All Sports Schedule
by Harry Minium

Minium: Lilly Siskind Changed Her Jersey Number to Honor Injured Teammate Haley O'Connor

Siskind, ODU women's lacrosse team closes out season at noon Saturday against JMU.


NORFOLK, Va. – Haley O'Connor was off to what would almost surely have been a great season last spring. In her first two games for the Old Dominion women's lacrosse team, she had four points, including three goals.
The junior from Ipswich, Massachusetts was a hard-nosed player who had just one speed on the turf – full speed.
But in game three, she went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Disappointed but not discouraged, she had knee surgery and spent nine months rehabilitating her knee.
Then, last fall, in an exhibition game at Christopher Newport, she hit the ground while putting the ball in the met.
"Did it go in?" she asked head coach Theresa Walton. "Yes," Walton replied.
O'Connor knew then it would likely be the last goal of her career. As she fell to the turf, she felt her knee pop like it had done in the previous year. She wanted to know that at least, she'd gone out scoring a goal.  
"It was like my knee went in one direction and my leg in the other," she said. "I knew it was bad."
She has not played this spring, her senior season, but has instead served as an assistant coach of sorts. She's kept the clock during practice and is on the sideline during practice and games shouting encouragement to her teammates.
And in a sense, she is with the Monarchs every time they take the field.
That's because Lilly Siskind, the sixth-year graduate student from West Chester, Pennsylvania, did something very unselfish to honor O'Connor. She took the number 5 from the jersey that O'Connor wore and added it to the 3 on her jersey.
Yes, number 53 is an unusual number for a lacrosse player – it's more likely to be worn by a football linebacker. But Siskind and O'Connor are close and she wanted to honor her dear friend.
They both missed most of last season with ACL injuries. They were roommates who rehabbed together and as Walton said during that time, "they became thick is thieves."


Siskind will wear her jersey for the last time when the Monarchs (3-12 overall, 0-5 American Athletic Conference) take on 17th-ranked James Madison (11-4, 4-1) Saturday at noon at the L.R. Hill Sports Complex.
"Lilly put 53 on her chest because she just wanted to be able to emulate the way Hailey O'Connor played the game," Walton said.
O'Connor is grateful to have been asked to remain with the team, but acknowledges, she is still a little bit in a state of shock.
"Never in a million years did I think I would not be able to have a junior or senior season," O'Connor said. "At times I feel like it hasn't sunk in yet.
"That my sophomore year was my last as a player, that's really hard to comprehend.
"I felt like going into my junior year that I had finally realized what potential I had under the new coaching staff.
"It was kind, it was very nice of the coaches and players to want me to come back this spring and help the team out. It's been super beneficial to me because I feel like I'm still part of the team even though I'm not playing."
She's also in awe that Siskind, in essence, gave up her number to honor her.
"She's been on the team six years and everybody knows that she's the one on the scouting reports that everyone looks for and she's always worn number three," O'Connor said.


"I remember her coming up to me in the house and asking me, 'What would you think if I wore 53 this year?' I said, no, Lilly, you can't. Number three is your number. It's who you've always been.
"But she said she wanted to play for me. I've never had anyone do something like that for me before. It shows just what a great person she is and how much she cares about me.
"I can't even begin to express what it means to me."

Siskind said they became close when they began going to rehab together.
"Our relationship really took off when we began living together and then going through the rehab process together," she said. "We spend so much time together that we should be sick of each other, but we're not."
She said O'Connor's deadpan sense of humor is endearing. She recalls during an exhibition at CNU that O'Connor scored six goals and Siskind had yet to scratch.
"I must have been nervous that day," Siskind said. "As we were running back up the field, she pats me on the back and says, 'Hey, I can't do this all by myself.'
"If anyone else had said that to me" she might have been offended.
"Because it was Haley, I just laughed because that's the type of person she is. She's the kind of person who doesn't want to be alone at the top. She wants people around her, all the time, which is why it's just awful that this happened."


Conceivably, O'Connor could have made the choice to come back next season after knee surgery. But this injury will require two surgeries to repair and the rehabilitation will take longer.
She had surgery in December and will have surgery again on May 30. She will then begin a long, painful process of rehabilitating the knee.
She plans to remain at ODU to go through rehab, but knew almost from the start that she would not return to play.

"Haley felt like this was something that was not worth it in the long run," Walton said. "She loves to ski and she wants to be able to ski when she's in her 60s."

Walton and her players acknowledge a ton of disappointment over this season's record. It is year two under Walton and she thought the Monarchs could win an AAC game or two and perhaps have a winning season.
ODU dropped narrow losses to Lehigh (10-8) and Rider (10-9). The Monarchs led Vanderbilt 3-1 at home before losing, 9-4. Last weekend, they dropped an 11-10 decision at East Carolina on an ECU goal with two minutes left.
"We had a lot of goals, a lot of expectations this year," Walton said. "And it's come as a shock and a surprise that we've fallen short.
"I can't look at any one thing we could have done differently."
If there's any consolation, she said "last year it felt like we were trying to keep our heads above water. This year, it feels like we're treading water and able to see the best way to go about trying to rebuild."


Thirteen seniors will play their final game today, including Katie McGrain and Ali Mills, who decided to use an injury redshirt season to come back. "We're so grateful that they decided to come back," Walton said.
Walton said next year's roster will see a major makeover. In addition to a full slate of freshman who are already signed, she hopes to bring in as many as ten transfers.
"I hope they all have the hearts of Lilly Siskind and Haley O'Connor," she said.

Siskind has already earned two undergraduate degrees at ODU. She will walk in May's graduation to receive a Master's degree. O'Conner will receive her undergraduate degree.
They will part ways this spring, but say they will never lose contact.
"We are going to be friends forever," Siskind said.
O'Connor said that injuring her knee twice and seeing her career end so early "has been so far the toughest that I've had to endure in my 21 years on this earth."
She says her Christian faith has sustained her.
"I know it's a cliché, but I think everything happens for a reason," she said. "And I know that God works in mysterious ways.
"I think that he has a plan for me, and he knew this would happen and that it will make me stronger and able to help others who have to go through something like this.
"Like I said, it hasn't completely sunk in with me what happened. But I'm starting to realize that it is making me mentally and stronger in so many ways."

Minium is ODU's Senior Executive Writer for Athletics. Contact him at or follow him  on TwitterFacebook or Instagram.