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Stanford's Aliya Polisky.

Aliya Polisky's Uncommon Path from Tennessee to Stanford Stardom

March 29, 2024
Charlotte Varnes
Glen Mitchell /

After committing to Stanford in Fall 2021, Aliya Polisky worried about being ready to play at the next level. She grew up in Tennessee, where lacrosse wasn’t a sanctioned sport, and it felt like she had plenty left to learn.

Her family talked about boarding schools for her senior year of high school but couldn’t find a good fit. The Poliskys brought the issue to Stanford coach Danielle Spencer, who helped them develop a unique solution: early enrollment during winter 2023. Polisky would forgo her high school season, instead taking a redshirt year and learning alongside her Cardinal teammates.

“When I first heard about it, I thought to myself, ‘There’s no way. Is this even possible?’” Polisky said. “It hadn’t really been done before.”

Polisky was part of Stanford’s inaugural class of female early enrollees, joining a group of women’s soccer players. Just a season later, she has emerged as a powerhouse for the Cardinal. Polisky leads the program with 25 goals through just eight of Stanford’s nine games, playing a key role in the nation’s No. 16 scoring offense.

Her firepower might have been a surprise for opponents, but not for anyone within Stanford’s program. Spencer said Polisky arrived on campus last winter “ultra-prepared” with strong stick skills and knowledge of the weight room. Ahead of her enrollment, Polisky worked with a trainer to help her grow physically and trained with U.S. team alumni Corey Donahoe and Amber Falcone Mackenzie to improve her lacrosse skills.

While Polisky was prepared for practice, her first days in Palo Alto were a shock to the system.

“Three weeks prior, I had been in high school,” Polisky said. “Then I was just dropped off at Stanford 2,000 miles away from home. The first days were a little overwhelming and scary, just being a 17-year-old in college all of a sudden.” 

But Polisky quickly found support from her teammates, who she called her “33 big sisters.” Teammates Sarah Jaques and Ashley Humphrey, both former redshirt players themselves, provided advice about the experience. When then-senior Kara Rahaim went shopping for a graduation dress, she took Polisky along to shop for her high school graduation.

On the field, Polisky was like any other player — minus the playing time. She went through pregame warmups, took offensive stats and learned her teammates’ tendencies, which left her feeling prepared for her first true season.

Polisky has been a problem for opposing defenses from the get-go this season. She opened her Stanford career with two two-goal performances against Virginia and Yale and has been a consistent threat ever since. Her seven goals and three assists against Colorado on March 15 gave her a career-high 10 points.

Spencer said she likes to think that their opponents have to “pick their poison” against the Cardinal. She said opponents might have focused on other players initially, leaving Polisky open. Now, they’re focusing on her — a new challenge for the budding young star.

Spencer said she’s been impressed by Polisky’s game-over-game growth.

“She takes coaching feedback really well,” Spencer said. “She seeks it out. She wants to know what she’s doing wrong. She has learned and grown a lot because of the people around her, but also because of her growth mindset and work ethic.”

Polisky said she initially thought being from a non-hotbed would be a problem, but it forced her to develop that strong work ethic that stays with her.

“What I thought was a diss on my athletic career was actually the best thing possible, and I’m so thankful for it,” Polisky said.