The Daily Princetonian caught up with Gaby Hamburger, a junior on the women’s lacrosse team, about her decision not to take a gap year, her experience in the weeks leading up to the Ivy League decision to cancel spring sports in March, and her new training schedule.
The Daily Princetonian: Hey, Gaby! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today.
Gaby Hamburger: Yeah, of course! No problem.
DP: Okay, so first up: What was your experience with your team those last few weeks in the spring before we got sent home, and how did your team cope for the rest of the spring?
GH: Our season was a big learning curve for us, I think. We had a lot of young players that were getting a lot of playing time. We played Stony Brook basically three days before the season was canceled, and we got killed. And I think that kind of lit a fire under us and we thought, okay, it’s really time to get our stuff together to be able to compete with these top-tier teams. That’s what we want to do.
And then it was definitely a shock and just a huge disappointment when we found out about our season. I remember that day: We had lift in the morning and then showed up to the fields, kind of just knowing what was coming.
I think the biggest part was just sadness for our seniors. We created such great bonds with those girls and just felt so terrible that this is how their last year would end. So I think we really gave ourselves some time to go home and regroup and feel upset. It was fine to do that. But then I think we really used that time to get in better shape and learn more about lacrosse.
DP: Were there any changes to your training schedule over the summer?
GH: I think kind of. Before we knew fall [on campus] was canceled, we were doing our normal summer training plan, which is pretty intense. It’s a lot of conditioning, a lot of lifting, because our fall season is really when we get into top-notch shape. But when the news came out in August that we weren’t coming back to campus, we kind of had to shift gears.
You just can’t train at 100 percent for months and months on end. We had to take a step back and do some different things. Our strength and conditioning coach was amazing. She was in contact with us all the time, especially when gyms were closed, making sure that we had alternative workouts.
It’s definitely hard to stay motivated during these times, but it helps having meetings with our coaches and with each other to keep in shape and work on our stick skills. Our coach always says, “we’re not a cross country team; we’re here to play lacrosse.” As important as it is to stay in shape and get really, really strong, it’s also extremely important to have our stick on our hands and continue to practice our sport.
DP: Were there many conversations with your coach about planning for the fall?
GH: There were and there weren’t. I think before we knew that we weren’t going to be back on campus, we were preparing as if we were going to be able to be together and train together. Once we got that news in August, plans had to shift. And I think our coaches did a really great job making sure that our team stayed connected.
More than half our team is taking a gap year, and so our coaches made sure that the enrolled players have been able to continue to do as much as possible. We continue to do team meetings weekly, and fun things like film sessions. They’re really trying to make sure that we stay engaged and we stay focused on where we’d be if we were on campus in terms of conditioning, strength, and lacrosse, and letting that fuel us.
DP: You mention that more than half your team is taking a gap year, and I know you aren’t one of them. What were your reasons for staying enrolled?
GH: Yeah, I think around 19 girls decided to take a gap year, and 13 girls decided to stay enrolled. I think it was a really personal decision for each person. For me, I thought that with engineering, it would just be too difficult to take a year and get back into all the work that really builds on itself. I also have a job for next summer that requires me to stay enrolled.
DP: Do you think the team dynamic has changed with some teammates taking a leave of absence?
GH: I think it has a little, but I also think that our team is so close that we’ll never see each other differently for one girl taking a year out and one girl staying enrolled. As of now, I’d say no. You never know what it’s going to be like in the future. But again, I think our team is very close and that whatever happens, we love each other.
We know that we love the sport, and we’re always going to be there for each other. I’m just excited for when we can all be back together in the locker room and on the field. I miss having all 30-plus of us together.
DP: So how has your coach reacted to this divide in the team?
GH: Our coaches have done a really good job. I think there are certain rules where if you’re not enrolled, you can’t be in certain meetings, but we’ve been able to get the whole team together every other week with alumni events or stuff with the sports psychologist. I think she’s [Head Coach Chris Sailer] doing the best she can. It’s a hard situation when half of your team isn’t enrolled and you’re dealing with such a smaller group and trying to prepare for a season.
DP: Coming into the fall, what would an average training week have looked like for you, under normal circumstances?
GH: The fall is our off-season, but it’s not really an off-season. That’s when we put most of our work in. The fall is intense. It’s really time where we get stronger, we get faster, and we really prepare because we don’t have the time to do that in the season. The [spring] season is more focused on scouting each game and preparing for each game.
A lot of the fall is going in to see the coaches and watching film and creating chemistry with your teammates outside of team practices. We’re allowed two hours with the coaches, and we lift three times a week. The two practices that are an hour each are called “individuals.” Those are very high-intensity practices with as much work as we can, as much coaching as we can. Then we have Thursday morning agility with our strength and conditioning coach.
So yeah, the fall is awesome. It’s definitely a grind, but it’s really where we get to improve ourselves athletically and as lacrosse players.
DP: And so now with COVID-19, how has your training schedule changed?
GH: It’s changed in the way that we can’t get together and do our practices, but I think it’s stayed the same in terms of expectations and where we need our bodies to be. With the uncertainty of a season, we don’t want to push our bodies to the point where we’re just training hard for months on end.
We don’t want injuries to occur, but I think something that we’ve used to motivate us is thinking about where we would be if we were on campus and together. It’s more individualistic because finding gyms is difficult. It’s about doing as much as you can where you are.
DP: Is your team doing anything differently to combat these changes? Earlier you mentioned something about film sessions. Is there anything else you are doing to motivate one another and just stay connected?
GH: Yeah, so some of our team has been living in similar areas in little pods. We’ve been able to work out together and play some lacrosse, which has been really great. I’d say another thing we do is we make sure we send videos and pictures to each other, just to help motivate each other. So that’s been really great on social media. We have a Snapchat group where we’re sending pictures post workouts and saying what we did that day. Also, just asking how everyone is doing and really trying to stay connected.
DP: Do you not think that, with this need to always be in touch and to be talking to each other about what you’ve done, there is a positive improvement on how your team is interacting?
GH: Yeah, I think when we’re sitting in a Zoom meeting together and we’re really discussing things, it’s easier to think through everything and really have a deep talk about our training and lacrosse, and the moments and the struggles that we’re going through together. So yeah, there are definitely some positives. I think everyone’s become a little more independent, a little more mature just because you have to. Hopefully when we’re back together, it just adds to our team and our team chemistry.
DP: It’s nice to know that there’s always a silver lining. Okay, final question: Would you say you are as enthusiastic about your sport as you were before the spring, or do you feel that, without your normal team dynamic and training schedule, you’ve fallen out of love with it?
GH: I’ll be honest, okay? I think it’s very cyclical. On some days I'll wake up and it’s just not the same. It’ll feel more like work than the love that I have for it when I’m on campus and playing every day. But then I think it’s almost fueled everyone more when we do get out on the field with a couple of friends, or when we watch film. It just reminds us how much we miss it, how much we’ve missed the competition.
It’s definitely hard, and there are days or even weeks when it just feels like there’s no end in sight, [because] we can’t actually get that reward of winning a game or something like that. I think every time we go through some film or even just pick up our stick, it just reminds us of all the great times we’ve had with the sport.
It’s good to remember that it’s okay to have ups and downs, but that when we’re all back together, it’s going to be even better.