All-Time UConn Great Sydney Watson has 'Grown So Much' in 5 Years

On a sunny afternoon in March 2021, UConn lacrosse faced a serious threat of losing its first game in nearly a month to UMass.

When Huskies standout Sydney Watson sprinted into the eight-meter, scored a seemingly effortless goal and lifted the Huskies past the Minutewomen for the first time since 2004, it marked a turning point.

“It felt like what we had been working for multiple months or even years,” Watson said. “Finally, we got to prove to ourselves that we can do this, we can step up and play against anyone we put our minds to.”

The game not only signified a big momentum shift for UConn — a team that had gone 3-14 just two seasons earlier — but put Watson’s abilities to the test. Her six-goal performance that day was just one snapshot of a standout senior season. She went on to be named the program’s first IWLCA first-team All-American ever in 2021, notching a Big East-leading 56 goals.

“She’s someone that has really high expectations of herself and of the team,” coach Katie Woods said. “She’s in that mind frame that this is what she came here to do.”

Watson first picked up a stick at 6 years old, though lacrosse was just one among many sports she tried. She wanted to play as many sports as she could, taking up soccer, basketball, field hockey, karate and tennis during her childhood.

Her dad, Kerry Watson, said his daughter’s competitive drive was clear from a young age. When she started playing soccer at 4 years old, she was already laser-focused on scoring and winning. At 5 years old, her determination to win karate matchups would sometimes drive her competitors to tears. At 8, she asked her parents for a personal trainer.

By the time she reached high school, Watson had honed in on lacrosse and soccer as her two main sports. She knew she wanted to compete in college, but she wasn’t sure which sport she would pursue. She continued playing both at the club level through the beginning of high school, eventually settling on lacrosse.

“The sport was just so unique,” Watson said. “There’s hand-eye coordination, there’s speed, there’s team play, there are just so many different things that go into it. I loved being all over the field as much as I could.”

“I will never allow my kids to think that anything in the world doesn’t belong to them.”

— Kerry Watson, Syndey Watson's father

However, Calvert County, Maryland — where Watson grew up — is less heavily recruited than other regions in the state. Sydney said she knew it would be tough to play college lacrosse coming from her hometown, so she worked to put herself on the map. She played club for Jets Lacrosse and traveled to camps, tournaments and clinics, in addition to putting in lots of work on her own time.

Her drive to succeed and natural athletic talents quickly set her apart on the field. But growing up as a Black player in predominantly white Calvert County, Sydney often faced derogatory comments during games — even from people she would have considered family friends.

“Team-wise, they were always welcoming, always inclusive,” Watson said. “It was when we played other teams — whether it was the coaches, parents, other players — there would be comments about me being Black. ‘Oh, watch out for the Black girl.’ ‘She’s just fast. That’s all she has.’ ‘She’s so aggressive — watch out for her.’”

Kerry Watson said he often saw his daughter villainized, gaining a reputation with teams, parents and officials that led to her being singled out on the field in a way unlike her peers. He once had a co-worker try to criticize him for allowing his children to play a predominantly white sport like lacrosse — a comment he quickly fought against.

“I retorted, ‘I will never allow my kids to think that anything in the world doesn’t belong to them, including what sport they want to play, because that all translates in other parts of your life,’” Kerry Watson said.

Sydney Watson tried to use these hardships as fuel. She said pushing forward and working to prove her doubters wrong helped her move past difficult experiences and comments.

As she worked hard and grew as a lacrosse player, colleges soon took notice. When she first visited UConn’s campus, it felt like the perfect fit.

“I loved the atmosphere of the team,” she said. “As cliche as it sounds, they are a family, and I could tell how supportive they were of one another even when I was here for a few visits. The coaches cared about the well-being of the players, how they were feeling. All the players put in the extra work.”

Well before heading to UConn, Watson knew she wanted to pursue a career in the criminal justice field. Her mother, Teresa, was an accident reconstructionist, and her father is a former patrol and canine officer. One night when her daughter was in middle school, Teresa Watson drew out an accident on a board at home. She chimed in, helping her mother try to figure out what happened. From then on, she was hooked.

UConn, however, didn’t offer a crime and justice major. So, she created her own. The process was “extremely tough,” she said, involving plenty of extra meetings on top of her classes and lacrosse commitments. But working alongside the team’s academic staff and keeping the coaching staff in the loop was helpful.

“[The coaches are] really excited I got to do something like this because, to their knowledge, no one [on the team] in a while had done something like that,” she said. “It was interesting for them to learn along the way with me so they can help other student-athletes in the future… I’m excited I got to pave a road for future lacrosse players if this is something they end up pursuing. I’m glad I could be one of the first little guinea pigs.”

Watson quickly became a fixture of UConn’s offense when she arrived, but the transition to college lacrosse wasn’t always easy. The speed of the game was different from what she experienced in Calvert County. The rules also changed to allow free movement at the beginning of her freshman year.

She persevered through these short-term challenges, emerging as one of the program’s best players in a generation. She broke the Huskies’ single-season draw record her freshman year and led the team in goals her sophomore, junior and senior seasons.


Woods said Watson has always been competitive but has certainly developed as a player over the past five seasons. Her dedication to fine tuning her skills, whether offensive or defensive, has paid off well for her, Woods said.

“It’s been fun to see her grow in terms of learning how to handle pressure and handle being the focus of an opponent,” Woods said. “That’s always challenging after a player’s freshman season when they do really well. She’s grown so much as a person that it’s crazy. I don’t even remember what she was like freshman year because I look at her now and she’s so grown up.”

During games in freshman year, Kerry Watson said he would often notice that his daughter would “shut down” and stop shooting if she missed a few shots in a row. Now, she moves on if she misses, continuing to shoot and make plays.

“If she had a bad first quarter, she’s going to have a better second,” Kerry Watson said. “That is more of a tale about what life throws at you than simply lacrosse. She has grown so significantly over the last [five years] of playing this game at a high level.”

Now, in her final year with the program, Watson is savoring the little moments. When she’s not on the field, she’s probably getting boba tea, hosting events like entertaining Powerpoint nights or watching sports with her teammates. Experiences like these have made UConn the “perfect balance” of school, practice and fun, she said.

As she closes out her time at UConn, Watson hopes to “end on a high note.” The Huskies await their fate on Selection Sunday as one of a handful of women’s lacrosse teams on the bubble for an at-large bid.

But, as a Black player from a hometown not well-known in the lacrosse world, she also hopes to be a leader and role model for young girls of underrepresented communities in the sport.

“I want any girl, but specifically girls of color, to know that you don’t have to come from a name school and name place in order to get to college and be successful,” Watson said. “I never thought I was going to be able to get to where I am today. But with the support of friends, family, everyone outside myself, helped me get here and I will never be able to thank them enough. I want to be that person for younger girls to know that it is possible — whatever they want to put their mind to.”