up because then I can really focus on one thing every game and not be tied down to one thing.”
Marchinetti said she writes whatever best communicates her feelings and the current team atmosphere.
“I change my word depending on the game,” she said. “I write different ones depending on the opponent, my attitude towards the game, how I’m feeling that day or what I think I need to improve on or focus on for the next game.”
McHale said players may also write something on themselves that she has told them to work on during practice. Multiple team members said they write reminders such as “keep your stick up” if they forget during games. McHale said at times she is curious about what her players decide to scrawl on their forearms.
“It is interesting to see,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll check out what they write. Either it’s just cool to see what each one is picking, or if it is on base with what I think they need to focus on.”
Junior attack Emily Peters said she changes her word every year. This year she writes “drive” on her arm to help her remember to stay aggressive on offense, which compliments her quickness and agility when possessing the ball.
“It’s kind of a reminder for multiple things: ‘drive’ as in when I get the ball to make sure I’m looking to go to the goal if I have the opportunity, and just in other aspects during a game to make sure that I’m always going all out,” she said.
The tradition is so ingrained in the team that after a while, Long said she can almost sense what she marked into her forearm during games.
“I guess I don’t look down, but I just know that it’s there, and it kind of reminds me that way,” she said. “I don’t really need to look at it anymore.”
As each season begins, new players add to the tradition, which increases its strength and adds to its longevity. Berne said she is proud to be a part of such an impactful ritual.
“Coming here and being part of such a great tradition is an awesome feeling,” she said. “This is one of the many things we’ve done as a team that brings us close together and makes us want to succeed together.”