From preschool to Pitt — lifelong friends Amelia Haywood and Lilly Comello share remarkable lacrosse journey


Nate Yonamine | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt lacrosse players on the sidelines of their game against Duquesne on Feb. 11.

By Richie Smiechowski, Sports Editor

For two grueling weeks, right at the start of their academic careers, Amelia Haywood and Lilly Comello couldn’t afford the luxury of being normal first-year students.

While their peers went out and explored Oakland, getting their feet wet in everything college has to offer, Haywood and Comello went to their Pitt lacrosse tryouts in the morning, then came home every evening stressed, exhausted and unsure if they would be invited back to practice the next day. 

“Honestly, those two weeks where we were trying out was probably one of the most stressful times of my life,” Haywood said. “Just having to play every day and knowing every day could have been our last. At any point they could have been like, this isn’t working.”

Through the unknowns of starting college, joining a new team and playing lacrosse at a higher level than they thought they were capable of, the two first-year walk-ons had each other’s backs — and it’s been that way for Haywood and Comello for nearly 15 years. 

The pair met when they were just three years old attending a very small private school in Maryland called St. John the Evangelist. According to Haywood, their class size was around 20 kids, meaning her and Comello naturally built a close bond.

“We all got to know each other so well,” Haywood said. “Me and Lilly were super close all through eighth grade … we both got along really well from the start.”

As the years passed, the two naturally found themselves going on the same path, becoming closer in school while also playing similar sports outside of the classroom. Haywood started playing lacrosse when she was around 5 years old, while Comello picked up the sport three years later. 

“In third grade I started playing for a club team in my area called MC Elite,” Comello said. “Amelia was actually on a different team but our teams always ended up playing each other at tournaments. Once we got to high school we obviously got to play for the same team.”

For years, Haywood and Comello went to the same school while playing for separate club teams, but after they both decided on going to St. John’s College High School, they became teammates for the first time. 

They quickly made an impression on their high school head coach, with both Haywood and Comello making varsity in their first seasons. Despite their success, both players had their doubts about playing in college, especially because they missed an entire season due to the pandemic. 

“Throughout high school, I was never really sure if I wanted to play in college,” Haywood said. “I’ve always said I loved playing lacrosse, but part of me was like I want to choose a school based on academics and stuff. If lacrosse follows, then that’s amazing.”

Just by happenstance, both Haywood and Comello had Pitt on their list of potential colleges. Both players had different reasons for ultimately choosing Pitt — their reasons ranged from proximity to Maryland to the school’s specific programs — but their interest in potentially playing for the newly founded lacrosse program started with sideline small talk. 

“I was actually talking to Amelia — we had a game for high school where we were on the sidelines,” Comello said. “I was like you know Pitt just started their first season for lacrosse. Ever since I decided I was going to go to Pitt I knew the option was there to play lacrosse.”

Following their senior season, Haywood and Comello’s high school head coach sent out a feeler to Pitt head coach Emily Boissonneault asking about potential walk-on opportunities. She replied with an invitation to the team’s summer camp as the first step and the girls impressed, prompting Boissonneault to further evaluate their skills during the season. 

Their final test before they could join the team started immediately — Haywood and Comello would practice with the team for two weeks, effectively serving as their “tryout” for the team. According to Boissonneault, the concept of taking on walk-ons was new to her, despite many of the program’s original players coming up from the club team. 

“I haven’t been a part of a lot of programs that have had tryouts, so I was a little unfamiliar with the whole experience,” Boissonneault said. “We’re lucky that Pitt I guess has that reputation academically. That’s really helped us find players like [Haywood and Comello].”

Just like their days in preschool, elementary school and high school, Haywood and Comello leaned on each other for support. Their familiarity with each other and knowing that they were both going through the exact same thing made the process that much easier.

“I think I told Amelia like a million times, I was like, ‘there’s no way I could have done this without you,’” Comello said. “Don’t get me wrong, everyone on the team, the coaches, the staff, they’re so supportive and they’re so nice … but it was just really nice to have someone who was living the same way I was, who was going through the exact same wake up calls in the morning, or even small things like walking to practice.”

Even from a distance, Boissonneault noticed just how important the girls were to one another throughout the preseason. 

“It’s not easy to show up to any team practice, especially one that you’re trying out for and everyone else is already on the team,” Boissonneault said. “Being able to go home together and debrief together and support one another, I think that helps bring a lot of confidence and that was something we noticed from day one.”

Following their two week trial, Boissonneault and the rest of the team knew that Haywood and Comello were perfect fits, and just days after the trial period, they became the first two walk-ons in Pitt lacrosse history. 

With their season just getting started, the two first-years might not see much in-game action this year — they even accept that their time on the team will always have some elements of stress, especially with future recruits and transfers. 

But for now, Haywood and Comello realize their story is a special one — and they’re only further building their already extensive lifetime of memories together in the process.

“It’s not just nice to have someone here who’s not that far from home, but to have someone here who I can share stories with,” Comello said. “Like oh, remember when this happened — it’s stuff like that where I’m really thankful to have someone here that I grew up with.”