Westminster Set to Field Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse Teams for 2017
BY CONNOR MUENKS
Westminster College will be adding men’s and women’s lacrosse programs next school year, and the search for coaches and players is under way. The seven search committee members have already conducted phone and Skype interviews with prospective coaches from across the United States, and recruiting has begun.
The Westminster lacrosse teams will begin as club sports with 15 men and 15 women. This means that the teams will not be regulated by the N.C.A.A. until they transition to becoming an intercollegiate sport.
According to Andrew Bordelon, search committee member and men’s soccer coach, there is not a set timetable for this transition. He said the program is better off starting as a club sport so it can build a reputation and become competitive before becoming intercollegiate. Bordelon said the transition will be made “when it is a good situation for all.”
Another committee member, coach Andrew Malson, said that Westminster does not have a conference lined up for the squads yet. Most Westminster sports are part of the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC), but it does not facilitate lacrosse.
Malson, who serves as offensive line coach for the football team, notes that there are several colleges in Missouri that have lacrosse, such as Missouri Valley College, Rockhurst and Benedictine. Possible competition is not too far away.
The only other SLIAC member that funds a lacrosse program is Fontbonne University, which was unable to field a team this season due to a lack of players. Fontbonne is part of the Midwest Lacrosse Conference. Most of the conference’s eight teams are either located in Wisconsin or Illinois.
According to Tracey Braden, who is currently in charge of recruiting lacrosse athletes, Westminster students are showing great interest in the new program. She said that she has already received several emails from current students who are interested in playing. She added that Westminster is actively searching for new student athletes by contacting the lacrosse community in an effort to find potential recruits.
Recruiting lacrosse players will involve methods that differ from those in other sports, Malson said.
“Lacrosse is not a MSHSAA [Missouri State High School Athletic Association] sport; it’s only played as a club sport across Missouri,” he said. “Recruiting will involve more showcases and summer tournaments.”
Malson added that recruiting for a lacrosse team will be much more difficult than for other teams because fewer athletes play lacrosse.
In the 2014-2015 school year, just over 193,000 high school athletes played lacrosse, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. Football had more than five times that amount. Nonetheless, according to US Lacrosse, the sport’s high school participation rate has increased by 16 percent in a five-year period ending in 2014. College participation increased by 18 percent in the same time span.
“Lacrosse is in its infancy but we want to get in as it’s growing,” Bordelon said.
The search for coaches to lead Westminster’s infant program has already resulted in applicants from across the country, Bordelon said. The committee is searching for two separate coaches to coach the two squads. He said that the seven committee members are not necessarily looking for applicants with college coaching experience, but lacrosse playing and general coaching experience is important. The selected coaches will need to have recruiting experience as well.
Coach Malson added that the committee prefers candidates with master’s degrees, but the underlying objective is to find coaches who will fit in at Westminster. He said that the idea of starting a new program is exciting to the prospective hires, and each of them sees it as a chance to “really leave their footprint immediately.”
Westminster is trying to leave its own footprint in the minds of prospective students, and Bordelon said he sees the lacrosse program as a way to do so.
“It puts our reputation and brand out there to people who otherwise may not have looked at Westminster,” he said.
But some Westminster athletes said they do not see the addition of lacrosse as the best way to attract Recruits.
Baseball player Tyler Branneky, ’16, would rather see upgrades to the athletic training facilities before adding new sports to Westminster.
“I feel like it is easier to draw athletes in with high-quality training equipment like a good weight room versus trying to recruit 30 kids for a very specialized sport that not many kids play,” he said.
However, Bordelon said he does not think the move was necessarily done to increase revenues. He said he sees the addition of lacrosse as a way to diversify the athletic department.
Additionally, the commitment to fund a lacrosse program is part of broad capital investments the administration is making across the athletic department. The headline of these investments is a new football stadium that can also be used for track, soccer and lacrosse events. Bordelon said he is very excited about Dr. Akande’s ideas on expanding and diversifying athletics.
Overall, Malson said he sees a bright future for Lacrosse at Westminster. “[I am] very excited about lacrosse and the future it has at Westminster,” he said.
Students interested in being part of the lacrosse program are encouraged to contact Tracy Braden, the head of the women’s basketball program. She can be reached at (573) 592-5345 or BradenT@westminster-mo.edu.