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Trailblazing Women’s Lacrosse Standout Katie (Rowan) Thomson ’09, G’10 Reflects on Jersey Retirement, Teaching Next Generation of Lacrosse Standouts
Katie (Rowan) Thomson ’09, G’10 helped grow the Syracuse University women’s lacrosse program into a perennial power during her four years on campus, and in the process, she rewrote the Orange’s record books while taking the women’s lacrosse team to new heights.
An electrifying playmaker, Thomson graduated as Syracuse’s all-time leader in points (396) and assists (164). A three-time All-American and two-time BIG EAST Attacker of the Year, Thomson’s teams won the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament game in 2007 and later reached its first Final Four in 2008.
During an emotional pre-game ceremony before a Syracuse University men’s and women’s lacrosse doubleheader on Feb. 20, Thomson entered rare company, becoming the first female lacrosse player and second female student-athlete to have her jersey retired when her No. 21 was raised to the stadium rafters.
Thomson, who led the U.S. Women’s National Team to World Cup championships in 2009 and 2013, earned bachelor’s degrees in inclusive elementary and special education from the School of Education and in sociology from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and the College of Arts and Sciences, and a master’s degree in literacy education (birth through grade six).
We recently sat down with Thomson to reflect on her jersey retirement—“it was the honor of a lifetime”—her favorite memories from her time with the Orange, how Thomson’s former coach Gary Gait, the current Syracuse men’s lacrosse coach, “changed the game” for her and how she’s applying the lessons she learned at Syracuse to the next wave of talented Division I standouts as the head women’s lacrosse coach at the University at Albany.
LISTEN: Hear the full conversation with Thomson on the ’Cuse Conversations podcast.
01Has it sunk in yet that your famous jersey No. 21 is high atop the stadium rafters?
“It really hasn’t fully sunk in yet, even though on that day it was so incredible. I was really taken aback with emotions, seeing the jersey go up and just overwhelmed with memories with my amazing teammates and coaches and all of the moments that I had at Syracuse. It was such a positive experience. I met and built relationships with so many amazing people throughout the whole University and the community. I was really just trying to take it all in and reflect on all of those moments.”
02How did you find out the great news?
“I was at Syracuse University over the summer and the athletic director, John Wildhack ’80, surprised me with the news out in the lobby of Manley Field House. And it was the last thing that I was expecting to hear. I was just speechless hearing the news and very honored that the University would recognize me and female student-athletes and the women’s lacrosse program in this way.”
03What do you think made you so deserving of this honor?
“There are many other players that are just as deserving or more deserving and I truly and genuinely mean that. It is a team sport and I fully recognize that I would not be in the position that I am in without my teammates and coaches. We had some really special groups throughout my time at Syracuse. I just loved building chemistry with my teammates. We had so much fun, and the goals were always team-oriented. That was to make our mark on the program and make it to the Final Four, which we accomplished my junior year. That is the biggest accomplishment that I walk away with, making it to the Final Four for the first time in school history.”
04The women’s lacrosse team is expected to compete for ACC championships, Final Four berths and national championships, but it wasn't always that way. What was the state of the program when you came on campus in the fall of 2006?
“We were less than 10 years old as a program, but we had really high expectations for ourselves. Lisa Miller was our head coach and she started the program. She had such a great vision for what the program could be and look like. She pushed us to accelerate and move forward as a program. My freshman year, we didn’t make the NCAA tournament. But then sophomore year, we won the school’s first BIG EAST championship, made it to the NCAA tournament and won our first NCAA game in 2007. Just to be a part of that was a huge accomplishment. Then we built up the program from there. During my junior year, we made it to our first Final Four, which was a huge accomplishment, and then my senior year we lost in the quarterfinals. The program has just done an amazing job taking off.”
05Why did you want to study inclusive education and sociology and play lacrosse for Syracuse?
“Everyone made it feel like home. The education piece was really important for me. Since I can remember, I wanted to be an elementary and special education teacher, and Syracuse has such a great program for inclusive education. Even though I didn’t go into teaching, all of the lessons I learned through the education program help me every single day as a coach. I’m here to teach the game and reach my players in different ways and learn to connect with them. Everyone responds differently to different coaching methods. It’s my opportunity to learn my players and see how they can best be taught and guided.”
06You played for current Syracuse men’s lacrosse coach Gary Gait, who you said “changed the game” for you. What did Gary Gait teach you about the game and about coaching?
“I just love Coach Gait’s approach to connecting with people. He’s so calm and professional and wants to get to know his players and connect with them on and off the field. Building those relationships and that trust is something that I learned through both Coach Lisa Miller, Coach Gait and the incredible assistant coaches I’ve had. Just creating a positive environment for the players where they can build their confidence, play with confidence, take risks and learn from their mistakes.”
07You’re in your fourth year as head women’s lacrosse coach at the University at Albany. How do you reach and make an impact on the lives of your student-athletes?
“By building trust and showing in different ways how much I care about them, and not just as a lacrosse player, but first and foremost as a person. Connecting with them, finding ways to learn about them and make those individual connections. That’s something I continue to build off of, creating that level of trust and belief in one another. When that happens, and they know you care about them, they’ll keep opening up and come to you for guidance. They’ll come to you when they need a shoulder to lean on and to talk through things. That’s my first priority, always, to be there for my players to help guide them in life first, and be their lacrosse coach second.”