Former Yale women’s ice hockey captain is de-stressing recruitment for student-athletes
Lisa Strasman ’01 B.A. isn’t sure what compelled her to try ice hockey at the age of 5. She just knew she loved being on the ice, did not particularly care for figure skating, and had both an older cousin and a friend in kindergarten who played. One day, she simply declared that she wanted to play hockey and never looked back. “Once I tried it, I loved the fast-paced nature of the sport,” Strasman says.
While Strasman was growing up in Skokie, Illinois, there were limited opportunities for her to play on a girls’ hockey team, but she didn’t let that phase her. “I was typically the only girl playing,” she says, “but I loved it. It was an outlet, a chance to compete physically.” In the seventh grade, she transferred to an all-girls team, but throughout high school Strasman continued to play on both a girls’ competitive team and a boys’ team. “With the girls, I got to develop leadership skills and friendships,” she says. “With the boys, I got to prove my worth, and had to work to keep up. There’s a lot to be said for playing with both boys and girls.”
When it came time to pursue college options, Strasman remembers feeling overwhelmed by the process. But when Yale began recruiting her, a visit to meet the team and campus tour convinced her it was the right fit. “I could see myself thriving at Yale,” Strasman says.
She would go on to make lifelong friends on the Yale women’s hockey team, where she became team captain. While she says her team didn’t win as many games as she would have liked, she learned a lot of valuable lessons. “We never quit, we always got excited to compete, and we went into game weekends believing we could win,” Strasman says.
After graduating, she took an opportunity to travel Europe for a year, signing on with a women’s professional hockey team in Switzerland and living with a local family.
Strasman says her experience left her with an important lesson: Sports could be an incredible gateway to a fulfilling college experience and opportunities, but only if students were connected with the right colleges to advance both their athletic and academic goals. “I was fortunate my recruiting process had a happy ending,” she says, “but I realized that wasn’t true for everybody.”
Guiding other student athletes
Following her pro hockey experience, Strasman worked in an entry-level position at a startup — Next College Student Athlete (NCSA) — whose mission was to streamline the recruiting process, making it easier for coaches to find promising high school athletes, and for the athletes and their parents to best understand their options and where they were most likely to find their own happy endings. Essentially, she says, the company was looking to de-stress the recruitment process, particularly for student-athletes.
When Strasman joined NCSA, they had 20-30 employees. She’s now the president and COO overseeing 750 employees. “The ultimate goal is to help student-athletes achieve their dreams,” Strasman says. This includes helping students with a recruitment profile and a highlight video, providing feedback, connecting them with college coaches, and advising them on where they are most likely to find success.
Strasman says college coaches want to connect with the players and understand their level of commitment. “They want to know a kid is serious and committed to the process,” she says.
She’s had the advantage of watching her own sport – women’s hockey – grow in popularity, driven in part by the success of the U.S. women’s team, which won a gold medal in the 2018 Winter Olympics. She’s also expanded NCSA beyond traditional club sports like football, basketball, field hockey, soccer, and lacrosse to e-sports – video game competitions – the fastest-growing sports category. “Two hundred colleges have official e-sports programs,” Strasman says.
NCSA’s annual College Power Rankings highlight the best colleges for providing a well-rounded experience for student-athletes – with Yale making the top five list for sports like field hockey, ice hockey, soccer, tennis, and track and field.
“Yale represents what it means to be a student-athlete,” Strasman says. “It’s about balance. Yale is a place where you can excel athletically, academically, and socially.”