c/o Steve McLaughlin

c/o Steve McLaughlin

Olivia Lai ’23 MA ’24 is only in her third full season as a member of the Wesleyan women’s lacrosse team due to COVID-19, but that hasn’t stopped her from cementing herself as one of the most effective attackers in program history. Lai currently sits third all-time in career goals for the program, 25 goals away from becoming the all-time leading scorer in Wesleyan women’s lacrosse history. That might seem like a tall order, but Lai scored 15 goals in a single week this season, a performance that earned her NESCAC Player of the Week and Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) Division III Offensive Player of the Week, a national honor. She tallied four goals over No. 22 Trinity, five goals against Hamilton, and then finished with a career-high-tying six goals against No. 2 William Smith College. Lai sat down with The Argus to discuss her lacrosse career, how the program has changed, and what makes this year so special.

The Argus: Can you introduce yourself?

Olivia Lai: My name is Olivia Lai. I graduated last spring, but I’m currently a grad student. I’m from Basking Ridge, New Jersey. I double-majored in neuroscience and psych and I did a chemistry minor. And then after this semester ends, I’ll be starting dental school at NYU.

A: How did you start playing lacrosse?

OL: I’ve been playing lacrosse since probably first or second grade. There was a club team that someone from my town started. So I’ve kind of played with them throughout my whole club career, throughout high school and everything. I also played basketball and volleyball growing up, and honestly, basketball was my favorite sport. And then I stopped growing and was a little vertically challenged. So then I stopped.

A: What made you decide to continue your career here at Wesleyan?

OL: I was a late bloomer, so I feel like I didn’t get to that next level until my junior and senior year [of high school]. And during that time, I was looking at DI schools and was getting rejected. I even considered quitting lacrosse. I was like, “Maybe I’ll just stop after high school, whatever.” And then my parents convinced me to go to a DIII showcase, and [head coach] Kim [Williams] saw me and the rest is kind of history. She did a good job selling this place. And I’m very happy with my decision.

A: How did COVID-19 impact your career at Wesleyan? 

OL: Getting sent home after four games that season was super disappointing. Also, the senior class that year was a super talented group. And I was so excited to play with them. They were part of the team that went to the final four the year before. So it really sucked not getting that experience as an underclassmen playing with them. And my sophomore year, I took classes remotely. So my first year actually playing was my junior year. And heading into it, I didn’t know if I would still be the same player I was before, or if I even would still enjoy the sport in the same way, just because I’d spent so much time away from it.

A: How have you seen the program change over your time here? What’s remained the same? What’s different?

OL: I’d say the culture across grades has just gotten so much tighter and more intertwined. I’m just thinking back to my freshman year, there were very few upperclassmen that I felt close and connected to. And now, just hearing back from some of the underclassmen that I’ve played with, their transition into the team has been so seamless. I feel like so many people across different grades spend so much time together off the field, which is definitely something that translates on the field [with] how tight knit our team is.

A: Coming into this season, how were you feeling approaching this year?

OL: I would say coming into the season, I didn’t really have any crazy expectations, just knowing that we had lost a lot of talent and starters in my grade. I graduated with a lot of great players with that experience, but I think this year, once we got into it there were so many people who were ready to step up and fill the shoes of some of those people and they’ve done an awesome job with that.

A: How did it feel to be named NESCAC Player of the Week and IWLCA Offensive Player of the Week for your performance against Trinity, Hamilton, and William Smith?

OL: Obviously, it was a really cool honor after that really big stretch of games, just because we played three games that week, which was a lot. It’s probably the most we have ever played at a time. But [head coach Kim Williams] really emphasizes that when we get to play double doubleheader games during our regular season, it prepares us for our postseason, when we’ll be playing them when the rest of our season is on the line.

A: You guys just had a huge win to advance to the NESCAC semifinals. What did that win mean to you? 

OL: It’s funny because the past three years that I’ve been here, we’ve always played one of the last NESCAC teams we played in the regular season in our first round game for the quarterfinals. So it’s always interesting getting to play a team really recently after you played them, and we knew that they weren’t going to be the same team that we played the week before. They were going to prepare differently. And the same goes with us. But I think we just focused on what we needed to do. And the rest kind of followed. I think we struggled a little bit in the first half of that game. It was a slow start, but once we got the offense going we really pulled away.

A: What makes this team special?

OL: Alright, this is probably gonna be a cheesy answer. But our seniors or the captains always pick [a team motto] every year. And this year, ours was “fearless together.” I think people are going out there and not playing timid and scared, knowing that they have been training, preparing for this moment the past few years, and they’ve really come into these roles.

A: What do you think is going to be the key to your success as you guys play for a national championship?

OL: I would say just keep doing what we do best, in terms of how we prepare for games. Pushing each other really hard at practice every day always emphasizes how important being 42 [players] strong is, just because even the players that might not get as much time in the games, they’re the ones that are preparing the ones on the field. Every single day of practice, just pushing us and challenging us.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Georgia Adams can be reached at gadams@wesleyan.edu.