As the Kalamazoo College Women’s Lacrosse team begins their long-awaited, inaugural season, Head Coach Emilia Ward is not only optimistic about the Hornet’s chances in the MIAA, she is down-right confident.
After coaching the club team in 2012-2013, Ward is back leading the now varsity team in her second year. The young Hornets team was slated to finish fifth out of nine teams in the MIAA, despite having yet to play an official contest. Ward is looking to shrug off the mantle of being a new program and has great expectations for her young, but talented team.
“We’ve set our goals pretty high,” said Ward. “We want to finish top four in the conference so we have a shot at winning the conference championship. A lot of the teams are relying on youth, so we have high but realistic expectations of getting into the tournament.”
Coach Ward began her athletic career as a basketball player and began to pick up the game of lacrosse during high school. The native of Farmington Hills, MI also coached basketball but chose to pursue lacrosse in college, where she both played and coached during her time at Manhattan College in the Bronx, NY.
“I wasn’t quite tall enough to play college basketball,” said Ward with a smile. “Lacrosse took over that void. Its one of those sports where once you catch that bug, you just go for it.”
Ward is no stranger to building up new programs. She helped former Adrian College coach John Sung start the varsity women’s lacrosse team at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC, which is now in its second season after finishing with a winning record last year. Prior to that, she spent three years as an assistant coach at Adrian from 2008-2011, where the Bulldogs went 40-12 under her tutelage. Adrian comes into the 2014 season as the favorite to win the league, posting an undefeated record in conference last year.
“Starting up a program is all about having realistic expectations,” said Ward. “I focused a lot last year on getting to know the campus community to really get a gage of what type of kids would fit here.”
This season, the Hornets will field a team of 21 players, 11 of them being freshmen who will all play a pivotal role in Kalamazoo’s success. The midfield line, led by first years Anika Sproull, Nicole Huff, and Anna Diaraghi is considered by Coach Ward to be one of the most dynamic in the league, while the defense is bolstered by the tenacious play of first years Allia Howard and Nicole Prentice. Senior Holly Cooperrider, former Hornet basketball player and current defender and captain on the lacrosse team, recognizes the importance of the incoming players to the team’s success.
“They basically are running the show,” said Cooperrider. “It’s a lot to put on them, I know, but they probably will be playing most of the minutes because they were recruited for this.”
The players themselves are very upbeat for the upcoming season and the opportunities that the team has in store. The MIAA women’s lacrosse conference is only in its fourth year of existence and many of the schools have only had a varsity team for one or two years. This leaves the door wide open for the Hornets to not only make some noise in league play, but also make a run in the conference tournament.
“We’re going to make the playoffs this year,” said Nicole Prentice. “Our practices are full of energy and we are all very competitive. I definitely see us finishing top four.”
Kalamazoo is not only looking for short-term success but also to lay the groundwork for years to come. The Hornets have a very unique opportunity to start manufacturing a legacy during their first season that will continue through the team’s existence. Both Coach Ward and especially the older players on the team recognize this and look to make the most of it in 2014.
“We want to grow our culture,” explained Cooperrider. “We are starting history from scratch compared to all the teams here at K that already have a reputation. We have the chance to create our own.”
What would have been the Hornet’s first game against Defiance College on March 1 was cancelled due to weather, so the team now prepares for a weekend showcase in Chicago against Benedictine on Saturday, March 8 and Aurora on Sunday, March 9. Kalamazoo will then host Augustana, who won the Midwest Women’s Lacrosse Conference and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2013, on Thursday, March 13 for their first official home match.