An exclusive interview with Tatiana Samuel, current collegiate coach at The University of the Cumberlands and former lacrosse player from The University of Montevallo. Tatiana recently participated in a “Partner Pass the Mic” initiative with Marie McCool, a professional lacrosse player and Team USA member. Tatiana took over Marie’s Instagram for a day to share and advocate for black and minority voices in the world of lacrosse.
My name is Tatiana Samuel, and I was born and raised in the melting pot city of Houston, Texas. Growing up, I dabbled in a few sports, with basketball being my main focus until high school. That was when I was introduced to lacrosse. With my ambition for the game, I played at the DII level in college in Alabama at The University of Montevallo. Currently, I am the assistant women’s lacrosse coach at the University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky, where I mostly work on the defensive side of the ball. I am the oldest of three, the first to go to a university, the first to play sports in college, and I’m mixed with Black and Mexican.
How did you get involved in playing lacrosse?
I got involved with lacrosse around my junior year of high school through a teammate on the basketball team. Her team needed players, so she announced to the whole basketball team after practice about coming out to one of her lacrosse practices. Curious about the sport, I decided to try it out and instantly loved it. At the time, lacrosse was somewhat new to the area, so our team was comprised of players from every high school in the district, unlike other districts that had a team for each high school.
What was your college athletic experience like?
Being part of an inaugural program in college, there were many new experiences and great memories made. I met some of the best teammates, kindest people, and visited states I had never been to before. There were all-conference awards, all-academic awards, and I set new records for the program. I even had the opportunity to play in some tournaments over in England, Ireland, and Scotland. However, there were quite a few lows from subtle remarks of racism, discrimination, the struggle to fit in, being overworked physically and mentally, losing scholarships and fighting to appeal, and being over 12 hours away from home. Despite the hardships, playing a sport that I loved and obtaining a higher education was worth it.
Have you ever struggled with your mental wellbeing? How did you improve your situation?
At times, there were moments of mental exhaustion, going through the motions, or just trying to find the motivation to tackle a busy day. Whether it was health issues in my family, poor performance on the field, or in my mind, “not being good enough,” I tried my best to stay optimistic. I looked towards spending quality time with friends, expressing myself through art or cooking, reaching out and checking in on family, and using lacrosse as an outlet. I would remind myself that I was there for a reason, and if I couldn’t handle it, I wouldn’t be in it. I had to take my own advice and remind myself that I don’t have to wear the persona of the smart, strong, collegiate athlete 24/7 and that it is okay to feel down sometimes.
Tell us about your lacrosse experience post-graduation?
Lacrosse post-graduation has been eye-opening. Once I graduated and transitioned from being a player to a coach, I gained more appreciation for the game and reminisced on my college days. As a university coach, I am able to see lacrosse on a greater spectrum with recruiting, networking, conventions, and learning the ins and outs of running a competitive program. I’ve had the opportunity to share my voice of being a minority in lacrosse, talk about diversity and inclusion, and make great connections with some fantastic people! Growing up, I had people that guided me, provided me with proper equipment, and supported me in all that I wanted to pursue, so in my current position, I want to give back to other student-athletes as those did for me. I’m looking forward to continuing the challenging conversations of race, inclusivity, mental health, and supporting student-athletes.
How did you get involved in the Partner Pass the Mic initiative, and what drew you to want to participate?
I wrote a behind the whistle post for the IWLCA titled Thoughts and Views from a Bi-Racial Lens, and my friend Missy (who I met while coaching at Nike summer camps) passed it along to Angie Benson (current lacrosse goalie at Virginia Tech). Angie and Alex Aust started the Partner Pass the Mic initiative on Instagram to share and advocate black and minority voices in the world of lacrosse through “partner passing the mic” to the profiles of professional women’s lacrosse players. During quarantine, I saw the first round of the initiative. I was elated to see athletes who shared some of the same experiences that I encountered as a minority in lacrosse sharing their stories and spreading awareness of the subject on professional players’ profiles. When Angie asked if I wanted to be part of the second round, there was no way I was going to pass on the opportunity. I can’t thank her, Alex, and Marie McCool enough!
Did you and Marie know each other before the Partner Pass the Mic?
I knew of Marie before Partner Pass the Mic because she’s one of the greatest professional lacrosse players. She played at the highest level of collegiate lacrosse, plays for the US National Team, and is a well-known name in the world of lacrosse. We got in contact through Partner Pass the Mic and were able to talk about how we planned on doing the takeover. I am still in disbelief that she knows who I am, that I was able to takeover her Instagram, and that we got to talk about our experiences. She’s awesome!
As a role model in the lacrosse realm, what are your goals and dreams for the future of the sport?
I am ready to see the stigma of lacrosse being a white, rich sport fade away in the future. One day there will be greater access to equipment and tournaments, more opportunities to play from club programs up to the professional level, and more growth in athletes and coaches’ diversity and inclusivity in the lacrosse world. A dream of mine is that one day when a young, minority athlete wants to play lacrosse, they have access to everything they need to get started and excel in the sport, rather than face the many obstacles and barriers that they often do today.
What are some of the barriers for young athletes wanting to get into lacrosse?
Young athletes, especially those of color, face many entry barriers for lacrosse. There are the high costs of buying the equipment to play, the cost for club team participation, the funding and logistics associated with traveling to play in the big recruiting tournaments, access to local teams, having people willing to support them, and the list go on and on. Right now, if an athlete wants to play lacrosse in college, they need access to film, money for camps, and the latest gear. Not to mention you need to be able to travel across the country to be seen by college coaches, live in a lacrosse hotspot, or have the right network/connections. I was one of the lucky kids who received equipment, earned club dues through a volunteering program, and was close enough to a local tournament where coaches could recruit me. If it weren’t for my club coaches’ kindness and my family’s support, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Tell us more about how are you giving back to the lacrosse community
In my position, I am trying my best to recruit outside of the large lacrosse hotspots and help grow the community. Whether that be through watching film from multiple outlets, talking to local club coaches, attending smaller events in the local areas, using any connection I have to find potential student-athletes, and sharing any programs or initiatives on my platforms. I knew about Birmingham Magic Lacrosse from when I played in college. One of my teammates is an alum of the club, and I have some friends who are currently coaching for the program. When I saw they were raising money for equipment and tournament fees, I had to share the link and get the word out there. I am always looking to do what I can to help give back to the community and increase awareness.
To conclude, what message do you have for our readers or aspiring young athletes?
We must normalize that everyone has their struggles and that not everything is perfect. Being a collegiate athlete requires strength –not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. It is okay to ask for help, and if someone offers, don’t be ashamed to receive it. It doesn’t make you weak, vulnerable, or a bother. Don’t be afraid to reach out, speak your mind, or express how you feel. The obstacles you face make you stronger and prove that where you are is meant to be. If you want to try something new, do it. Oh, and if you are the only one in the room that is different from everyone else, own it and make it yours. Be unapologetically you.