Mom, Dad and Jack­son are ready for Wes­leyan’s Fi­nal Four jour­ney

The News-Times - - SPORTS - Jeff.ja­[email protected]­medi­; @jef­f­ja­cobs123

Edg­ing slowly through the Jersey traf­fic, Mom and Dad fol­lowed the Wes­leyan women’s team bus Thurs­day as it headed on the long ride from Mid­dle­town to prac­tice at U.S. Lacrosse head­quar­ters in Mary­land. Ahead, in Vir­ginia, lie dreams of a na­tional cham­pi­onship.

Rid­ing shot­gun in his car seat was Jack­son Al­bino.

“I’m sure you can hear him,” coach Kim Wil­liams said.

Jack­son is one day older than a 2019 Wes­leyan sea­son that has grown mag­i­cal as it hits the fi­nal days of May. The Car­di­nals knocked off No. 2 Wash­ing­ton and Lee be­fore stun­ning No. 1 Get­tys­burg, the two-time na­tional cham­pion, at Get­tys­burg last week­end. On Satur­day in the na­tional Di­vi­sion III lacrosse semi­fi­nals at Ran­dolph-Ma­con, just out­side Rich­mond, is a re­match with No. 3 Mid­dle­bury. The Pan­thers edged Wes­leyan 8-7 when Jack­son was 15 days old, but as the lit­tle guy will tell you, that was a long time ago.

He’s nearly three months old now.

Wil­liams and her hus­band, Nel­son Al­bino, the as­so­ci­ate head women’s bas­ket­ball coach at Wes­leyan, were gird­ing for a March 2 due date, the same day cir­cled on the cal­en­dar as the sea­son opener at Wil­liams.

“I knew that no mat­ter what, my doc­tor wasn’t go­ing to let me travel,” Wil­liams said. “So I was re­ally hop­ing he would come be­fore that, be­cause not be­ing able to travel with my team and him not be­ing here would make me crazy on March 2.

“Luck­ily, he de­cided to come on March 1. I ac­tu­ally went into la­bor early the day be­fore, very early la­bor. I got through work, got through prac­tice and went to (Mid­dle­sex) Hos­pi­tal.”

Jack­son, the cou­ple’s first

child, didn’t ar­rive un­til 9 o’clock the fol­low­ing night.

“Yeah, I was in la­bor for a pretty long time,” Wil­liams said.

Wes­leyan would win that opener and three more be­fore the loss to Mid­dle­bury. There would be an­other win over Bab­son and just like that, Wil­liams — ded­i­cated, fit, mo­ti­vated — was back on the side­lines.

“I was home fully for two weeks with my hus­band and Jack­son,” Wil­liams said. “I went back for prac­tices and it worked out well be­cause it was the sec­ond week of spring break and we had a full week of prac­tice be­fore the next game against Kean (March 23).”

Both from New Jersey, Nel­son and Kim met in 2011 while they were as­sis­tant coaches at Colby in Water­ville, Maine. A bunch of as­sis­tants shared an of­fice they called the dun­geon.

“At Colby, you’re pretty much in the mid­dle of nowhere and no one is from there,” Wil­liams said. “The as­sis­tants be­come a close group.”

So here was Nel­son sit­ting in the dun­geon.

“I didn’t think I ever had a chance of dat­ing Kim, she’s so beau­ti­ful,” Al­bino said. “We got to know each other and be­came friends pretty quickly. She’s funny, kind, com­pas­sion­ate for oth­ers; that struck me right away. I loved how com­pet­i­tive she is.”

The coaches would play hoops at lunch time.

“It was pretty funny,” Al­bino said. “We’re su­per-com­pet­i­tive. When we were on op­po­site teams, she wanted to kick my butt and vice versa.”

Some­where be­tween a cross­over drib­ble and a drive to the hoop, Nel­son had a chance. Sports. Got to love them. The two were mar­ried in 2016.

Jack­son’s first road trip would be at Stevens on March 27. Mom and Dad fol­lowed the bus to Hobo­ken. The lo­gis­tics couldn’t have been bet­ter.

“Nel­son took the baby to his grand­mother’s house a block away from Stevens and his par­ents came to the game,” Wil­liams said. “It’s worked out per­fectly. It was a nice shorter trip be­fore our 4 1⁄2-hour ride there and back for a game (three days later) at Colby.”

Yep, Jack­son is a road war­rior. Dad is the one car­ry­ing the di­a­pers at games.

“It has been su­per fun, but it is also chal­leng­ing in cer­tain ways,” Al­bino said. “It’s not him. It’s the weather. Last week­end at Get­tys­burg be­cause of the heat I didn’t want to have him out­side and watched on my phone and iPad in­side. In other games, be­cause it’s so cold, we ended up in the car most of the time. We’ve been lucky a few times.

“He has been su­per easy to deal with and he’s al­ready such a great trav­eler. We’ve been lucky be­cause he falls asleep in that car seat al­most in­stan­ta­neously.”

Wil­liams, a three-time Di­vi­sion II Al­lAmer­i­can at C.W. Post, took over a Wes­leyan pro­gram that had suf­fered through eight suc­ces­sive los­ing sea­sons. The Car­di­nals went 5-9 her first year in 2016, but a cul­ture shift had be­gun im­me­di­ately. Wes­leyan, which had never qual­i­fied for the NCAA Tour­na­ment, has ad­vanced to the NCAAs three years in a row. The Car­di­nals are 40-16 since 2017 and the 17 wins in 20

games this sea­son is a pro­gram record. If all this sounds as if it should be ac­com­pa­nied by a thun­der­clap, there’s that, too. The vic­tory over Get­tys­burg was twice de­layed by light­ning and took four hours to com­plete.

“From the be­gin­ning we fo­cused on rais­ing the stan­dards and ex­pec­ta­tions,” Wil­liams said. “I think in the past the girls thought they were work­ing hard enough, but the NESCAC is such a com­pet­i­tive league.”

The off­sea­son be­came a ma­jor fo­cus. Work in the weight room, team build­ing, the coach’s work ethic and drive spread.

“We wanted to make sure we were the hard­est-work­ing team out there,” Wil­liams said. “We are grinders. That’s what we’re known for. Yes, it’s about get­ting bet­ter lacrosse play­ers, but how we bat­tle on the field is some­thing we’ve show­cased since our first year.”

The dis­ci­pline, the work ethic, run in the fam­ily. Kim’s older sis­ter Al­lie is a ma­jor in the U.S. Ma­rine Corps sta­tioned in Cal­i­for­nia the past two years. Teach­ing her sac­ri­fice and per­spec­tive, Kim has called Al­lie her hero.

“We grew up very close,” Kim said. “I ac­tu­ally got to see her a few days ago. She’s hav­ing a baby as well, due in July. She had been on the East Coast be­fore (at Quan­tico) and we’re hop­ing she’ll be com­ing back soon so the cousins can grow up closer to­gether.”

Al­lie spoke to the team in Kim’s first year be­fore a game against Wil­liams.

“It’s funny,” Wil­liams said, “we didn’t talk about what she was go­ing to say to the team. But ev­ery­thing she said, wow, it was ex­actly what I would have wanted in mo­ti­vat­ing them.

“Sports and mil­i­tary have been maledriven and we share ideas about fe­males with lead­er­ship, build­ing con­fi­dence and hold­ing high stan­dards. We’re very sim­i­lar in terms of lead­er­ship style and work ethic.”

Nel­son, who had coached the men’s game at four col­leges — the last Connecticu­t Col­lege — be­fore Wes­leyan, has watched care­fully.

“I’ve learned a lot from Kim and leaned on her in mov­ing to the women’s game and to this spe­cific set­ting,” Al­bino said. “It’s high aca­demic and chal­leng­ing, be­ing con­scious of work­loads and com­mit­ments, but at the same time there’s a stan­dard and level of ex­pec­ta­tion th­ese young women need to ad­here to if they want to be great. We talk about be­ing great in aca­demics and ath­let­ics and to do that you have to com­mit to it. With Kim, I saw first-hand how to do that ef­fec­tively. I wasn’t afraid to chal­lenge the girls while en­cour­ag­ing them.”

When the NCAA brack­ets were an­nounced, Wil­liams didn’t have to say much to chal­lenge her Car­di­nals. The na­tion’s top two teams stood be­tween them and the Fi­nal Four.

“We said it doesn’t mat­ter when you play them in terms of win­ning a na­tional cham­pi­onship,” Wil­liams said. “The girls were so ready last week­end. They showed fight. Weather de­lays, heat we weren’t used to; they were re­silient. Now we play a team our se­nior class hasn’t beaten yet in the NESCAC. The mo­ti­va­tion is def­i­nitely there.”

Be­ware, Mid­dle­bury.

Jack­son, road war­rior, will be there this time.

Wes­leyan Ath­let­ics

Wes­leyan women’s lacrosse coach Kim Wil­liams.

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