Bringing Competitive Fire to PU, Women’s National Team, McGarvie Reilly Inducted into NJ Lacrosse Hall of Fame
JERSEY’S FINEST: Holly McGarvie Reilly, right, takes the ball upfield for the U.S. women’s national lacrosse team. Reilly, a 2009 Princeton alum who starred in lacrosse and field hockey for the Tigers, helped the U.S. win the gold medal at the 2013 Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) Women’s World Cup in Oshawa, Ontario. Last month, Reilly was inducted into the New Jersey Lacrosse Hall of Fame. (Photo by John Strohsacker, provided courtesy of USA Lacrosse)
By Justin Feil
When Holly McGarvie Reilly started playing lacrosse on the very first team at Medford Memorial Middle School, she did not have Hall of Fame aspirations but she approached it as she has everything in her life.
“I’m a competitor,” said Reilly. “My parents really impressed on me the importance of a strong education and doing your best in whatever you’re doing.”
Reilly got hooked early on the new sport and excelled at it along with field hockey and winter track and field at Shawnee High School. The valedictorian at Shawnee, she won 10 varsity letters in a career that included a state track championship, All-State recognition in field hockey, and All-American acclaim in lacrosse before continuing with field hockey and lacrosse at nearby Princeton University.
At Princeton, she helped the Tigers win four Ivy League championships in field hockey as a star back in her fall seasons and during the spring won one Ivy title in lacrosse as a standout midfielder while earning Ivy Rookie of the Year and two-time All-American accolades. She helped the U.S. women’s national team win a pair of World Cup lacrosse gold medals in 2009 and 2013. Her achievements were recognized last month when she was inducted into the New Jersey Lacrosse Hall of Fame at Fiddler’s Elbow Country Club in Bedminster.
“It was really cool,” said Reilly. “I was very honored and surprised. I honestly didn’t know the process was ongoing. I was called by Peter O’Donnell and the New Jersey Lacrosse Hall of Fame and the foundation board and it was pretty awesome.”
Reilly, the only female of seven inductees in the Class of 2020 which also included former Peddie boys’ lax star goalie and former Princeton Day School head coach Rich D’Andrea, was nominated by Princeton University head coach Chris Sailer. Sailer and former Shawnee head coach Susan Rudderow Murphy attended the induction ceremony along with Reilly’s family.
“It’s a great honor,” said Reilly. “To all the people that have impacted me, this is special. I told my parents this is like your award, when I think now about that I’m a parent and if one of my children received something like that, there are so few opportunities as a parent to get the reminder and gratification that I did something well. It was really nice to be able to celebrate it with the two of them.”
Reilly, who has two young boys with her husband, Brendan Reilly, a fellow Princeton University graduate and a former Tiger men’s lax standout, moved back from California two months ago to New Jersey to where her athletic career began, and is still doing her best in lacrosse as a coach and a professional player. To each endeavor she brings the passion and energy that made her a Hall of Fame player after a relatively late introduction to the sport.
“I had some natural ability, I worked really hard, I never wanted to lose to anybody else,” said Reilly, who was inducted into the Shawnee Athletic Hall of Fame in 2018.
“That caught Chris’s eye. Being able to go to Princeton was tremendous in my development. It allowed me to play two sports. You can try to play two sports at a Duke or a UNC, but it’s extremely challenging. I was on the Princeton lacrosse team with five other girls that played field hockey. There was a little core group of us who were playing both sports. The benefits of that was it kept me from burning out, it gave me a lot of different coaching experiences with different people.”
From her playing days at Shawnee to Princeton, Reilly continued to mature into a more complete player. When she graduated from Princeton in 2009, she played on the first of two gold medal World Cup teams to kick off her post-collegiate playing career.
“Those two World Cup experiences were very transformative for me,” said Reilly.
“So much luck goes into being named onto those teams. There are so many strong players. You’re splitting hairs at the end of the day when you’re selecting the team and it goes from 24 to 18. I recognize that and I’m so grateful for those experiences for building some really lifelong-lasting friendships, some of those individuals are playing in the pro league, friends that you shared experiences with traveling abroad and competing around the country.”
Since graduating from Princeton, Reilly has been spreading her love of the sport. She started Renegade Lacrosse for girls in Southern California four years ago, just the latest chance to expand the sport into new areas.
“I really worked to grow lacrosse in Southern California at the grass roots level and do it the right way – what I mean by that is teaching, developing skills and fundamentals, and fun,” said Reilly. “That’s at the core of what I love doing. Now that we’ve moved back to New Jersey, I’ll look for opportunities to continue to do that while still running the company in California.”
Reilly has remained true to her upbringing and her philosophies for healthy growth in lacrosse. She brought an opportunity to learn the game through Renegade’s clinics and recreational league, away from the higher pressure of club lacrosse. Renegade helps feed into local Southern California high schools as they begin to improve programs.
“My goal would be to impress upon players and parents that playing rec is really great,” said Reilly.
“It’s a great opportunity for taking risks and practicing different skills, even if you’re playing club. The club scene happens really quick. Sports are so fun to play and letting kids enjoy it for longer would be what my vision would be.”
Utilizing that approach, Reilly was an ideal candidate for creating an opportunity in a non-traditional lacrosse area. She can identify with new players just picking up the game. Her own parents were not familiar with lacrosse when she jumped to it from softball.
“I like to use that to empower girls and also demonstrate that I believe it’s so important to have variety in your athletic experiences, to play multiple sports,” said Reilly. “I think that a huge part of my success was tag teaming field hockey and lacrosse and using those cross-sport skills in the opposite season.”
Reilly has been an ambassador for the game everywhere that she has been, first in England after graduating from Princeton, then in Washington, D.C., where she started the second public school team in the area, and finally in California as a high school coach and then Renegade director. Reilly is interested in working within the Camden community in the future, likely teaching or coaching in some capacity. Everywhere she has shared her love of the game that began in middle school.
“A lot of us decided to give it a try,” said Reilly. “Because I love a challenge, the sport was technically challenging, the strategy is so fun, it’s very similar to basketball and I love to play basketball and I never looked back.”
Reilly continues to play now. As a 34-year-old mother of two, she has returned to the professional level with the new Athletes Unlimited league.
“Being a mom is such a special experience,” said Reilly. “I’m one of three moms in the professional lacrosse league, Athletes Unlimited. We talk about super mom power. I’m so proud to be out here, not just so my kids see me play but for other young women who are thinking about any challenge or goal that they have and really being inspired by being a mom, and you can do that too if you want. It takes a little village. It’s cool to be out here with two other moms.”
After starting a family and returning to the East Coast, Reilly is applying a balanced approach to her latest foray into the pro game. She first played professionally for the Boston Storm in the United Women’s Lacrosse League in 2016, and last played professionally in 2018 for the Philadelphia Fire of the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League.
“At 34, I try to be more realistic,” said Reilly. “My training is different. I run a company. I have two kids. My husband travels 70 percent of the time. When I was called last October, I was so touched by that. And I thought, ‘But why? You have all these 20-year-olds, why would you ask me?’ The league stands for representation in talent and also in story-telling of people who have different ongoing lives. You’re a mom. Different sexual orientations, different backgrounds, different cultures, that’s a big part about Athletes Unlimited. Showcasing a mom, I’m older but I can hang. There’s nobody out there that I can’t hang with. I’m not at the top, but I can hang. I’m going to be clawing all season to stay in there and see what I’m made of by the end of August.”
Athletes Unlimited awards points to each player individually for positive statistics, and takes points away for negative statistics. Winning team members also accrue points, and players’ points are listed in the standings to measure their value to teams. Each week, players are drafted to four new teams that then face off the following weekend. Reilly went into the league telling herself that she would not focus on her points, just on playing well.
“My role is entirely different than what it was when I was a senior at Shawnee, that was different than when I was a senior at Princeton, that was different than when I was a midfielder for Team USA in 2009, which was different than when I was a defender on Team USA in 2013,” said Reilly.
“I found myself coaching myself a lot like I coach my players. You have to know your role. It’s a team game out there. As you see from the points even though I’m not looking, team success overrides individual success every day. I just want to contribute to team success. Knowing what I bring to the team and not trying to do more than that, everyone brings an element of their game and some players do more than others. Some players are leaps and bounds talent-wise above me, of course. I have to know what to bring and then bring that every day.”
True to form, Reilly continues to push herself on the field each weekend to be a better player and teammate. It’s that drive that landed Reilly in the New Jersey Lacrosse Hall of Fame and continues to bring her success on and off the field.