By Carley Crain
Kate Sarnacki was forced to grow up fast.
For most 13-year-olds, sports are everything to them. They don’t really understand what else is out there. Sarnacki’s first torn ACL came while she was playing basketball in middle school when she was 13.
Not many people can say they tore their ACL that young. This experience, however, would help Sarnacki develop a positive mindset, even as more knee injuries kept popping up throughout her collegiate career.
Meet Kate Sarnacki. As one of the best women’s lacrosse players in Springfield College history, she’s a player who will never be forgotten for her accomplishments on Stagg Field.
Sarnacki grew up in Western Massachusetts, not too far from campus. She excelled at numerous sports when growing up, her favorites being softball and basketball.
After she tore her ACL in the seventh grade, which turned out to be a devastating injury that ultimately forced her to quit basketball and softball, she decided to pick up lacrosse during her freshman year of high school after she was fully healed.
“Nobody had tore their ACL yet. I was the first one to do it within my age group”, explained Sarnacki.
“It’s really hard, especially so young since sports were my life. It was like, ‘What am I going to do now?’”
When senior year of high school came along, she tore her other ACL, another huge blow for Sarnacki. However, the thought of playing in college pushed her to keep at it with her recovery.
Because she grew up so close to campus, attending Springfield was never a thought. Head Coach Kristen Mullady reached out to Sarnacki, after seeing her excel both in high school and on her travel lacrosse team.
After speaking with Mullady and visiting campus, Sarnacki made the choice to call Springfield her new home. She dealt with some type of injury almost every single season she played in college, but that didn’t stop Sarnacki from breaking school records and winning awards. Injuries weren’t new for her, she knew how to handle them.
“I had to deal with two major injuries in sports and that kind of helped me mentally know there are other things out there besides sports,” said Sarnacki of her athletic injuries prior to Springfield.
“I think if I did not learn that before getting to college, I would have struggled a lot more.”
During her freshman year, Sarnacki was still wearing a knee brace since she was coming off her torn ACL from senior year. This was a hard adjustment, since playing with a large brace isn’t comfortable or breathable for a fast-paced game like lacrosse.
When sophomore year came, she dealt with even more knee issues; this time, it was cracked cartilage. Sarnacki had to sit out three weeks, but was able to come back for the rest of the season. On top of the cracked cartilage, she also had a slight quad strain since she was over-compensating.
The following year, she was in the best shape of her life. Sarnacki was on track to break the Springfield College women’s lacrosse career-scoring mark — but then the pandemic hit. In the five games she did get to play, she was able to hit 100 career goals, a big milestone in the sport of lacrosse.
While Sarnacki was upset just like everyone else, she was able to maintain a somewhat positive mindset during the pandemic and treated it just like another “injury.” This mindset she has practiced throughout her athletic career was able to translate to the rest of the team.
When the Pride was able to play again, they were one of the best teams in the NEWMAC conference. During her last year on Alden Street she set a personal best in caused turnovers, a career-high in assists, and also a career-high in ground balls.
She did all of this while dealing with another knee injury, which resulted in surgery at the conclusion of the season. Sarnacki didn’t want her last season for the Pride to be spent on the bench, so she was able to push through and played alongside her teammates.
“COVID to me was kind of like an injury, except I wasn’t injured,” stated Sarnacki.
“I honestly was focusing on the fact that I was not injured, and focusing on how I could help my teammates get through a time like that because I have experienced a time like that in a way. I was just focusing on next season and what we could do to get back into the world,” she added.
Sarnacki finished up her senior season being named an All-American and as only the second women’s lacrosse player in school history to do so. She was also nominated for the NCAA Women of the Year Award, which recognizes graduating student-athletes for their achievements both on and off the field.
While Sarnacki was a star on the field, she was also very involved within the Springfield College community. She was a part of the Student Athlete Leadership Team (SALT) and was involved with their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion subcommittee. Additionally, Sarnacki helped with the Fill the Bus Drive and the Pen Pals Project.
She was one of just 10 Div.III women’s lacrosse players in the country to be nominated for the prestigious NCAA Women of the Year award. The finalists for this award will be named this fall.
“If you want to have a good mental game, you have to balance your life outside of sports, which is hard to do at a school like Springfield where there is so much going on and you want to be involved with everything,” said Sarnacki.
“I grew a lot focusing on that and trying to include myself within the community while also being an athlete and a student.”
Springfield College junior and teammate of Sarnacki, Arielle Johnson, said she is an integral part of the team, bringing up everyone’s morale even on her own worst days.
“She gives everything to the team. Everyday she always showed up and had 100 percent effort and energy,” explained Johnson.
“She is the epitome of Springfield lacrosse. She is an exact representation of what our team culture is like.”
Sarnacki graduated this spring with a degree in sports biology and a minor in business administration. She is now off to Franklin Pierce University in Arizona to study for her doctorate degree in physical therapy.
She hopes to help injured athletes as a physical therapist, since she knows the mental and physical toll long term injuries can have on an athlete.
Springfield women’s lacrosse will never be the same without Kate Sarnacki. The sport was rarely kind to her, but without it, she wouldn’t be the same person she is today.