Mustang to Titan: Pakowski commits to play Division I lacrosse at Detroit Mercy


Courtesey of Ysabel Pakowski

Ysabel Pakowski, a midfielder for the DG Girls Lacrosse Team, made her verbal commitment to play lacrosse at The University of Detroit Mercy in July of 2021.

Abigail Culcasi, Photo/Graphics Editor

Under the glaring lights of Carstens Field, she dodges a defender from York High School before shooting the ball, scoring another goal for the Downers Grove Girls Lacrosse Team. Next fall, senior Ysabel Pakowski is off to the University of Detroit Mercy to continue her lacrosse career as a Division I Athlete.

From a young age, Pakowski knew that she wanted to be a collegiate athlete. This dream first started when she was a gymnast. However, when she injured her knee in fifth grade, her mother and DGS Library Department Chair, Kim Pakowski, wanted her to try other sports in addition to gymnastics.

“When my husband was in college, he worked as a physical therapy assistant; he was really concerned about her knee injury and gymnastics just being a sport that’s really hard on people’s bodies. So, when her injury healed, we agreed to let her continue to be a gymnast if she tried other sports,” she said.

Pakowski expressed that her family guided her in making the transition from lacrosse to gymnastics.

“My grandpa was the athletic director at Nazareth [High School]. Since I was in the middle of switching to a sport and I didn’t know what to do, he told me to come to a lacrosse camp that they were having because it was a new sport. I tried it out, and I really liked it,” Pakowski said.

Pakowski has played lacrosse ever since she attended the summer camp. When Pakowski made the transition from gymnastics to lacrosse in sixth grade, her dream of being a collegiate athlete came with her. Her mother reflected on a conversation that she had with her daughter just before she retired from gymnastics.

“A memory that I have of her is when she realized that she probably wasn’t going to stick with gymnastics and instead was going to switch to lacrosse. I remember driving in the car with her and her saying to me that she didn’t know what she was going to do about college if she wasn’t going to be a gymnast anymore. She’s always wanted to be a college athlete, so lacrosse just kind of transferred to that sport when she switched sports,” Kim Pakowski said.

Pakowski is currently a member of the True Lacrosse 2022 State Team as well as a member of the Downers Grove Girls Varsity Lacrosse Team. She reflects on how playing both school and club lacrosse have allowed her to be ready to play at the collegiate level.

“I think club lacrosse is a lot more focused on the actual recruiting in which there are coaches who are there to help you reach out and get in touch. It’s also a lot more focused on skills and developing to play at a collegiate level. High school has definitely helped me sharpen my skills and grow as a player playing against 18 year olds when I was a freshman,” Pakowski said.

When looking at a college, she expressed that she wanted to attend a smaller school that was not too far from Illinois. Pakowski reflected on why Detroit Mercy appealed to her.

“I was looking for a college that had a high focus on academics but was also socially justice minded in stuff at the school. Detroit Mercy is a Jesuit college, so it’s really academic focused. They do a lot of projects in their community and are really focused on their students,” Pakowski said.

Mrs. Pakowski also expressed her joy in her daughter’s commitment.

“I’m thrilled that she is going there, it’s a really good fit for her. I love that it’s only about five hours away, so my husband and I can go watch her play in college and visit her,” Kim Pakowski said.

The main way that Pakowski supported her daughter was making sure that she knew that her parents would be proud of her no matter what she achieved. Her mother also reflected on the struggles of the college recruitment process.

“Students have goals, parents have goals, [but] it’s not always guaranteed that you’ll reach these goals. I do think that there is a role as a parent of having realistic conversations with your child about this process,” Kim Pakowski said.

Senior and teammate Cassie Repole has gone to school with Pakowski since elementary school and has played lacrosse with her since freshman year. What stands out to her about Pakowski is her motivation and her passion for the sport.

“Ysa is really good at encouraging others to stay motivated throughout games. Especially if we are down by a lot of points, she is really great at hyping the team back up and just putting confidence in other players that are down during the game. She always has that mindset that we can win no matter what even when other teams have better skills,” Repole said.

Jon Gargiulo, Assistant Coach for the Downers Grove Girls Lacrosse Team, has known Pakowski and her family for many years as he also coached her older brother, Phil Pakowski. As a coach, what stands out to him about Pakowski is her character.

“Ysa’s work ethic is what makes her stand out more than most players I have coached over the years. This includes both boys and girls lacrosse programs. She is always ready, enthusiastic on the field and a motivator to the other players on the team,” Gargiulo said.