Student before athlete: Nicolai achieves double life

Temple University women’s lacrosse midfielder Quinn Nicolai manages occupational therapy school while putting in extra hours at practice.

Quinn Nicolai, a graduate student midfielder, runs with the ball during an Owls' game against UC Davis at Howarth Field on March 20. | ROBERT CRUZ / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Around 5 p.m. on a Wednesday evening, midfielder Quinn Nicolai typically hangs around after practice to take extra shots on goal at Howarth Field. 

It was normal for Nicolai to stay after. As a graduate student in Temple University’s masters occupational therapy program, Nicolai had to adjust her practice schedule based on her classes and internships. Although it wasn’t easy, it was worth it because she’ll have to put the stick down after this season. 

“If you set your mind to it and don’t take no for an answer, then anything is possible,” she said. “Being successful in lacrosse and in the classroom has been a major motivator for me. I can’t imagine it any other way.” 

Nicolai joined Temple’s program this offseason after spending the last four years playing at Penn State, and she has quickly found her role as a starting midfielder and the Owls’ second-leading scorer.   

After earning a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation and human services at Penn State, she entered the transfer portal looking to expand her academic career and use her extra year of eligibility. 

Temple’s occupational therapy program was the best of the schools she applied to. She also reached out to head coach Bonnie Rosen about potentially playing lacrosse on the team if she was accepted. 

“When I found that out, I was stunned,” Rosen said. “To have a quality player like Quinn look at us as a transfer was really exciting.”

Rosen reached out to Penn State’s lacrosse coach Missy Doherty to gain a better understanding of who Nicolai was. After hearing a positive response, Rosen wanted her on the team. 

During her senior season in the Nittany Lions’ program, Nicolai was a team captain and finished with nine goals. She was also named to the Big Ten All-Tournament Team.

Coming into a new program was nerve-racking for Nicolai. After playing multiple positions at Penn State, she didn’t know what her role would be and if the team would like her.

“I joke with them all the time about how I was panicking before our first practice – I was so nervous,” Nicolai said. “I was like, ‘Are they gonna like me? Am I going to be accepted? Am I going to fit in?’ They are amazing. They brought me in with open arms with no questions asked.” 

Nicolai quickly found a connection with junior midfielder Belle Mastropietro, who is the team’s leading scorer. The two switch off the draw controls, run the offense and contribute to defense with their quick stick checks.  

“Quinn and I are similar,” Mastropietro said. “I think it was easier for us to get along and figure stuff out. We’re both really good at handling that pressure of wanting the ball, quick and speedy.”

Once Nicolai enrolled in Temple’s occupational therapy program, balancing her classes and practice became her top priority. Rosen, the occupational therapy program directors and Nicolai sat down prior to the start of the school year and figured out a schedule that would best fit her. 

Of course, there were conflicts. Rosen ended up shifting practice times because Nicolai wouldn’t have been there.

“It’s very rare that we would adjust practice for one person,” Rosen said. “But the team has been really great. It’s hard on the development of the team in terms of just catching up to everything, but Quinn’s ability to bring positivity, her energy level and her ability to connect with people have been what makes it possible.”

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Nicolai practices for an hour because she has class from 9 a.m. to 3:50 p.m. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, Nicolai has an internship through her master’s program and fieldwork. 

With the demanding academic program, Nicolai is not allowed to miss class, which Rosen accommodates by letting her come late to practice or leave early. Nicolai usually stays later or comes earlier to make sure she’s getting in the full practice time, she said. 

She’ll also travel separately from the team if their plans conflict with her class schedule. When Temple played Syracuse University on March 26, the team traveled on a bus Friday afternoon when Nicolai had class, so she flew by herself afterwards.   

“It would not be possible if they were not understanding of my situation,” Nicolai said. “Having people that are so supportive in my life, and then being able to prove to the people that thought I wouldn’t be able to do it, that I can do it and be successful at both things, was really important to me.”

Nicolai’s high skill level and ability to play one-on-one defense, while also having solid shot placement caught Rosen’s attention during fall practices. 

“As we started playing in the fall, it’s clear that her game IQ was high,” Rosen said. “Her fitness and work grade were super high, her competitiveness was high. She was going to be an impact player, not just a great addition to our team.” 

Nicolai became an offensive threat, despite playing defender for most of her time at Happy Valley. Against St. Joseph’s University on Feb. 19, Nicolai scored a season-high seven goals, with an 87.5 shooting percentage. 

As the Owls complete the first half of the season, Nicolai has mentioned to Rosen that her classes are winding down, so she’s going to focus more on the remaining conference games. Before her lacrosse career ends, she hopes to help Temple return to the American Athletic Conference Championship, after making a run in the postseason last year, and earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. 

“Being able to put the stick down and focus on different aspirations of mine is going to be exciting,” she said. “Just being able to step back and watch other people take over and be successful is going to be exciting.”

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