Rachel Vander Kolk hails from Severna Park, Maryland, where she graduated from Severna Park High School. On top of playing lacrosse, she was a four-year starter in basketball, leading the team in scoring her senior season and was a 2014 Coaches All-County First Team. She also played four seasons of soccer, including serving as the starting goalkeeper her junior and senior seasons. After standout seasons in all three sports, Rachel earned Capital Gazette Female Athlete of the Year and the George Roberts Award, honoring Severna Park High's Female Athlete of the Year. In lacrosse, she helped lead SPHS to three state championships (2011, 12, 14), named a 2014 US Lacrosse All-American, Academic All-American, Coaches All-County First Team, and All-Met First Team.
Rachel had a very successful career at Virginia, including season-high 14 saves (82%) against my Stanford Cardinal (such mixed emotions for me), limiting the team their lowest-scoring performance of the season in the first round of NCAAs. Rachel has been Virginia's starting goalie since freshman year when she earned ACC Rookie of the Year. For any follow up questions, you can reach out to Rachel on Instagram @rachelvanderkolk.
- How long have you been playing goalie/lacrosse?
I started playing lacrosse in 4th grade and began my goalie career in 7th grade, about 12 and 9 years respectively.
- What drew you to the position?
I played goalie in every sport I could growing up, I think having quick reflexes and not being scared of the ball when I was young made me a popular choice for my coaches. I ended up loving the position because of the leadership roles that accompanying it, as well as loving having to perform under pressure.
- What’s your favorite part about playing the position now?
It’s a very unique position because there are only two of you on the field at a time. I love seeing all of the different techniques through goalies I’ve met; we had 3 on my team the last two years and each one of us brought something different to the crease.
- What’s the hardest part about the position for you? How do you try to manage or handle that aspect?
I’ve always struggled with the mental aspect of the game. I have very high expectations for myself and strive for perfection as all goalies probably would agree, and with lacrosse being a scoring game, sometimes the amount you let in can really wear down on you. To counter that, I created a checklist that I’d go through after every goal to make sure I did everything I could and did everything right. If I can get through that list and not be able to identify anything I could’ve changed, I can recognize a good shot and accept I genuinely got beat. This was really important in college as the shooting improved dramatically from high school, and even throughout my four years.
- In close games how do you stay focused?
I keep trying to remind myself that I’m the fourth part of the team that needs to be performing in those close times. If our attack, midfield, and defense are all doing their jobs, I need to do mine as well to support the full team effort so we can give everything we have. It really helps to build off the energy from the other areas of the field, so if the defense has a great stop that translates into positive energy for the attack to make a great play too.
- When things start going south in game, like consecutive goals without a save, how do you rebound and stay confident? What about when things aren’t going well defensively as a unit?
Similar to what I said above, I try to feed off the energy from the rest of my team to get my head back in the game. I also realized later in my career (thanks to some help from my coaches) that it is a lot harder to stay frustrated with yourself if you’re saying positive things to your teammates. I’d really let my defenders know if they held a strong 1v1 or had a great slide, and those positive words helped pull my confidence back in the right direction. As a unit, we always try to keep our huddles after a goal very short and driven. As long as we identify where the break down was and the solution for it, then we hold each other accountable and make the change. Same as single attackers can hit nice shots, sometimes an attack unit can make a great play and you have to be able to applaud them for that and move forward.
- Can you discuss any challenges you faced and how you overcame them? (I.e. lack playing time, injury, time management, etc)
A different challenge that people might not consider is being thrown into the starting role my freshman year. I ended up being the only goalie on the roster and had to grow quickly to be ready for the spring season. I never had a season-ending injury, but almost always had some bumps and bruises that had to be taken care of. It’s definitely frustrating dealing with injuries but was really important to keep in mind that playing at 50% was not going to be enough, it was important to take the time to heal so when I got back to the field I could perform at 100% for my team.
- What’s the best part about playing in college? Favorite college lacrosse memory?
The best part about playing in college for me was creating the life-long relationships with teammates throughout the years. You spend so much time together on and off the field, they really do become part of your family. Having ended my career now, I know those are the things I am going to remember the most in the future. My favorite memories are the dance parties in the locker room before warm-ups for games, it kept the pregame meetings really lighthearted and got everyone really amped.
- If you committed early, how did you stay motivated to keep getting better? How do you stay motivated now, especially in the offseason?
I wanted to have an impact on the program early in my career, so I used that to push myself in high school and in the months leading up to arriving on grounds. A similar mentality pushed me through every offseason; we always felt like we had untapped potential at the end of our seasons and I always wanted to come back better than when I had left.
- If you had to do the recruiting process over again, is there anything you would do differently? Not in your choice of school, but things you considered highly then but might not necessarily now? What were the things that were most important to you to look for in a school during your process?
10 times out of 10 I would end up at Virginia again, but if I did go through the process again I would take more advantage of the visits before committing. I only visited a few schools and wished I had been able to see a few more and to talk to a few more coaches, I feel like it builds good bases for relationships that might be important later in life. I knew what I wanted to study when I was going through, so that was really important for me as well, finding a school that offered my major and held academics highly in their list of priorities. We are student-athletes after all, and the student part was a huge focus for me.
- Did you feel burnt out after the recruiting process? Have you ever felt burnt out throughout your career? How did you get through those periods?
Often through my career, I’d have times of feeling a little burnt out, whether it be a tough stretch in our schedule or a hard week in school or something like that. Whenever I’d feel like this, I’d really focus on my roots and the reason of why I was out there. I love working hard towards something, especially when I have 33 of my best friends out there all working toward the same goal and remembering that you are doing it for each other made the lower points a lot easier to manage.
- Do you have a favorite drill or one that has helped you the most in goal, with and without someone else?
One of my favorites that is super quick and easy to do with a partner is, when holding your stick upside-down, have your partner toss the ball at you and focus on making contact with the butt of the stick and having the ball drop as close to your feet as possible. It really emphasizes good hand-eye coordination and soft hands to help with rebounds. I use it as an easy drill if I’m not seeing the ball well and do it as part of my game day warm up as well. Juggling also helps with this.
- Where do you think you have grown the most in your game from high school to college and how did you do it? Did you have an individual goalie coach to help?
I view myself a lot more as the 8th defender now than just a goalkeeper. It’s really important to view yourself as part of the unit and not just goalie island, so everyone works and struggles together, and helps everyone get through it. They will have your back a lot more if you are more connected with them. My head coach at UVa was the one who worked with us through my career, we did get a volunteer coach that helped with goalies and defense my last two years as well. They both imparted great wisdom that I can never thank them enough for.
- Something you could tell yourself now when you were first learning the position?
Sometimes the attacker just hits a great shot. Accept it and move on to the ones you can control.
- Pre-game ritual?
I’m not a very superstitious person so I never really did anything the exact same, but I did listen to music just to clear my head right before we left the locker room as a small token to get focused before warm ups.
- What makes you weird? (Or just a fun fact)
I’m going to be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force this summer and am set to go to pilot training early next year.
- Anything else you think young goalies would find helpful or interested in knowing?
Your body language has a huge impact on your defenders. If you’re having a tough game, it doesn’t help anyone to portray that frustration on to them, or to slump your shoulders and get really quiet. They notice all of that stuff and most of the time it will negatively impact their play as well.