When the Randolph College women’s lacrosse team took the field for its March 1 season opener against Marymount University, it was the first time since 1999 that the WildCats were represented in an NCAA Division III women’s lacrosse match.
Head Coach Alexis Wagner had a personal sensation of déjà vu as she watched her new squad, with 11 firsttime players, tangle with the more experienced Saints players.
As a player, Wagner joined a first-year women’s lacrosse program at Elmira College in upstate New York. The move was a natural continuation of an accomplished, four-year prep school career at Lawrence Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, just north of Boston.
After college, Wagner completed a three-year stint as an assistant coach at nationally ranked, NCAA Division II Merrimack College, also in Andover, before taking on the task of developing a second-year program at Austin Preparatory School in Reading, Massachusetts. She joined Randolph College’s coaching staff last summer, ready to build the new women’s lacrosse program.
In March, Wagner led a new squad for the third time in her career. Considering the number of first-time players she is coaching, this may be her most challenging, and rewarding, post yet.
“As a coach, you have to be able to break everything down and start from the beginning. You are teaching and creating a love for the sport,” Wagner said. “It’s a different mindset from that of a more experienced team.”
New players are valuable to the WildCats for more than their on-field skills. “There are players who have the ‘feel’ of a captain—they can connect the whole team,” Wagner said.
One of Wagner’s rookies, Alexandra Orrell ’13, was introduced to the sport by more experienced players.
“Two friends I met during orientation, Danielle Haney and Jessica Andersen (both first-year attacks with prior experience), suggested I attend an informational meeting Coach was having,” said Orrell, who plans to major in biology in preparation for medical school. “The first time Coach put a stick in my hand, I knew it was a sport I was going to enjoy.”
While at Dinwiddie County High School in Dinwiddie, Virginia, Orrell lettered in track while also pursuing her passion for dance. Now, lacrosse is providing her a new athletic challenge.
“Lacrosse for me is about understanding my position, the layout of my teammates on the field, and getting the ball to the net, all while adding in my own ‘flavor’ to the game,” she said. “The past weeks have been a struggle, but with each day, we work our hardest and become better players, teammates, and individuals.”
Wagner used on-campus recruiting to help field her first-year team, but she plans to leverage her Boston-area connections to open up new opportunities for women who want to play lacrosse at the college level in the South.
“New England is a breeding ground for women’s lacrosse; they pick up a stick earlier up there,” she said.
“Players from that region are attracted to Randolph College because it is warmer here, and our new lacrosse field sells itself. They also know that there will be more playing time on a new squad.”
The coach also finds potential student-athletes who will flourish in Randolph’s academic and athletic environments by attending tournaments and player showcases.
“These players are motivated to play lacrosse in college; they are on prep or high school teams, and they typically play for club teams,” Wagner said. “The coaches of those club teams work with college coaches to find the right fit for these players.”
Part of the “fit” is ensuring that a player can meet both the academic and athletic demands of being a WildCat.
“A student-athlete has to meet academic standards and prove she can handle the work,” Wagner said. “I want her to succeed in the classroom and be happy here so she’s on the field for four years.”
Wagner’s squad has to acclimate to a tough Old Dominion Athletic Conference, too.
“I structured the schedule so the team can play some beginner programs, but I want them to see the caliber of play at Lynchburg College, Roanoke College, and Randolph-Macon College,” she said.
Player-to-player information is part of Wagner’s recruiting strategy.
“As our first-year players go back home and talk about their experiences and generous playing time, interest will grow,” she said. “Word will spread that there is an exciting new women’s lacrosse program at Randolph College, and more experienced players will seek us out. This program has such an incredible future ahead of it.”