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Coach Lyndsey Boswell with her High Point women's lacrosse team

Weekly Cover: The Most Important Game of Lyndsey Boswell's Life

April 17, 2024
Beth Ann Mayer
Tim Cowie

High Point women’s lacrosse coach Lyndsey Boswell isn’t a stranger to cancer. She lost her brother to the disease during her senior year in college. He was 38 years old. Her older sister survived breast cancer. Her mother is a three-time cancer survivor. Her aunt, niece, and nephew have all had cancer.

The list, unfortunately, goes on.

On Jan. 7, Boswell joined a club no one asks to be a part of when her doctor told her that tissue biopsies showed what further testing confirmed was stage 3 invasive cervical cancer.

“My first thought is, ‘God's putting me on this path for a reason. I don't know the reason right now,’” Boswell said. “I had a little bit of fear. But mostly, I have a 2- and a 4-year-old at home. Instantly, it's like, ‘I just want to be able to be the mother to my children for as long as I planned on, which is a long life.’ My team is such an extension of my family.”

Boswell planned on mentoring the 30-plus student-athletes of her High Point lacrosse family during their four- or five-year playing careers — and beyond. “We’re a family” isn’t a recruiting catchphrase for the Panthers. Just ask her players.

“She cares about us as people just as much as players,” said junior attacker Jordan Miles, who leads High Point with 38 goals, 44 points and 61 draws. “She developed us into strong young women. That’s something I knew could benefit me in the real world after lacrosse. She helps create a family atmosphere here.”

Families have hard conversations, but Boswell had to sit on this one for a bit. Instead, one of her first conversations was with another adopted member of the Boswell brood: Panthers men’s lacrosse coach Jon Torpey, whom she met during his interview process in 2010. She’s gone on to lead the Panthers to 12 conference titles and become his trusted friend.

“She brought me into her office, and she's like, ‘Can I talk to you about something?’” Torpey recalled. “I said, ‘Sure.’ She just looked me dead in the eye. She says, ‘I've been diagnosed with cancer.’ I broke down, and she broke down. Quickly, I wiped away the tears and just said, ‘What can I do to help you?’”

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The conversation wouldn’t have happened any other way between Boswell and Torpey, who are more than colleagues at High Point. 

“She was over the house a lot,” Torpey said. “We were hanging out with her and got to know her family really well — her parents, sister and brother. She got to know our family really well. It was like a match made in heaven. It became so much more than just two lacrosse coaches who got along with each other. It was almost like a brother and sister.”

Torpey’s daughter recently mentioned wanting Boswell to be her confirmation sponsor.

After speaking with Torpey, Boswell’s next call was one people in the lacrosse community often make when experiencing cancer: Duke coach Kerstin Kimel, who was diagnosed with breast cancer before the Blue Devils’ 2015 season. 

Duke and High Point are separated by 67.1 miles, about an hour’s drive without traffic. The schools always scrimmage each another early in the fall — just roll the balls out and let them play, a philosophy Kimel and Boswell love. Now they share something else in common: cancer. Those 67.1 miles seemed even shorter now.

“A cancer journey is an incredible education that you don't want,” Kimel said. “It's hard to put into words unless you've been through it. Constant support and people understanding what you're going through are invaluable.”

One of Boswell’s biggest questions for Kimel: How do I tell my team?

“When I was first diagnosed, I was having all these thoughts,” Boswell said. “When do I tell my team? How do I tell my team? Do you think it's important that they know from the start? I was so heavy at that point. I felt like I was carrying such a secret, and [Kimel] gave me the courage to let it out and let people help.”

Shortly after scrimmaging Davidson and before High Point’s Feb. 11 opener against Duke — of all teams — Boswell broke the news.

“It was devastating,” Miles said. “We were in shock. It’s never something we want to hear, especially about your coaches. She’s so healthy and young, and it took us by surprise. But she is strong in her faith, and so am I, and so is a lot of our team. That's been huge in helping us get through this.”

Torpey launched a GoFundMe page on Feb. 4, knowing people within the lacrosse orbit would want to help and hoping to direct them all to one place with Boswell’s blessing. It’s since raised more than $63,000, which has helped Boswell afford care, including a personal chef, who Kimel helped her find. 

Support poured out from local rivals and far-flung programs. Davidson’s Kim Wayne attended appointments with her. UConn’s Katie Woods, Notre Dame’s Christine Halfpenny, Queens’ Kelly McQuilkin, Ohio State’s Amanda Moore, the HEADStrong Foundation —Boswell starts rattling off the names and immediately apologizes because she knows she’ll forget someone. The day after this interview, she sends more.

Long story short, the lacrosse community rallied for Boswell.

“In that moment, lacrosse meant the least,” she said. “It's what brings us all together, but it's really not about the game.”

A cancer journey is an incredible education that you don't want.

Kerstin Kimel

The Panthers did have a game to play a week after the GoFundMe launched. But first, Boswell underwent tests that were supposed to show what type of surgery would be best. The results were a curve ball.

“It showed a mass the size of a tennis ball, and it had spread, which made it stage 3,” Boswell said. “It was in my lymph nodes, and at that point, it was no longer operable.”

Boswell was to start chemotherapy and radiation immediately. Her schedule put the grind of a season into perspective. She traveled for radiation Mondays through Fridays and spent Tuesdays getting radiation, immunotherapy and chemotherapy. She watched practices from her office at High Point. Then she began two and a half weeks of brachytherapy, a form of radiation therapy, at Duke.

Sometimes, there have been weeks where she’s attended games on Wednesdays. The lack of predictability is a challenge in an industry that thrives on in-season routines.

“Like any chemo and radiation treatments, you have your good days and you have your bad days, and they're unpredictable,” Boswell said. “I can't plan my week out like a normal coach would. As coaches, we always have to be two or three steps ahead — that's our job. I'm not able to do that. I've had to give myself a little bit of grace.”

Though her road was different, Kimel understands the sentiment — and encourages the grace.

“It puts games and winning all in perspective quickly,” Kimel said. “This is the most important game she has to win right now. It’s important that players see that as well. Your players just rally. Little petty things, like Susie and Mary arguing over whatever, become so unimportant.”

Kimel isn’t in the Panthers’ locker room, but she hit the nail on the head.

“It's brought our team closer than it's ever been,” Miles said. “It gives us a greater purpose — playing for something so much bigger than lacrosse. That’s helped us cope and continue to play with love and passion because she's done so much for us, and we want to play hard to make her job easier.”

Boswell’s husband, Jeff, has been her rock at home, and her coaching staff and captains have filled in the gaps for her all season long. Hannah Wszalek had head coaching experience, including at the Division I level with Drexel, and has primarily taken the reins when needed. Skylar McArthur, fresh off her final year at Canisius, works with the defense and goalies. In February, Lauren Di Puorto joined the staff to add experience, following a three-year stint as offensive coordinator and goalie coach at Catawba.

The captains — junior Mandy Brockamp, senior Kay Rosselli, and redshirt junior Sami MacDonald — have served as extensions of the staff.

“The staff I have right now is solid as a rock,” Boswell said. “They're very mature. They're experienced enough to run the team without me, and I have all the confidence in the world when I'm gone between our captains and leaders and our coaching staff.”

High Point women's lacrosse player Jordan Miles in action against San Diego State earlier this season
High Point's Jordan Miles in action against San Diego State earlier this season. Miles is the leading scorer for the Panthers, who have won four straight games.
Tim Cowie

That doesn’t mean the road has been easy on or off the field. There have been moments of vulnerability. The Panthers play a challenging schedule and dropped games to Duke, North Carolina and Harvard, plus the Big South opener against Mercer on March 30.

Since then, however, High Point has won four straight games, pouring in at least 20 goals against Winthrop, Presbyterian, Gardner-Webb and Radford. At 4-1 in the Big South, the Panthers appear to be on pace for a trip to the conference tournament and a shot at the league’s automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.

“We do a good job of never letting those losses get to us and bring us down,” Miles said. “What can we take from this? What can we learn from this moving forward? We see those gains as opportunities to grow instead of setbacks.”

No one exemplifies learning from setbacks more than Boswell. She may not be at every practice or able to engage in office and water-break chatter — two things she recently told Torpey she misses most — but her presence is felt each day.

And it’s fueling the Panthers.

“She talks a lot about how she hopes she's not distracting us through this,” Miles said. “I just want her to know that. If anything, she's inspiring us and being a light for us. Our story and her strength are so amazing for us to witness. She can show up, sometimes on her hardest days, and still be there for us. We love her so much.”

In perhaps a twist of fate, Boswell learned last week that her tumor is shrinking. She has two more weeks of treatment at Duke — her last treatment is slated for the Panthers’ final regular-season game on April 24 against Longwood. The Big South semifinals are on May 3, potentially giving her some time to rest and be on the sidelines as the Panthers vie for a conference crown.

“It’s kind of ironic that this has led me from the very beginning to the end of the regular season,” Boswell said. “The season is going so fast, but my days feel so long. It's a mental and physical battle.”

It’s a battle Torpey has watched her shoulder with a grace he struggles to put into words.

“The best way I can say it is that she’s just been Lindsey Boswell,” Torpey said. “That's what I've seen. She has not changed one bit. There have obviously been moments of vulnerability where she has struggled a little harder than others, but she's just been there for everybody. She still sends texts after every game. She's the sweetest, kindest, most full-hearted person that I've ever had the opportunity to work with.”

Torpey isn’t ready to let that go. No one is.

“I want her to be able to have a normal day,” Torpey said. “I want her to be able to hug her kids, knowing that she's going to be able to be around them for a long time. I pray about her every morning. I think about her a lot.”