Before the whistle, Alex Bilka looks down at her wrist, where she has inked the word “TEAM.”
Bilka, a senior from Cranberry Township, is a forward on the Penn State Behrend women’s soccer squad. She writes the word with a Sharpie before every game.
“It helps me get into the zone,” she says. “It pumps me up.”
Jordan Oberlander, a forward, writes “FAMILY.” Leah Morra writes “MOM.”
“It helps me to stay motivated,” says Morra, a midfielder. “If we go down in a game, if they score and we need to get one back, you look at your wrist and remember what’s important to you. It makes you fight a little harder.”
Head Coach Patrick O’Driscoll isn’t sure when the tradition began. Players already were writing on their wrists in 2011, when Shelby Lloyd joined the team.
“Our seniors might have started it,” Lloyd, now an assistant coach, says. “I loved the idea, and I love that they still do it. It really does build on the idea of being part of a team.”
She wrote “PSBWS” – shorthand for Penn State Behrend women’s soccer – on her wrist before every game she played.
Sometimes the abbreviations change. This year, when a teammate’s grandmother died, every player inked the woman’s initials onto their wrists. “We’re kind of a family,” Gionna Fonseca, a defender, says. “We wanted her to know we were there for her.”
That commitment is obvious on the field as well. The team is 15-4 this season. The Lions head into Saturday’s Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference final on an 11-game winning streak.
If there is a drawback to the wrist-writing, players say, it comes later, long after the game, as the letters are fading.
“If you use the same word, or the same initials, and it’s in Sharpie, it’s pretty much there all season,” Morra says. “Every time I see her, my grandma asks me, ‘Is that a tattoo?’”