Unsung Heroes: Four Big Green Athletes' Careers

by The Dartmouth Sports Staff | 6/13/15 6:00am

Phil Hession ’15

For the men’s lacrosse team, which has seen its share of disappointing finishes these last few years, this years’ season was a tremendous step in the right direction, thanks in no small part to leadership from a new coaching staff and a solid captain: Phillip Hession ’15.

Hession is the kind of leader even an outsider can spot. He saw playing time at nearly every position this season, dominating face-offs and forgoing the common FOGO method to stay in as a key to the Big Green’s strong defense or a critical actor on offense. His stats showed his prowess, as he picked up nearly a quarter of the team’s ground balls, won 63 percent of his face-offs, took fourth for points on the team with 14 on six tallies, and tied for second in caused turnovers with 15. The list goes on.

He also earned many honors, from All-Ivy First Team and New England Second Team to United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association Scholar All-American and Lacrosse Magazine Player of the Week. On both the first and second teams, he was recognized as both a midfielder and faceoff specialist and was the only player to appear in more than one category.

Off the field, his half-hour long interviews this season certainly revealed how much he thinks and cares about the team. The team improved to 5-8 this season from 2-10 in the 2013-2014 season.

“Lacrosse was probably the biggest part of my Dartmouth experience,” Hession said. “It was a bundle of the typical social experience, academic experience and athletic experience.”

Hession said that the experience he’s had playing for the Big Green — of being “a part of something that’s bigger than yourself” — is one that cannot be found in social life or academics. Hession said that the relationships he made through the team not only pushed him to play better, but also played significant roles in making his time at the College worthwhile.

“The work I put into lacrosse, with all my best friends who really put in the same work, is really what gave my time here a lot of meaning, and the relationships built doing that work,” he said. “That’s why it was really disappointing at the end of the year for me at times that the team didn’t do better, just because I really wanted the group to have that satisfaction.”

When asked what being a two-time captain meant to him, Hession said that the title was meaningful to him “simply because it’s voted on by the team.” He credited leadership coach Steven Spaulding and his teammates for his success.

“It was an honor that my team would ask me to serve them in that way,” he said. “It was an easy group to lead this year — it was a great group of guys.”

Hession will leave the team this year to work at Deutsche Bank in New York City.

—Emily Wechsler

Tasha Wilkins ’15

This unsung hero has seen adversity on the soccer field. A star in high school, Tasha Wilkins ’15 arrived in Hanover with high expectations and met them, seeing action in 12 games and leading the team with three goals and six points.

In the team’s Ivy League opener, however, she injured her right ankle, and after spending time on crutches was only able to take the field the last three games of the season. The injury would plague her throughout the rest of her career.

Still not fully recovered, Wilkins was limited during the preseason of her sophomore year and soon found out she needed surgery on the ankle. Yet the games she did play in were strong, featuring a .50 goals per game average and recognition as Ivy League Player of the Week. She took an off-term in the winter to allow for the surgery and spent the spring in a boot.

“It definitely wasn’t easy,” Wilkins said.

Yet two things kept her going: the community of the soccer team and her commitment to soccer, which she said was “one of the most consistent things in [her] life.”

“I wasn’t ready, and I’m still not ready, if we’re being honest, to let go of that, so any chance I was able to play, I did.”

After she missed her junior season, Wilkins still wasn’t sure she’d be able to play as a senior. On a summer study abroad, she played soccer in the park to try to get ready, and she returned home early to see her first action at a West Coast tournament. It was the first time in a while that her family saw her play.

This season she took the field in 13 games and placed third on the team in points with eight and second in goals with four.

She was recognized this year with the Keith Kurowski Award, presented to a player whose teammates felt displayed Kurowski’s same courage and enthusiasm despite great adversity.

“There’s a running joke that I have an insane goal-to-minute ratio because a lot of times at Dartmouth I was physically not able to play more than like 20 minutes at a time,” Wilkins said. “It’s nice to have such supportive teammates, and teammates that acknowledge talent. Your talent, individual teammates, despite what they’re going through.”

Wilkins’ career may have seemed quiet, but she made important contributions to the Big Green throughout her four years, taking the injuries in stride. We’re left wondering what could have been.

—Emily Wechsler

Akiko Okuda ’15

When Akiko Okuda ’15 stepped on Dartmouth’s campus as a freshman in 2011, she was one of three freshmen on a tennis team that won only two of its seven Ivy League matches that season, finishing tied with Princeton University for sixth in the standings. When Okuda ended her tennis career with the Big Green this spring, she was co-captain and the only senior on a team that reached its highest national ranking ever of No. 18 and won its first NCAA tournament match, falling just short of giving Okuda her first Ivy League title.

A lot has changed for the women’s tennis team since Okuda arrived, and she has featured prominently as an ever-reliable member for the squad as it grew and learned over the last four years.

In a college sport that jams the individual nature of its competition into a team format, Okuda represents the most seamless and selfless way a player can make the transition from an accomplished juniors career – she graduated high school ranked No. 29 in the country according to tennisrecruiting.net – to an irreplaceable member of a team unit.

As a highly-touted freshman, Okuda spent most of the season playing No. 2 for a Dartmouth team coming off an Ivy League championship-winning season that saw it graduate three seniors. Okuda helped fill some of the talent gap, but the team struggled with an 8-13 record.

Okuda spent the next three years becoming the piece the Big Green needed to work its way back to the top of the Ivy League. As a senior, she spent played exclusively in the bottom half of the singles ladder, where she collected a sturdy 20-13 record for the team, including a match-clinching victory in the team’s 4-3 victory over Mississippi State University.

Okuda left the team in a far better place than she found it, and that’s the highest praise available for a player who prioritized the success of her team over her individual success.

—Henry Arndt

Eric Robinson ’14

Alternate-captain Eric Robinson ’14, who received permission to return to Dartmouth as a fifth-year senior after losing the previous season to a shoulder dislocation, collected 23 points this season on the ice.

Robinson battled back into Thompson Arena after rehabilitating his shoulder after surgery and was chosen by the New England Hockey Writers Association as the recipient of the Joe Tomasello Award, doled out to the “Unsung Hero” of college hockey teams in New England.

“I’m obviously honored to get it,” Robinson said. “I’m sure there were other people that were worthy of getting the award also.”

At the conclusion of the season, Robinson signed an Amateur Tryout Contract with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League, with whom he played hockey for a month.

“That was an amazing experience,” Robinson said. “There are a lot of guys that are much older…. Talking to them and learning from them was a pretty special experience.”

In about four total years on the ice, Robinson played in 124 games and scored 35 goals with his power forward style of playing, “a little bit more physical and simple” which, he said, his line mates captain Tyler Sikura ’15 and next year’s captain Brad Schierhorn ’16 allowed him to play.

Tyler Sikura, a year younger than Robinson, said players look up to him.

“[Robinson’s] desire for success is admired and emulated by the guys in the locker room,” Sikura said.

—Gayne Kalustian