The lessons a torn ACL taught Abby Wollenberg

By Andrew Wuebker | April 12, 2018

When junior lacrosse player Abby Wollenberg landed on her left leg awkwardly in a preseason game this past fall, she knew something wasn’t right.

“‘Oh, holy s—. That was not right,’” she recalled. “It kind of just felt like an ankle [injury]. Kind of like I had just stepped on it wrong, landed wrong, but then I kept going and it was progressively worse.”

With the season-opener slightly over five months away, the second game of a standard play day at Springfield College had suddenly become Wollenberg’s worst nightmare as an athlete. The damage was done. A torn left ACL had ended her junior season before it even started.

In the aftermath since then — the moments, hours, days and now months after the injury — she remembers everything.


From RWU Assistant Athletic Trainer Cory Viveiros telling her the tough news to the acceptance of not being able to play for an entire season, Wollenberg says this experience has been one of the most challenging times in her life. The lessons she’s learned throughout the recovery process, however, and her adjustment to the sideline view have given her new perspectives that have aided her rehab and the team.

After the initial whirlwind of confusion and denial, it sunk in for Wollenberg a couple days after the ACL tear that she wouldn’t be playing at all this year. Wollenberg had surgery on Dec. 7 to repair the torn ACL. Because she sustained previous injuries to both ankles playing basketball in high school that required surgery, Wollenberg was used to the injury scene, but this one was different.

“It’s funny because I really remember everything,” she said. “I was nervous, as anyone would be going into surgery, but I was used to it. It was my third one, so I knew what to expect, but I was definitely more nervous about this one because it was such a bigger injury. And how my body was going to respond, I didn’t know and it was just scary. It was a lot scarier than the last two.”

Post-op, Wollenberg started physical therapy just six days out of surgery, using crutches, and was in a brace for two months.

Workouts for Wollenberg have been tough. With each session comes intensified exercises, like added weight to the push press. She does exercises like squats and hits the bike to rebuild strength in the muscles around her knee.

Accepting help throughout her recovery when she didn’t want it, even when navigating around campus or at home, has been a lesson to Wollenberg.

“I always say, ‘I’m not a crier, I’m not someone who gets upset,’ but I’ve learned, especially through this experience, that it’s okay to show your emotions and it’s okay to need help and it’s okay to hurt,” she said. “Because this is one of the toughest things I’ll ever go through.”

Her parents, trainers, coaches, and teammates have been there for Wollenberg throughout the recovery process. In return, Wollenberg is doing everything possible to contribute to the team off the field, instead of on it, which for her she says has been a big challenge and adjustment.

“That’s been the toughest thing, being on the sidelines, especially as a junior,” she said. “Seeing the freshmen and sophomores — they’re in a spot I want to be. I think the biggest thing is making sure everyone is positive and really in the game, focused on the game. Coach [Jennifer Fox] always says, ‘Leave everything that’s not lacrosse related out of the turf, out of the fences, and just focus on lacrosse.’ And that’s kind of the biggest thing that I try to do is make sure everyone stays focused and really focus on the game plan and what we need to get done.”

Wollenberg has been a huge part of the Hawks’ sideline “celes” (celebrations) during games to keep her teammates positive and upbeat. From calling out numbers to chest bumps and bowling celebrations, the celes are one way she leads from the sidelines.

It wasn’t until a recent loss against against the Hawks’ fiercest rival in the conference, Endicott College, that her injury really hit her. Wollenberg expressed frustration and even became upset when she was unable to help her team on the field.

“I couldn’t bring my lacrosse skills to the field to help them and I think that was the most frustrating, because you could just see that they needed help and they didn’t know what to do,” she said. “Me physically not being able to do that was what got me the hardest.”

The past few months have clearly taught Wollenberg many things, but perhaps most of all to not take any opportunity for granted, especially when it comes to playing lacrosse, heeding the words of her former coach: “Practice like you can’t tomorrow.”

“And that came true this year for me because I couldn’t,” Wollenberg said. “One day I could play and the next I couldn’t even walk with my two legs. I think that’s a lesson that I try to convey to my teammates is, ‘You don’t want to be in my shoes because you miss everything, but I wish you were in my shoes to actually see how much you need to value running and working out and playing with your teammates and doing all that stuff that I physically can’t do.’ And I think they understand that because this team is my blood and I love them and I know them like the back of my hand, and they know I would do anything to be on the field with them.”

Wollenberg has also learned a great deal about herself and what she’s capable of after facing this arduous experience.

“I’ve definitely learned that I’m not unbreakable,” she said. “That bad things are going to happen and it’s how you respond that’s gonna make you the stronger person. Because I know being a senior next year and being a leader of the team that people are going to look to me when times get tough.”

As the season for the Hawks continues to wind down and only three games remain before postseason play begins, Wollenberg will of course be cheering on her teammates from the sidelines. Although still some months away from getting back on the field, Wollenberg is both apprehensive and excited to hit the turf again with a lacrosse stick in hand, but stronger than before. For now, she’s tired of waiting.

“I want to get out there. It’s been long enough.”

The competitive spirit that made Kaelin Hogan a star

By Andrew Wuebker | March 24, 2018

A true competitor is a rare breed.

Senior lacrosse star Kaelin Hogan has always had a love for sport and competition. The crazy part is — she doesn’t know where it came from.

“Honestly, I don’t really know,” Hogan said. “Probably just from always having a brother and always competing against him. Trying to be I guess the better sibling, but neither of my parents are that competitive, so honestly I’m not really sure where that competitive nature kind of came from.”

In her final season as a Hawk, the 21-year-old is once again at the forefront of another strong start to the season for the Roger Williams University women’s lacrosse team. As the team is off to a 4-2 start that’s got them tied for first-place in the Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC), Hogan has led the way with her offensive talents (team-leading 34 points) and defensive presence, setting the expectation that a second CCC championship is within reach.

As far as statistics go, the impact Hogan’s had on the field the last four years is clear, but her impact runs much deeper.

Over her four years at RWU, Hogan’s competitive nature and work ethic has been a defining part of the lacrosse program’s currently dominating stretch, while also exuding leadership and confidence with a charisma that is admired and inspires her teammates.

“Kaelin has a jar of energy in her that never runs out,” said senior Nicole Palombo, Hogan’s teammate and close friend. “She loves to get everyone hyped up to cause success on the field. She actually started our tradition of doing ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ chest pounds before a game. She gets the juices flowing and cheers screaming pre-gametime to jack us up.”

Palombo also described how competitive Hogan can be in the heat of a game, saying that she simply refuses to give up on plays.

“Kaelin Hogan does not like to run, but will be the fastest runner you’ve ever seen when you put someone next to her,” she said. “She’ll be the first one to a ground ball and put the ball in the net if something is on the line. She doesn’t like to lose.”

In addition to being a serious competitor on the field, Hogan’s teammates described how she is able to use her personality as part of her leadership skills. Carly Martin, a senior and also a close friend of Hogan’s, described one way Hogan pumps up teammates in the pregame.

“Kaelin is a great captain on and off the field,” Martin said. “She gets the team motivated in the locker room by her great dance moves and she loves getting the job done. She is here to win and makes sure the whole team is on the same page.”

Palombo added that Hogan’s ability to balance her positive and carefree personality with her on-field competitiveness is telling in why the group trusts her as a leader.

“Kaelin is a very upbeat, silly, funny, caring person on and off the field,” Palombo said. “If you ever want to laugh just talk with her for five minutes and she’ll make you cry laughing from a random story she made up literally as she’s speaking to you. However, come gametime once that first draw goes up, she becomes serious. She knows there’s not much room for silly. She’ll slide in a joke here or there to uplift spirits, but she does it so we have a positive attitude and high energy to do well in the game.”

Besides starting pregame rituals, telling outrageous stories and busting moves in the locker room, her desire to lead and compete seems most evident when called to the challenge.

This past fall, the team was left without a head coach after the departure of Lisa Vogeley, who led the team to four straight CCC championship game appearances, including a victory in 2016. The university soon hired Jennifer Fox to take over, previously an assistant coach with Endicott College, but in the time the team was without someone to guide them, Hogan was one of the first to help guide her teammates.

“Kae cares lot about this program,” Palombo said. “In the fall we were coachless and she stepped up so this program could remain successful. Without a coach people were turning to her for guidance on attack. She would lead the drills and mentor players on how to effectively run the plays. What she taught the team in the fall has translated to the spring. She has helped make our attack the powerhouse it is.”

Before the 2018 campaign began, the Hawks set individual goals for themselves that they set out to achieve throughout the season. For Hogan, she may have already started fulfilling hers.

“[My goal] is to just to be the best captain that I can be for my team on and off the field; being able to support all of the girls and help them when they need help,” Hogan said. “Whether it’s academically, personally, on the field, off the field.”

Hogan’s small, close-knit hometown of Bethel, Connecticut is where the earliest traces of her competitiveness and leadership qualities can be tracked. The sixth grade marked the first time Hogan was exposed to lacrosse. After playing lacrosse for a year, she stopped in the seventh grade to play on a premier soccer team. From there, she took up lacrosse again in the eighth grade and continued to play all throughout high school. In addition to being a lacrosse and soccer player, Hogan also played basketball.

She went on to play all three sports in high school and made every varsity squad as a freshman. By her senior year, she was a captain of all three sports and earned a trophy case full of awards, including First Team All-State for lacrosse her junior and senior years, and All-Patriot for basketball her junior and senior years as well. By the end of her high school career, Hogan had earned 12 varsity letters in total.

When the time came to enroll in college, playing a collegiate sport was a major factor in her decision. Hogan originally sought to play basketball in college, but encouragement from her parents led her to the lacrosse route. The choice ultimately came down to RWU and James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. With lacrosse not an option at JMU, a Division I program, Hogan enrolled at RWU unrecruited, taking the chance on competing for a roster spot in the women’s lacrosse program.

Since then, her résumé speaks for itself. In her rookie season, she earned a spot on the All-CCC Third Team. She’s earned All-CCC First Team twice, CCC Offensive Player of the Year in 2017 and helped lead the Hawks to the 2016 CCC title.

“That was probably a huge highlight,” Hogan said. “Especially since it was never done before and making it to the N.C.A.A. Tournament was huge for our program. That’s definitely probably the highlight of my four years here.”

She also has a great chance of surpassing Kelsey Rahilly this season for the No. 1 spot on the RWU All-Time Career Points list.

While Hogan has experienced much athletic success throughout her playing career, she actually faced a little adversity when she first arrived at RWU. The adjustment of going from a high school student-athlete to a college student-athlete was at times difficult and demanding. As a freshman, some professors were not as understanding of her athletic commitments and responsibilities as others while the workload became hard to manage and what seemed like little time to have any freedom.

“I had pretty good time management skills, but I kind of had to realize how much more I needed to sacrifice for the team with 6 a.m. lifts, to two-hour practices, to scout sessions on our next opponent,” Hogan said. “I kind of had to switch everything around and it was definitely hard and there were some points where I questioned why I played, but my love for the game never changed.”

Obviously, things for Hogan turned out alright. Now in the final month and a half of her college career, Hogan’s beginning to realize that her journey is coming full circle.

“Playing lacrosse the seniors would always say, ‘Take it in. Take it in. It flies by,’” Hogan said. “Looking back at it, it definitely did fly by, but I don’t think I could have asked honestly for a more perfect experience. Everything panned out the way I think it was meant to be.”

In the handful of times left she’ll suit up, donning her No. 11 jersey on the Bayside Field turf, she’s as determined as ever to compete and leave it all out on the field.

“Knowing that this is my last year, I don’t want to hold back because after this there’s probably no more playing again.”

Click here for the published article.