When Minnesota-born Kaylee Van Eps committed to the Lehigh women’s basketball team during the height of the pandemic in May of 2020, she was unable to visit Lehigh’s campus and meet the team.
Despite her inability to travel, fellow Minnesotan teammates welcomed her to Lehigh’s program.
Now a freshman, the guard is currently one of six Minnesotans on the team.
Along with Van Eps, nearly half of the team’s current rostered players, including seniors Megan Walker and Emma Grothaus, juniors Anna Harvey and Frannie Hottinger and sophomore Mackenzie Kramer are from the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
According to Van Eps, having other Minnesotans on the team helped ease her decision to commit, even during the most unsettling days of the pandemic.
“I knew a few of the girls on the team because I had played against them before in high school,” Van Eps said. “Even though I wasn’t able to see Lehigh before I committed, being able to talk to players I knew like Frannie Hottinger personally was incredibly helpful, because she gave me an overview of the program and what Lehigh was like.”
Hottinger, who is from Inver Groves Heights, Minnesota, explained that she was more than happy to talk to Van Eps through the recruiting process since she had former forward and Minnesota native Mariah Sexe, who graduated in 2021, to guide her when she was going through the same process.
“It is so important to get the feel of your campus and teammates before you commit,” Hottinger said. “I was lucky enough to have a relationship with Mariah (Sexe) and be able to visit her and talk to her, so I wanted to be able to be that person for Kaylee (Van Eps) as well.”
Beyond giving each other advice, the Minnesotan players go out of their way to create bonds, even in the off-season.
Hottinger said that when they aren’t training at Lehigh, the girls swim at her pool, take trips to teammates’ houses and play pickup games together.
“During the summer of 2020 it was mid-pandemic and we were all at home but really couldn’t do much inside so we started meeting up and playing pickup outside,” Hottinger said.
Van Eps explained that meeting with Hottinger and the rest of her teammates back home made her feel welcomed into the Lehigh community and solid in her decision to commit.
“I went to play pickup about a month after I committed,” she said. “I was still in high school and wasn’t technically on the team yet, but the girls made me feel incredibly welcomed and shooting around with them made me feel so much better about committing without visiting Lehigh.”
Now well into her freshman season, Van Eps is still grateful to have teammates who remind her of home.
The flight from the Minneapolis-Saint Paul airport to Philadelphia is roughly two hours and 30 minutes. The drive from Chaska, Van Eps’ hometown, to Lehigh takes over 17 hours.
Van Eps said she was initially apprehensive about the distance from Minnesota and her family, but the older girls on the team helped her adjust to college life.
“Having that company and reassurance of something that reminds you of home, you have someone to talk to that will understand it makes the team feel more like family,” Van Eps said.
Walker, who is from Rogers, Minnesota, added that it is also helpful to have friends to fly back and forth to school with.
“We have gotten really close because we travel together during school breaks and holidays, and that kind of experience is awesome to have with your teammates,” she said.
Walker said the girls from Minnesota ultimately keep coming back because of their bond and experiences together.
“I think players from Minnesota keep joining the program because they have seen so many girls like them that have come here and really enjoyed it, so it is a pretty safe bet that it is going to be a good experience for them as well,” Walker said.
The women’s basketball team finished the season 19-10, going 11-7 in Patriot League competition, earning the Mountain Hawks the No. 5 seed in the Patriot League tournament.