This week, a legendary Syracuse athlete closed the book on her career as Kayla Treanor announced her retirement from the US women’s national team to focus full-time on coaching the Syracuse Orange women’s lacrosse team.
It’s a cause for some reflection. That’s what you do when someone of Kayla’s stature decides it’s time to stop playing. Because she is one of the greatest and most influential of all time, both in the sport of lacrosse and Syracuse athletics history.
To the woman who made lacrosse players across the country head out to the backyard and try things they never thought possible. To the leader that represented the U.S. so well.— U.S. Women's National Team (@USAWLax) July 26, 2022
THANK YOU FOR EVERYTHING, KT12 pic.twitter.com/KLDIivziMr
Her legend was established in her four years on the Hill, where she became a four-time first-team All-American, the only one in program history. She was also a three-time finalist for the Tewaaraton, a three-time National Attacker of the Year, and led her team to the Final Four in every year of her career.
With the US women’s national team, she played and won gold in two World Championships and retires as the team’s all-time leading point (77) and goal (44) scorer at major tournaments. She led the team in scoring and made the All-World team both times.
That’s a resume that more than speaks for itself, but how good she really was goes beyond the accolades and the incredible statistics. It’s the fact that there was literally nothing in the game she couldn’t do.
Have you guys ever heard the story about Wilt Chamberlain leading the league in assists because someone told him he couldn’t? And then he went out and did it because he wanted to. Well, no one ever told Kayla she couldn’t do something on the lacrosse field, but she did possess a similar ability to be great at whatever she set herself on.
Coming into Kayla’s senior year, the team had recently graduated the program’s all-time leading draw control taker, Kailah Kempney. They were in need of a replacement, and Gary Gait turned to Kayla and asked her to be the primary draw taker for the first time in her career.
How did that go, you ask? Well, she went out and won more draw controls than anyone had ever won in NCAA history in a single season, 217. In her senior year, with her team needing her to step up and fill a void, she turned herself into the most successful ever in her first year trying it. That’s a leader, teammate, and multi-talented athlete all rolled into one.
You know what else she could do? She could come up clutch. There was a great story in Alyssa Murray’s Inside Lacrosse article from earlier this week about the 2015 ACC Championship game between Syracuse and North Carolina.
The Orange won that game in double overtime. After winning the opening draw of the second OT, Gary Gait called a timeout. But in the huddle, he didn’t draw up a play. All he said was, “Let’s get the ball to K-Train”. They did, and Kayla took it herself and scored, clinching the ACC Championship for SU. There was never a thought of anything else. It was just get the ball to Kayla. It’s only the elite of the elite who get that treatment.
But there’s more to Kayla’s career than even everything I’ve mentioned so far. Because we haven't yet talked about her impact on the game, and how the way she played helped to influence and inspire young players and create a new era for the women’s game.
It was the unique style she played with that really caught everyone’s eye, from younger players to her contemporaries and coaches. Her flair and creativity with the ball allowed her to score goals that nobody else was even thinking to attempt. That brashness coupled with her incredible stick skills and dual-handedness made her unstoppable. For example:
You think anyone was even trying stuff like that before Kayla came along? Oh no, no, no.
Nobody played the game like Kayla, but after she came on the scene, a lot of young girls all over the country wanted to. That’s what made her a game-changer. Don’t believe me? Let’s go to an expert and ask fellow game-changer Taylor Cummings about Kayla’s impact on the game:
“I think Kayla is one of those players that took our game to new heights with what she could do on the field. Never before Kayla had I seen people play the way she does. The savvy stickwork, the dodging, the shooting... everything she does from a creative process. I think she took our game to the next level and showed and inspired this generation that’s playing right now, and I don’t think there’s many players like that ever and I think she’s one of them...I don’t know if there will ever be another Kayla Treanor, as a player, a friend and as a teammate.”
Kayla’s one of those rare athletes whose impact was so far and wide that it made her into a living legend in the sport while she was still an active player. She was playing with and against players who idolized her and wanted to be just like her when they were younger.
That was never more evident than at the World Championships earlier this month when, after the US beat Japan in their quarterfinal matchup, Kayla got a chance to meet a young lady named Monica Jones, who was playing for Team Japan:
Monica was in tears and probably disbelief as she was actually meeting the woman she had idolized from the other side of the world as a kid. And she’s far from the only player to ever be in awe of meeting, seeing, or playing with/against Kayla.
That’s what I call an impact.
And now, the player who helped bring the game to new and exciting heights on the field is looking to do the same thing for the Syracuse women’s lacrosse program on the sideline.
In fact, it appears to be the main reason why Kayla decided that now was the time to retire, so that she can focus all of herself on the job that she loves:
“With being able to coach at Syracuse, it’s beyond a dream come true. I never thought it’d be possible. It’s like the most special place in the world to me and to be able to coach there and coach this team, to have my family here, all these things. I’m just so looking forward to the future with Syracuse. That’s why I know I’m ready to be done. I think I owe Syracuse my very best, and I owe it my all. So I want to make sure that I do that for them.”
Congratulations, Kayla, on an incredible, unparalleled career of success and influence! We can’t wait to see what’s next for you and Syracuse women’s lacrosse!