By Andy Lohman

Just over three minutes into the second half of VCU women’s lacrosse’s 24-8 victory over LIU Brooklyn on March 18, redshirt junior Sky Hyatt became the first player in program history to score 100 goals.

That Hyatt was the first woman in VCU history to hit the century mark was appropriate, not just because she is an alumna of Century High School in Carroll County, Md., but because of what she has meant to the Rams’ program. VCU announced that it was adding women’s lacrosse on Valentine’s Day in 2013, and just over a year later Hyatt was a member of Head Coach Jen O’Brien’s inaugural signing class.

“We’re from the same hometown. Her mom was actually cutting my mom’s hair,” O’Brien said of how she first heard of Hyatt. “At that point we were really looking for people, we couldn’t turn away anybody.”

While O’Brien was skeptical of the hair-salon referral, she still contacted Century’s coach, who she had played against in high school and college, and was quickly sold.

“I knew she had a fire and knew she was competitive, and that alone sold me without having to see her play that much,” O’Brien said. “I love my Carroll County kids. It’s where I’m from. It’s a whole different breed. That alone was a big piece of it.”

Most players commit by their junior season, but for Hyatt, the recruiting process derailed when she tore her ACL in high school and colleges started to pull their offers. With VCU’s first competitive season coming in 2016, the chance to rehab and redshirt her freshman year was an attractive solution.

“Honestly, the delayed program was really big for me because I had just torn my ACL in high school, so I was recovering and lost a lot of motivation. How am I going to continue to play D-I lacrosse and continue to be an outstanding freshman, the player I want to be, when I’m so hurt?” Hyatt said. “That was really something where I was like ‘that’s exactly what I need.’”

While the redshirt year allowed Hyatt to become stronger, it came with its own set of challenges. As the first-ever class, the freshmen had no senior leaders to look up to and show them the way; they had to figure it out on their own.

“It was really hard to find motivation,” Hyatt said. “But at the same time, that’s the reason our leaders are our leaders and were able to be leaders so quick because we did have to figure it out on our own. It was hard, but it was worth it.”

That leadership vacuum allowed the fiery Hyatt to step into the role of squad leader and team captain.

“She’s really evolved as a leader. I think that’s where she’s grown most,” O’Brien said. “When she tried to lead initially, she was really vocal, really demanded her teammates to play at her level, and then she realized she could just show them. That picked everybody up as well, so that was really cool to see.”

There was no better Ram to lead by example than Hyatt. In 2016, she was named to the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie team after scoring 39 goals and dishing 11 assists. Last year her 44 goals and 19 assists earned her First Team All A-10 honors. Through eight games this year, she leads the team with 19 goals.

While the goal-scoring jumps out of the stat sheet, what makes Hyatt a truly special player is the hustle stats. Before she hit the century mark in goals, she became the first VCU player in program history to record 100 draw controls.

In lacrosse, draw controls are crucial; possession of the ball drives goals. Securing the ball often comes down to physical 1-on-1 battles, and area where Hyatt thrives.

“I think she’s much more proud of [draw controls] than those goals because it’s really hard and it’s grit and hustle to get those draw controls. That’s a one-v-one battle, and that’s something that she’s won. I think that’s pretty cool, she does take a lot of pride in that,” O’Brien said. “And that’s a spark. We talk all the time about being a spark and riding off a spark. She brings endless moments and sparks to our team.”

As much as the goals stand out, it’s the hustle plays that really matter to Hyatt.

“Some games where everyone is like ‘oh you played so well!’ because I had six goals are some of the games where I feel the worst about myself, because I didn’t get the ball back in time or I made stupid mistakes. People get so frustrated with me. They don’t understand why I feel that way. ‘Why is she in a bad mood? She just scored six goals.’ That’s not what I’m thinking about. I’m thinking about every little play, every hustle play I can possibly make,” Hyatt said. “Every game I go in, I just want to be the hardest-working player out there. I want to come off the field dripping in sweat and I know I did everything I could on every play.”

That determination has guided Hyatt’s evolution as a player, and VCU’s evolution as a program.

“I don’t think our record can say how much we’ve evolved, but we have,” Hyatt said. “Even the fact that we’re trying new things this year. We run different strategies, we play differently, we do strategies and systems that top programs do and I think in the long run it’s something that’s going to be really awesome for us and something we’re so successful at.”

“Physically, she is a beast. I mean she’s insanely strong,” O’Brien said. “As much as she’s physically gifted, she also has that edge, that all the good players do have, that nobody’s going to beat her and nobody’s going to stop her.”