Lacrosse has been Claire Carlson’s passion since seventh grade. That stage of her life recently ended, but not before the 2016 Centennial graduate enjoyed a much-decorated collegiate career at Dubuque, Iowa, and Aurora, Illinois.
Carlson got to quit on a good one this spring. She played in the NCAA Division III tournament for the first time. In so doing, she raised her final career totals to 208 goals and 59 assists and was named conference Offensive Player of the Year for the second time, and all-conference for the fourth time.
“It feels different being done playing. I have constantly been training and going to practices and games or just being around my teammates for so many years,” said Carlson, who’ll turn 23 this month.
“I definitely wasn't ready to give up lacrosse. I feel like I have so much more to give and wish I could continue to play. There really isn't any more opportunities for me to play. I would love to try and coach one day.”
The 5-foot-10 attacker was the second-leading scorer, with 48 goals and 19 assists, and the leader in ground balls with 42, for Aurora University, which went 11-4 overall and 5-0 in conference.
“We broke so many records this year,” Carlson mused, rattling off a series of “firsts” for the program — winning their conference, tying their record for wins, reaching the Sweet 16, and beating North Central, Carthage College and Carroll University, all for the first time.
In the NCAA tournament, the Spartans beat Carroll (Wisconsin) 13-8 and lost to Denison (Ohio) 16-5. They got some royal treatment normally reserved for big colleges; the team stayed in a hotel in Chicago for the first round, then flew to Lexington, Virginia, for the Sweet 16 round.
Carlson made first-team All-Conference both years at the University of Dubuque. After transferring to Aurora University — in a Chicago suburb — she was first-team All-Conference and conference Offensive Player of the Year in both 2019 and 2021. The 2020 season ended after four games due to the pandemic, and she got another year of eligibility. Carlson was first-team All-Region as a junior and second team as a senior. At each school, she was conference Rookie of the Year.
She was honored in three different all-conferences: College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW, with Dubuque), Midwest Lacrosse Conference (MWLC, with Aurora) and Northern Collegiate Conference (NCC, with Aurora, after the conference split into two).
One major experience was an international tournament in Prague, Czech Republic, in the summer of 2019. “Players from all over the U.S. were recruited,” she said. Along with placing fourth in the tournament, the group was able to tour Vienna, Prague, and Munich, Germany. “It was a really fun experience. We wore a USA jersey and played teams from all around the world.”
During her time at Centennial, Carlson was also in cross-country and hockey — the former, she said, to get in shape, and the latter to improve her hand-eye coordination. “While playing those sports, my only thought was lacrosse,” Carlson admits. She had busy summer days, with cross-country captains practice in the morning, hockey summer training in the afternoon, lacrosse summer training right after hockey, then a 30-minute drive to her lacrosse travel team’s practice.
With the Cougars, she played on struggling teams until they turned the corner late in her senior year with three playoff wins and a 10-9 loss to Blaine in the section finals, finishing 9-8. She led that team with 35 goals and 13 assists.
Her club team was Minnesota Lacrosse Academy, which journeyed to Chicago as well as the states of Virginia, Colorado and Florida for tournaments. That’s where she got recruited.
Carlson majored in exercise science and minored in psychology and physiology. She will continue her education as she pursues a master’s of surgical assisting, a two-year program at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk.
“I got into my dream medical program out in Virginia,” Carlson said, “so I will just be staying in shape on my own to help counter the stress of the program. But I plan to bring my stick so I can always play wall ball, or maybe there is a college/women's league out there I can play in.”