Every story has its chapters. The structure of them varies, but one thing is always constant. They have a start and a finish.
As the Marist’s women’s lacrosse team is starting their season, there are multiple new faces on the field. None more so than Jillian Henson. While she stands on the sidelines with her new teammates, she is learning exactly how the Red Foxes play and starting a new chapter of her lacrosse story.
Henson joined Marist’s lacrosse team this offseason as a graduate transfer from the University of Scranton, a Division III program in Pennsylvania. Henson was intent on taking her fifth year there, but the decision to transfer became more and more appealing during the pandemic.
“When COVID hit and I was sent home, my coaches and I were talking about me taking a fifth year at Scranton,” Henson said. “Over the summer, my assistant coach reached out to me saying that I should try my luck with possibly going Division I.”
Henson built a spectacular resume during her Division III days to warrant moving up two divisions. During her time at Scranton, Henson had 140 goals and 74 assists. These are numbers that are rare and prove that she belongs at the highest level of college lacrosse.
The jump from Division III athletic programs to Division I is not a common leap. If athletes decide to transfer, it is usually to another school in the same division. Multiple other athletes in Henson’s class were taking their extra year of eligibility that they got from the spring of 2020.
That extra year changed the typical “five-year clock” that the NCAA allocates to their athletes. Now, athletes who are affected by the pandemic essentially get six years of eligibility to play four years of their respective sport.
Henson was put onto Marist’s radar by her assistant coach. Talk started, and Henson made her way to Poughkeepsie for fall ball. Head coach Jess Wilkinson is excited to have Henson on the team and for her to see some action as competition starts.
“One thing that we look for when we recruit graduate students, we know that they have already four years at the college level,” Wilkinson said. “Four years of work ethic, responsibility, and competition. Jill gives us an opportunity to have more leadership and understanding of that LAX IQ.”
Henson has an impressive presence on the field that she has been working on for over half her life. The Syracuse native has been playing lacrosse since she was in fifth grade. But, with any transition to a new chapter, there is some uncertainty and some time allotted for adjustment. Henson has taken the time to adjust and write her next section and has taken this time in her story to reflect on a few of the differences between a Division III program to Marist’s.
“The time commitment is definitely the biggest difference between D-III and D-I,” she says. “In the fall for D-III, we would have 15 days of practice. So you would go for about a month and have one competition and then be done, versus we [Marist] started in September and were going all the way until Christmas break and had numerous competitions in that time.”
Even with all those changes, there was one more thing to balance for Henson, the duality of being a veteran of college athletics while simultaneously being the new face on the team.
Henson notes that the first few weeks after joining the team were a bit difficult because the time management is a bit different and that Marist quickly picks up play in the fall against multiple teams, something Henson wasn’t really used to. The team was welcoming and once they started fall ball, the transition went more smoothly.
“It was a good adjustment,” she said. “Having the fifth-year dynamic, it’s something different. Not many teams have a fifth year, and I think that is something that is unique and trying to figure out a balance of what type of leadership you could have and where you fit on the team.”
“I give Jill a lot of credit,” Wilkinson added. “She had already had an experience of being a freshman at an undergrad school, and to come here and almost do it all over again but as a grad student, I don’t know how I would even respond.”
Wilkinson also mentioned that when the coaching staff is looking at graduate students to recruit, they try to find athletes based on what they need. So, as players graduate, new Red Foxes must fill the holes. Henson, who plays attack, may be asked to step up and fill out the offense who lost Sam Mehalick this past year to graduation.
While Henson was at Scranton as an undergraduate, she had a career total of 214 points. She is fifth in the Saints’ record book in assists, sixth in total points and tenth in career goals with 140. That is 64 behind Mehalick’s career goal total.
“She is very dedicated to sport and she is really good at it,” Wilkinson said. “So she really wants to make sure her time here is worth it.”
As the rest of this chapter will continue to write itself as the Red Foxes season continues on, the pages will fill with goals, assists, conversations with her coaches and teammates, and moments that Henson will forever remember from her first Division I season.
Edited by Bridget Reilly and Jonathan Kinane
Photo from Marist Women’s Lacrosse Instagram