SU women’s lacrosse ‘signs’ Liverpool recruit
By Ashley M. Casey
The Syracuse University women’s lacrosse team has yet to win the NCAA National Championships, but this season, the team has a new star player who they’re hoping will lead them to victory.
“Most 5-year-old girls are not very good losers, so this is the year,” said David Hertweck, whose daughter, Madelaine, signed a letter of intent with the Orange last Friday, Jan. 25.
Maddy, who has cerebral palsy, was partnered with SU through Team IMPACT, an organization that connects college athletic teams with children dealing with serious or chronic conditions.
Along with her father, who is the lead pastor at Trinity Assembly in Clay, Maddy lives in Liverpool with her sisters, Lilia and Caraline, and their mother, Erin. She attends the early education program at Main Street School in North Syracuse.
Julie Cross, a senior midfielder for SU, said she first learned about Team IMPACT on the University of Maryland’s men’s lacrosse team’s Instagram account, which detailed the relationship that team built with a child.
“I saw how close they got,” Cross said.
Cross said she pestered Team IMPACT with emails over the course of several months until the organization responded. The Hertweck family had sent in an application for Maddy to Team IMPACT, and she was matched with the Orange.
“Maddy loves the team. They’ve really opened up their hearts to us and that means a lot,” said David Hertweck.
Maddy grinned as she signed her letter of intent with an orange fingerprint last Friday. She received a jersey — no. 3, emblazoned with “HERTWECK.”
“I think in about 12 years I’m going to take all of this and try to turn it into a full scholarship,” David Hertweck joked.
Smiles aside, the moment was poignant for the Hertwecks.
“When she came into our life, it was a little hard to imagine moments like this,” David said.
He said it was “pretty surreal” for the family to see because “Maddy had a very difficult beginning to her life.” Erin Hertweck wrote about this rough start in an October 2018 essay on the website Yoocan, which is a networking and resource hub for people with disabilities.
When Erin was 27 weeks pregnant, she was diagnosed with preeclampsia and was beginning to show symptoms of HELLP syndrome, conditions both characterized by high blood pressure. An ultrasound showed Maddy had a mass on her brain, and doctors predicted she would have poor quality of life, if she lived past birth at all. The Hertwecks opted for a C-section and Maddy was born at just over 2 pounds. The mass, doctors discovered, was a severe brain hemorrhage. This brain injury led to diagnoses of cerebral palsy, epilepsy and hemiparesis, or weakness, on her right side. Maddy uses an electric wheelchair to get around and practices walking with a gait trainer.
“Her primary limitations are physical,” David said. “Verbally, socially, cognitively, we’re very blessed.”
Now thriving in pre-K, Maddy is determined, hard-working and a little mischievous. (She gets the giggles when she’s in trouble, her dad said.) Her megawatt smile and boundless energy have endeared her to her new teammates.
“She just is a great kid,” said Assistant Coach Caitlin Defliese. “She brings a lot of light, a lot of laughter, a lot of fun to the team.”
Maddy has visited the Manley Field House and attended a few practices.
“She’s already tired us out with a couple laps around the track,” Cross said.
Cross said signing Maddy helps the team give back to the community they live, learn and play in.
“You come to a huge school with a huge community around you,” Cross said. “It’s a great opportunity to get to know a kid.”
Cross said bonding with Maddy has been a motivating force for the team.
“When you’re in your head in the game or during practice, you can think back to that and get grounded,” she said.