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Ava Poupard is a Campus Captain for The Hidden Opponent spreading mental health awareness.

USA Lacrosse, The Hidden Opponent Partner for Mental Health Awareness Series

May 31, 2024
Matt Hamilton
Albany Athletics

USA Lacrosse partnered with The Hidden Opponent throughout May, shining a light on student-athletes across the country doing their part to end the stigma surrounding mental health.

The Hidden Opponent is a non-profit and advocacy group that raises awareness about student-athlete mental health. With a network of hundreds of Campus Captains, The Hidden Opponent is making a significant impact across all sports.

Check out more from The Hidden Opponent here.

Campus Captains Ava Poupard (Albany), Zach Leung (New Paltz), Maya Porrecca (Millersville) and Francesca Argentieri (Northwestern) shared their stories with USA Lacrosse in May in hopes of ending the stigma.

You can read more about each athlete and Campus Captain below.

Albany's Ava Poupard.
Ava Poupard trains her mental game more than her physical game.
Albany Athletics


"I was taught that you must train your mental game more than your physical game. You can train your skill, you can train your speed, but the more you could hone in on your mind, that's so important. Not enough people are taught that, specifically at a young age. I've met hundreds of athletes over the years that I've played with and against that weren’t taught that. They weren’t getting coached that the mental game is just as important as what happens on the field. I'm thankful that my coaches always say that you're a student before you're an athlete. You're a person before you're a player.

"Our coaches always say take five minutes today, just five minutes. We’re all busy, but those five minutes will help you. I wish more coaches and athletes could use those five minutes to learn more about their mental health and learn more about their resources."

Read more about Poupard here.

New Paltz's Zach Leung.
Zach Leung struggled mentally to adapt to college.
New Paltz Athletics


"Changing from high school to college was difficult. I was at a great program at Farmingdale, where you're expected to win, you're expected to make it to these playoff games. Going to a new college program, you're going to see struggles. The first year we didn't win any games. I did have some mental issues in those early years, not eating a lot, and stressing about everything. I learned ways of coping, like using music and breathing techniques. I realized that I needed to take care of myself before it got worse. I thought I did well working it out, focusing on myself and it helped me get better as a player these past few years."

Read more about Leung here.

Millersville's Maya Porrecca.
Maya Porrecca believes mental health issues among athletes are largely ignored.
Maya Porrecca.


"I think it’s misunderstood, and to an extent, ignored. Administrators and officials recognize that this is a problem. They've seen the statistics, but no one's taking steps to make change happen. Many athletes go through struggles, but what they should learn is that it can be so much better when the resources are available and you can take advantage of them. The first step of recognizing your problem and reaching out for help. Many college athletes ignore issues because they sweep it under the rug. It's a matter of swallowing the pride and being open to being vulnerable."

Read more about Porrecca here.

Northwestern's Francesca Argentieri.
Argentieri spoke about balancing expectations at Northwestern.
Ryan Kuttler / Big Ten


"Being at Northwestern, there’s a lot of really high expectations and that's why Northwestern produces a lot of very successful people. But you're expected to be a very good athlete, a very good student, a very good person, etc. Sometimes, people forget that there's a big mental side to athletics. This is something that Northwestern does a really great job of addressing. We have a good psychology group and people that just check in on you. I would give a lot of credit to my teammates and our coaches, in the way we talk about mental health, it’s a very open conversation and we're very vulnerable with each other, which is really important.

"Already having that was something that pushed me to want to be part of The Hidden Opponent because I saw what our team was already doing and how open we were and I thought, why not add more to this with groups like The Hidden Opponent. It’s a great group that connects you with people to learn more and that’s what I’ve enjoyed the most.

"As much as you can have a sports psychologist, being an athlete and learning firsthand about these things, has been something I've loved about it, and just being able to carry that to my teammates and the conversations I have with them. Making the conversations more player-to-player rather than a higher up trying to explain these type of things."

Read more about Argentieri here.