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March 12, 2015

Last May, Liza Blue, the student, walked the Lawn with her peers, a milestone that the three-time Academic All-ACC honoree had been diligently working towards for four years. Last May, Liza Blue, the lacrosse player, helped lead the Cavaliers to the NCAA National Semifinals, garnering Third Team All-American honors after leading her team with 56 goals while ranking second in points (66) and draws (59), achievements she had been working for her entire playing career.

For most student-athletes, this would be the concluding paragraph of their story as opposed to leading off a new chapter.

Blue suffered an injury during her freshman season in 2011 and earned a medical hardship that gave her the choice of returning this year for a fifth year as a redshirt senior. Academically, Blue is enrolled in the five-year teacher education program at the Curry School, a program from which she will graduate in May with both her undergrad degree in Kinesiology and a Masters in teaching with a certification in Health and Physical Education.

With the passion that Blue has for lacrosse, it would seem to be an easy decision to return to Klöckner for one last shot at a National Championship. Though the desire was there, the technical details were quite challenging. Blue’s fifth-year curriculum included spending a semester working full time as a student teacher.

“I was basically a full-time teacher,” Blue said. “I came the first week in August and did all the pre-school stuff. Then I had an 8-4 job for the first nine weeks at the elementary level and then I switched to middle school in the middle of October and I worked 9-4:30.”

As a fourth-year, Blue had spent some time in schools as part of her practicum, but this year, it was a full-time job.

“Since I was a full-time teacher and I went to faculty meetings and other small teacher gatherings. I just really learned how much goes into school and how much planning goes into the curriculum as well as following the Virginia Standards of Learning and all the regulations,” Blue said. “Last year as a practicum student, I would just show up twice a week, teach and leave. This fall, I really had to buckle down and make sure the students were learning what they’re supposed to. It’s a lot of responsibility for the teachers. Classroom management is also huge. If you don’t have control of your students, it can be a long day.”

Blue had a lot of long days in the fall. In addition to teaching all day, Blue had to balance fall lacrosse workouts, conditioning, practices and training.

“I was pretty worried about balancing the two, because student teaching is so demanding, but Julie [Myers] really helped me,” Blue said. “I met with her in the summer and laid out my schedule. She knew I was going to be missing practices in the fall, but fortunately my spring schedule wasn’t too bad. That was the main factor, knowing that I really wouldn’t miss much, and especially that I wouldn’t miss any games. It was overwhelming at first in the fall, just trying to make up workouts and also just the chemistry of being a part of the team and I was missing so much. But I learned from it and grew. The coaches really had my back, so that helped a lot.”

Blue would make up the team lift with early-morning sessions with strength coach Jenny Shultis. If she missed a team practice, she would do individual shooting with associate head coach Colleen Shearer as compensation.

On the field, Blue’s preparation and juggling of schedules has paid off. She scored her 100th career goal and picked up her 100th career draw control at Penn State and continues to be among the team’s leaders in goals, points, assists and draws.

In the classroom, things were even better. Blue was first assigned to Hollymead Elementary, working alongside the two full-time physical education teachers to teach 240 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, eight classes straight a day with one thirty-minute lunch.

“Some of the kindergarteners would call me Mom, so that was kind of a wakeup call in the beginning, but they are so cute,” Blue said. “The class size is about 15-20, so they were challenging to manage at times until I got to know all of their names and personalities. I think the cutest part of it was that every PE class with the kindergarteners, we would have `Moving Time’ for the first five minutes, and that’s when they just run into the gym and move. So I had to make sure they were moving safely, but otherwise it was just to get their jitters out so they could focus for us. I really just had a great time teaching them their locomotive skills: galloping, hopping, sliding, even running. We had to go over all of those and that was really fun.

“Starting in the second grade, we would teach them the basic skills. The unit that I was in charge of was soccer, so it’s just the basic kicking and dribbling skills. Then by the time they get to fifth grade, we could do small scrimmages. That advances even more in the middle school where they can play full-field.”

The second half of the semester was spent working with the middle schoolers of Sutherland Middle School, teaching them a variety of sports that included, in addition to soccer, badminton, flag football and, of course, lacrosse.

“Those lessons are 90-minute periods, so they are pretty long and a lot goes into it. Forty-five minutes is spent on just fitness activities and games and then the second half would be content like a sport. Badminton seems to be a favorite for the kids. I think it is because it’s small games and it’s inside so they’re warm. Most kids can pick it up after a few lessons.

“Lacrosse was the unit that I was really in charge of. That was fun, but in the middle school there were so many kids, there were about 35 students in class. Trying to teach lacrosse to that many, when most of them actually hadn’t played before – we didn’t even get to scrimmaging, we just worked on skill development, but that was fun too.”

The spring semester is a return to traditional on Grounds classroom work and a return to Blue being a traditional student, as opposed to the teacher, as she finishes her final four classes, but the juggling and non-traditional lacrosse practice still continues. Blue has back-to-back three-hour classes on Wednesdays from 3:30-9 p.m., which again regrettably causes her to miss team practice one day a week, but she is once again finding a way to make up the time and make sure that her final year ends the way she wants it to.

“I really would like to thank the coaching staff for always supporting me. I have been here five years now, and I think I’ve grown a lot as a person and an athlete. Julie and Colleen have helped me stay positive and motivated throughout these entire five years. And then I also want to thank my teammates for including me when I have missed a lot this school year, and just for always having my back. Of course, I would like to thank my family for coming to all of the games and picking me up when I need it.”

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