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Why not both?

By: Liam Hoffmann

Sarah Kilburn before a lacrosse game. Photo Credit: Kat Althouse / Brockport Athletics

BROCKPORT, NY-- Most young athletes aspire to play sports at the collegiate level. Of the few who are successful, significantly fewer do so at the Division I level. Even fewer end up competing in three different sports for three different programs and across three different levels of competition in only three years. Enter Brockport freestyle swimmer and lacrosse midfielder Sarah Kilburn. 


Kilburn never knew a life without sports. Her hometown of Watertown, N.Y. showed her that sports were the thing to do. From a young age, athletics consumed her time. 


“Everybody that I knew, all my friends, we were all in sports,” Kilburn said. “We’re a very athletic community and school…it was fun to be in sports like that’s where I met all my friends too.” 


With two parents previously involved in athletics and a community devoted to them, Kilburn naturally found herself in them. Her dad played lacrosse at SUNY Potsdam and her brother Zachary currently swims at Le Moyne. 


Growing up, sports were even more special when she got to compete with her siblings. Swimming with both her siblings and playing lacrosse with her sister enabled automatic support around her athletics. Swimming emerged as an early favorite when Kilburn was young. With the availability of school and club swimming, she was able to compete year-round. 

Sarah Kilburn in the pool as a Watertown Cyclone. Photo Credit: via Sarah Kilburn

When she was not in the pool, Kilburn was on the court playing volleyball, something she didn’t feel she had to take as seriously and could just enjoy for what it was. 


“That was kind of just a fun sports-type thing,” Kilburn said. “I was still passionate about it and I love playing but it was kind of like the break in between swimming and lacrosse.” 


Since seventh grade, Kilburn has had her sights set on collegiate lacrosse. Her competitiveness in the sport grew and she knew she belonged at the next level. But it was swimming where Kilburn saw the most success in high school. She qualified for the state championship meet as a freshman in a relay event and individually each of the next two years. 


“It was not something that was done often at Watertown,” Kilburn said. “My coach had very few athletes that ended up going to the state competition so it was a big honor to do that.” 


Kilburn’s success on the lacrosse field was nothing to scoff at either. She was named a Frontier League All-Star and an All-North Athlete during her high school career. For her successes, Kilburn was recruited to play Division I lacrosse at Canisius University as a Golden Griffin by then-head coach Allison Daley. She signed her letter of intent in May 2021. Unexpectedly, that June, Daley stepped down from the position. Russell Allen assumed the role. 

Sarah Kilburn on the draw as a Watertown Cyclone. Photo Credit: via Sarah Kilburn

“I had a coach, she was super interested in me,” Kilburn said. “I loved the coach, she just had so many good things to say…she had so much faith in my ability in playing. She was the one that recruited me but was not the coach that I had that year, so that was pretty tough for me.” 


In February 2022 Kilburn made her Canisius debut against Bucknell. She converted a go-ahead free position goal late in the third quarter that put her team ahead until the end. She scored her second and final season goal against Robert Morris University just a week later. Through the rest of the year, her 17 draw controls earned her a place on the MAAC All-Rookie Team, being the only freshman on her team to do so. 


Despite her success, Kilburn was dissatisfied and in need of a reset. The environment and conditions at Canisius left lacrosse as a greater burden than before and she felt she lost her love for it. She left, returned home to Watertown and enrolled at Jefferson Community College (JCC). 


“I was kind of burnt out from the sport in general, so I didn’t really want to continue going on there for the next four years,” Kilburn said. “I got my associate degree, finished out my sophomore year, I ended up playing volleyball there too, and actually loved being here…it was a very good sort of break for me to take a step back and kind of realize, like, ‘okay, why was I playing lacrosse in the first place?’ and it gave me time to then realize ‘okay, I want to play again, and not hate it.’” 


Sarah Kilburn celebrating while playing volleyball at Jefferson Community College. Photo Credit: via Sarah Kilburn

Being home and playing volleyball at JCC relit the flame for her. A JCC teammate of Kilburn’s transferred to Brockport for the spring 2023 semester, playing in their spring volleyball season. Kilburn saw an opportunity and jumped at it. She enrolled at Brockport last fall and after reaching out to women’s volleyball head coach Jim Clar, was awarded a tryout. 


“When I tried out, he just kind of said he wanted to go in a different direction,” Kilburn said. “Then, he told me that the lacrosse coach had actually talked to him and wanted to reach out to me. So, I said ‘Okay, let’s try this again.’ I knew I missed lacrosse and I want to play again, so maybe this could be a turnaround from my freshman year at Canisius.” 


When Kilburn met with Brockport women’s lacrosse head coach Bryana Glasser, things went well. Kilburn expressed her concerns related to the struggles she experienced at Canisius. Glasser assured her that should she feel unhappy as she did at Canisius, the coach’s door is always wide open to talk. This meant everything to Kilburn. 


“I met with her and I said ‘just come out, see what this environment is like, if you enjoy it, great, if not, no harm no foul,’” Glasser said. 


Chloe Willson is a graduate assistant coach for Brockport swimming and diving. She’s also Kilburn’s roommate in Brockport. Willson pitched the idea of swimming as a Golden Eagle, alongside playing lacrosse to Kilburn.  


“I looked for Sarah’s times and I’d actually been recruiting her brother here last year,” Brockport swimming and diving head coach Zack Wahl said. “She had some pretty strong times from high school…we met up here and chatted about the program, about how she would fit in, and she seemed like she wanted to give it a go.” 


In high school, Kilburn didn’t imagine swimming in college. Satisfied with her accomplishments in the pool at Watertown, she turned her attention to collegiate lacrosse. At Brockport, she was willing to try it. 


“I was like ‘why not? Let’s try it,’” Kilburn said. “Why not try it because there’s really nothing to lose.”  


In Brockport’s home opening meet against Oneonta, Kilburn won the 50-yard freestyle and earned the Golden Eagles nine points en route to the 157-83 victory. Kilburn helped lead the group to a 6-2 regular season. At the SUNYAC Swimming & Diving Championships, Brockport took third place. Kilburn’s contribution in the 200-medley, 200-free relay, 400-free relay and individual 50-free helped the Golden Eagles to the bronze finish. 


“My goal going into this season was to just do my best and give it all I had,” Kilburn said. “I really wanted to beat my times from high school and I was successful in that, and got PRs in every event, even in the relay splits, so I'm super proud of myself and my team.” 


At season’s end, Kilburn earned SUNYAC Second Team honors in the 200-free relay, 400-free relay, 200-medley relay and 400-medley relay and Third Team honors in the 100-butterfly. 


Sarah Kilburn with her silver medal-winning 200-freestyle relay team at SUNYACs. Photo Credit: Kaite Wilson / Brockport Athletics

When Brockport women’s lacrosse began their season against the University of Rochester on Feb. 25, Kilburn was still in Buffalo at Erie Community College competing in the SUNYAC Championship. She made her Brockport lacrosse debut in the team’s next contest against No. 19 ranked Ithaca. Despite the 16-12 loss, Kilburn scored four goals, three of which came on free position shots. She showcased a powerful step-down shot that the Bombers goalie Lexi Held could not stop.  


“My whole team gives her props for going straight from our six-and-a-half-month swim season straight into her lacrosse season,” Brockport swimming and diving captain Corinne Wilson said. “She went from lacrosse to swim back to lacrosse with no breaks in between the seasons. Actually, an overlap of them.” 


Kilburn has continued to contribute on both ends and on the draw control for the Golden Eagles. Fredonia women’s lacrosse head coach Tori Poffenberger ended her collegiate playing career with a loss at the hands of a then-nationally ranked Brockport team. Fredonia played Brockport on March 27 and Poffenberger had high praise for Killburn. 


“Sarah on the draw is crazy, she wins it out to the restraining line almost every time,” Poffenberger said. “She’s so consistent across the field.”  


The Golden Eagles finished the regular season with a 6-3 in-conference record which netted them a home playoff game as the No. 4 seed. In the quarterfinal round of the SUNYAC playoffs, Brockport faced the No. 5 Oswego State Lakers. Kilburn scored the game’s first goal, but come the end of the third quarter the Golden Eagles faced a 9-6 hole. A fourth quarter won 4-1 by the Golden Eagles pushed the game to overtime and on the first draw of extra time, Kilburn won it for Brockport. The Lakers didn’t touch the ball again as minutes later, Kilburn sent Brockport to the next round with a game-winning step-down shot from the free position.


Sarah Kilburn's game-winning step-down shot in the SUNYAC Semifinals. Photo Credit: Mathieu Starke / Brockport Athletics

Days later, the Golden Eagles season ended in the SUNYAC semifinals at the hands of the No. 1 Cortland Red Dragons.


Kilburn always believed she could play several sports in college. While being recruited as a high schooler, she asked coaches about the possibility of doing so but was met with doubt. 


“They all kind of told me ‘No,’” Kilburn said. “They were like, ‘there’s people who do it, but it is very hard, it’s probably not feasible…’ it’s not as hard as I think they anticipated it to be…especially with coaches who are super supportive and flexible with both schedules, it really does help having that supportive environment because they do understand that I can do both and that it is feasible for me to do both.” 


As Kilburn looks ahead, she’s focused on having fun. Rather than focusing on individual accomplishments, Brockport has shown Kilburn she can recapture her passion for athletics that she grew up with. She is thankful to have that love back. 


“I don’t really have many goals I would say…I think following that first year, just having fun and being happy and enjoying my time in college playing collegiate sports, because I know it does go by super fast,” Kilburn said. “Some people don’t get the opportunity to do this, so kind of just showing up every day, loving what I get to do…that’s my biggest goal.”  


Kilburn now enters her senior year with more to play for. Glasser will enter her third season at the helm with her sights set on the SUNYAC title and Brockport swimming and diving will continue to chase top dog Geneseo, all with the support of do-it-all athlete Sarah Kilburn.


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