By Mandy Housenick
Kirsten Wilhelmsen ’17 sets herself apart in many ways. Her play has earned national attention, but the psychology major always has an eye on her studies.
“Lafayette puts a big premium on academics and putting academics before athletics,” she says. “It’s been ingrained in me here. Whether that means staying up a little late or having the best time management possible, it’s definitely a priority.”
It’s paid off. Wilhelmsen has earned Academic All-League honors each of the last two years and is likely headed toward the same if not higher accolades this year.
While she isn’t certain what career path she wants to take—she has tossed around the idea of speech pathology—there’s no question about what she’s accomplishing when she’s got her goggles on and a lacrosse stick in her hands.
Wilhelmsen is one of the nation’s leaders in scoring at 3.75 goals per game. She ranks third all-time at Lafayette in career goals scored with 196. And she recently was named the Patriot League Attacker of the Week for the fifth time this season.
“I always thought she would be good,” head coach Ali Fisher ’01 says. “We knew she had this beautiful stick and amazing athleticism. But I am pleasantly surprised by her every day. What she has been able to accomplish this year has been mind-blowing to say the least.”
Perhaps what makes Wilhelmsen’s numbers even more impressive is how she’s gotten there. She spent her first two years at Lafayette as a midfielder, so her points total wasn’t able to climb as quickly. Fast forward to her junior year when it became almost a no-brainer to switch her to attacker. As her goals total rose, so did the pressure she faced.
Frustrated defenders foul her frequently, face guard her, and double team her.
Wilhelmsen never panics, though. She still manages to get off quality shots. And if she can’t, she doesn’t force it.
“It’s exhausting to bear that burden,” Fisher says. “But she continues to produce and she continues to produce when the team needs her to. Never once has she taken a shot when she should pass to someone else. We’d be foolish not to get her open, but when she is not open, she is more than happy to pass to whoever has the best look.”
Ana White ’14 has seen that unselfishness since high school. White, an assistant coach to Fisher, was a senior at Strath Haven High School in Wallingford, Pa., when Wilhelmsen was a first-year student there. They played soccer and lacrosse together. During the lacrosse season, the team instituted a big sister-little sister concept, and Wilhelmsen was White’s “little sister.”
The two hit it off right away.
“I got to know her personality during that little sister thing, and I just thought the world of her,” White says. “She’s this soft-spoken, humble, unassuming kid, and she gets on the field and absolutely tears people apart. I just really appreciated her character and athletic ability.”
So much so that when White was playing for Fisher at Lafayette, she recommended that Fisher take a look at the Strath Haven star.
“I just jokingly said something like, ‘Hey, I’m not trying to do your job or anything, but there’s this great kid at my high school whom you might want to consider,’” White recalls.
Now Wilhelmsen has become such a standout that a professor even mentioned in front of the whole class that she had noticed she’s leading the nation in scoring. Wilhelmsen, while thrilled about her team’s season, slumped in her chair when her professor uttered the words.
“I could feel myself becoming a tomato,” she says. “I don’t love talking about myself.”
That’s one of the qualities that White and Fisher find so endearing about Wilhelmsen. There’s no ego, no look-at-me attitude, no desire to show off.
“Her first [two years], it was almost frustrating how unassuming she was,” White says. “You wanted her to be the best and take every shot, and she wouldn’t because she wanted everyone else to be good and have their chance. She obviously has the talent to completely dominate, but she has this personality that people just gravitate to.
“People also just can’t understand how someone that talented can possibly be that nice. During a game this year, one of our players had a friend on the other team, and during the game Kirsten had gone up to the ref in a respectful way to ask a question. The girl on the other team walked up to her friend and said, ‘Is anyone really that nice or is she faking it?’ People can’t believe she’s that nice.”
Wilhelmsen has played a big role in the Leopards’ success this season, which includes clinching a berth in the Patriot League playoffs.
“[Our team] as a whole is really meshing well together,” she says. “From preseason on, we’ve had really competitive practices and have done really good things that haven’t happened in the past.”