Being a part of a family is important. For Ithaca College women’s lacrosse sophomore defender Kaitlyn Russell, she is not only a part of a family on the field, but she has actual family on the team. This season, Kaitlyn is reunited with her younger sister, first-year student defender Lauren Russell.
Kaitlyn and Lauren previously played together for their high school lacrosse team, West Babylon Senior High School in Babylon, New York. There, they played side-by-side for three years from 2019–21.
Madison Mulligan, the college’s assistant coach who primarily works with the defense, said the two sisters act like anything but siblings on the field, but that they continue to help each other out as siblings.
“They play the same position but they don’t take reps together all the time,” Mulligan said. “They give each other feedback at practice and act like normal teammates, pushing each other on like any group of teammates would for each other.”
For Kaitlyn, it was hard to think of the idea of never playing lacrosse on the same team as her sister again after their final high school game together.
“We played together growing up, starting in kindergarten and first grade, and it was not something we expected to do,” Kaitlyn said. “It was really upsetting that we thought we would never have an opportunity to play together again after high school. It’s really surreal that we’re playing together again.”
For Lauren, the bittersweet ending of her final high school game with her older sister in 2021 left her wanting more and definitely played into her college decision.
“I think [the reason I chose the college] was the chance to play together again and possibly win a championship at the college level,” Lauren said. “We won a county championship together and the thought of winning in college together was very convincing.”
Mulligan said that having the opportunity to coach siblings makes her job fun, but that it is hard to pick up that there are siblings on the team during matches.
“It’s definitely a fun experience,” Mulligan said. “I would say on the field, you don’t really notice it, but off the field, it is definitely more evident.”
Mulligan said Kaitlyn and Lauren are a great example of communication as teammates, as sometimes it is hard to find the difference between them working together as siblings or teammates.
“We always say you have to differentiate between being a friend and a teammate,” Mulligan said. “It’s even more difficult to separate wanting to talk to each other as a sibling or teammate and they do a great job of that. They set the right example of communicating with each other as teammates, or in other situations, siblings.”
Lauren said having Kaitlyn around has helped make her transition to college life steady, especially with the challenge of joining a new team.
“It’s really nice to be together again,” Lauren said. “It made my transition a lot easier, knowing that I have her here, someone who I know already.”
Kaitlyn said helping Lauren settle into her new life has been important to her while also pushing each other to continue to grow on and off the field.
“We’ve been really good with helping each other out,” Kaitlyn said. “As a sophomore, you already have a full year of experience trying to balance academics and athletics. We worked together over winter break, doing all of our conditioning together and adjusting a little more, just in terms of being an athlete in college.”
Mulligan said she is impressed with Lauren’s transition to being an athlete in college and that together, Kaitlyn and Lauren bring a level of energy to practice that is unmatched.
“She’s handled [the adjustment to college] just fine,” Mulligan said. “Both of them are two of the most positive kids. They both bring great attitude and intensity to practice.”
In the early stages of the season, the team has a 2–1 record, with the one loss coming to No. 14 ranked SUNY Cortland, 9–8. Back on the same playing field with Lauren, Kaitlyn said she has a lot she would like to accomplish with her sister and the team.
“We are looking to compete at a higher level, definitely win the Liberty League Championship and maybe a National Championship,” Kaitlyn said. “Those are repeated goals for us, take it one game at a time and win every game along the way.”
Kaitlyn said the team has a bigger mindset than just individual goals, that the team’s culture has been built upon trust in each other and working together, something Kaitlyn and Lauren are very familiar with.
“A really cool thing about our team is that our culture is such a big part of our success and it’s more than just an individual,” Kaitlyn said. “We’re just lucky that we get to be a part of this culture together.”