Last April I profiled Campbell Armstrong, a senior getting ready for the start of her final lacrosse season at New Canaan. It turned out to be the most-read story on the site for the year. The No. 1 spot is usually reserved for football.
I attribute it to Armstrong’s success as a three-sport athlete, which are close to becoming extinct, her popularity due to an engaging personality, and the subject of Armstrong being an example of lacrosse recruiting rules, changed just weeks later, that almost forced elite players into committing to colleges as freshmen or sophomores.
That did not allow for late bloomers like Armstrong who, under the new guidelines in which coaches cannot have contact with players until the start of their junior seasons, would have been even more coveted rather than the victim of the sport’s game of musical chairs.
So I decided to check in this week with Armstrong, who ended up at St. Lawrence, a Division III school, for an update. She admitted it has been a season of adjustments on different levels. One constant has been Armstrong’s performance: she is tied for second on the team in goals (25) and points (35), just two behind the leader.
“I think it was one of the first practices, we really got a chance to show off our skills and I happened to take advantage of it, I was playing really well that day and then the next game my coach called me in and I knew it was my time to shine and prove something,” Armstrong said. “It felt weird. I know as a freshman you’re not supposed to expect any playing time but once I did I knew I had to take advantage of it.”
That Armstrong has made an immediate impact should come as no surprise to anyone who watched her play for the Rams. She was one of the state’s most complete players. Her biggest liability was hitting her groove as a sophomore, a time when most of her teammates and top opponents had already made college choices. It all seems even more ridiculous now.
“As a sophomore she just started coming into her own, and unfortunately by sophomore year a lot of these kids start getting picked up,” Kristin Woods, the Rams’ coach, said at the time.
The situation has been St. Lawrence’s gain. And Armstrong is aware at a different school she may not have had the opportunity she’s received.
“I think making the choice of a D3 school allowed me to participate at an early age and be successful, and I think a lot of that had to do with the level of competition and coaching I experienced in high school,” Armstrong said. “Along with the chance to play with a great group of girls, a really talented group of girls. We are a developing program and this year we faced many challenges.”
There have been some difficult adjustments, besides the brutal upstate New York winters, and several would have happened at any school.
St. Lawrence has a first-year coach, Hannah Corkery Collins.
“Coach Woods I knew since 4th grade,” Armstrong said. “Every summer I took her camps or helped coach her camps. And then I played all four years for her, so that’s been a little weird with a new coach, but she’s off to a good start. She knows what she’s doing, she’s super positive. Having a new coach was a struggle just in that it was something I wasn’t used to.”
Another change: St. Lawrence is 4-10 and did not qualify for its league playoffs. Armstrong’s freshman season ends after Saturday’s game against RPI.
“I think making the choice of a D3 school allowed me to participate at an early age and be successful, and I think a lot of that had to do with the level of competition and coaching I experienced in high school.”
— Campbell Armstrong
“It’s kind of crazy. I’m used to playing for the FCIAC championship,” Armstrong said. “It’s a little sad but I knew it was going to take some time and we have such a small freshmen class, but next year we have (a lot) coming in so there should be lots of opportunities to excel next year.”
One of my pet peeves — a big one — is the prevalence in this area to consider Division I as the yardstick for sports success. Too many good athletes transfer to private schools in pursuit of that holy grail. It is almost always a mirage. Most end up wasting a year of their lives for unchanged status.
If you are lucky enough to play Division III sports you are a great athlete. And the demands are considerable.
“It’s very serious,” Armstrong said. “Our practices are really tough, at least two hours every day. It’s a big time commitment. Even in the fall I was not expecting it to take up as much time as it did, but it helped me transition into college life in general with time management and knowing when to do my homework.”
A year ago Campbell Armstrong was the poster child for how lacrosse recruiting was in desperate need of change. Now she is also the perfect face for Division III sports.
There could not be a better one.
“I think it happened for a reason,” Armstrong said. “Although I may not have helped this team get into the tournament, I think in upcoming years we set a good foundation. I’m very happy. I’ve had a very positive experience my first season and I wouldn’t take any of it back.”