The email from Illinois Institute of Technology coach Kirk Lamitie came as a surprise. Alyssa DeLuca was playing in a club lacrosse tournament in Virginia with the Mass Mavericks, but, the King Philip alum admitted in a phone call this week, the game that the coach saw was not her best.
“I literally fell and lost my stick and my goggles and everything went flying,” she said with a laugh. “I was so shocked that I got an email from any of the coaches for that game.”
It may not have been her finest moment on the field, but it couldn’t have turned out any better. DeLuca had never heard of Illinois Tech, which started the transition from an NAIA program to an NCAA Div. III program in 2015, but she went for a visit to the Chicago campus. It was an instant connection with the school, the team, and her future teammates.
“I could really see myself playing with those people for the next four years,” she explained. “That was pretty exciting. It just kind of felt right when I went out there. The cards just got dealt really well in Virginia. I was very lucky.”
Illinois Tech was very lucky as well. DeLuca made an instant impact with the Scarlet Hawks, scoring 50 goals her freshman year, and she went on to become the program’s most decorated player and its all-time leading scorer. She scored 221 goals in four years and was named to the Midwest Women’s Lacrosse Conference (MWLC) First Team all four years of her career.
She reflected, “It’s honestly kind of unreal to think I was able to make an impact in the conference and on my team for four years.”
Her season and playing career had come to an end just a couple of weeks before and she struggled to put into words how it felt. “It’s special because when you pick a program that you want to play for, sometimes you might not get a lot of minutes…being able to come out and play every minute of every game…thinking back on it….it was so rewarding that I put in so many hours in the sport over the years and I just feel honored to be recognized.”
Making the transition from high school to college is always difficult, especially when you have to balance athletics with academics and especially when you are traveling halfway across the country, but DeLuca believes that her being on the lacrosse team and having that instant cohort of friends made the move to Chicago considerably easier.
She said, “It definitely allows you to assimilate better into the school and my roommate that I lived with was also on the lacrosse team and on the same floor as all the other freshmen, so we got really close and it helped us. We were all very far from home.”
On the field, the freshman class was given plenty of opportunities during fall ball to learn the new system, become comfortable with each other, and to be ready to start the spring season. The preparation worked, as DeLuca stormed onto the scene, starting all 15 games and leading the team with 50 goals as a rookie.
“When we went out on the field we were playing like we’d been playing together for all four years of high school,” DeLuca said of her freshman campaign. “That whole fall ball and right up to our first game, we were set up with the right amount of fun and the right amount of discipline.”
Although she felt comfortable getting out on the field, she surprised evev herself with the level of success that she achieved that spring. “Halfway through the season, you look at the conference stats and you go. ‘Holy crap, I’m leading the conference in goals? I’m only a freshman, what is this?’”
If her freshman year was a warning to the conference of what she and Illinois Tech were capable of, then her sophomore season took it to another level. DeLuca scored 77 goals in 17 matches that spring and the Scarlet Hawks put together a record of 15-2, sharing the regular season conference title.
The only thing missing from that season was the opportunity to play in the conference tournament. Because Illinois Tech was in the midst of the five-year transition process to NCAA DIII standing, the Scarlet Hawks couldn’t play in the postseason. While this was obviously a disappointment, DeLuca also saw the positive side of things. The team always ended the season on senior night, always played at home, and also won each of those games. It was far different from the abrupt ending of a tournament loss on a random field.
“Everyone’s dream when they come to college is to get the chance to play in the NCAAs and it was definitely a little frustrating that we weren’t allowed to play,” she admitted. “It was humbling to say now we need to just start focusing on next year but it also offered a nice closure to a season.”
This past summer, Illinois Tech officially joined DIII, which meant that the Scarlet Hawks would compete for the first time in the MWLC Tournament. DeLuca said there was a noticeable increase in the team’s energy knowing that for the first time the Hawks had something to play for beyond the regular season.
“We had something to play for this season and every win or loss mattered so much more,” she said. “You fight a little bit harder for every ground ball and you maybe pick your feet up a little faster in the midfield to get back quicker on defense and it definitely added that little bit of a spark that drove us really hard.”
They went 10-5 in the regular season and entered the postseason as the No. 2 seed. DeLuca wasn’t the team’s top scorer this season, although she still finished with 47 goals and 11 assists but she showed off her all-around game, leading the team in caused turnovers with 44, and also grabbing 52 ground balls and 32 draw controls. Illinois Tech led at halftime against No. 3 Aurora but the Spartans dominated after the break to pull away and advance to the conference finals.
Even though her scoring numbers were down a little this spring, DeLuca was once again recognized as a first team all-conference performer. “I tried to step up as more of a go-getter, causing turnovers and getting those ground balls and still being recognized for all that hard work it made me realize you get what you give to the sport,” DeLuca remarked.
DeLuca, who has one more year left to get a Master’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering, played in 63 of a possible 65 games during her four years. It may have started with a chance encounter at a club tournament four years ago, but her collegiate career turned into a positive experience for her and for the Illinois Tech program.
“It was a lot more fun because you’re playing with people who love playing and not because it’s easy to play after school,” DeLuca explained. “It’s definitely more people who are really passionate about the sport and the traveling was a lot of fun. I got to see a lot of different places in the Midwest and across the country. I think it was a more challenging experience than playing in high school and more rewarding.”