With the recent announcement that Brenau University would be adopting women’s lacrosse as the school’s 11th NAIA competitive sport, its athletic director Mike Lochstampfor told Times sports writer David Thackham on Thursday that he would be overseeing a number of decisions over the next two years leading up to early 2018, when Brenau hopes to play its first games.
From hiring the program’s first head coach to marketing the program around the Southeast, and beyond, Lochstampfor said the school will strive for a competitive Brenau team to take the field.
The NAIA will host its inaugural Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse Invitational on May 4-7 in Greenville, S.C. and is scheduled to return in 2017 with the hopes of the sports reaching NAIA championship status by 2018. Previously, NAIA women’s lacrosse programs had the chance to compete for a championship with the National Women’s Lacrosse League, which is being phased out after this spring.
Brenau is hoping to have its new team, as well as its softball, track and soccer programs, host events on its incoming intercollegiate athletics complex located east of downtown Gainesville at New Holland. For now, only the softball portion of the park is under construction while the other sports will have to wait for the necessary financing.
A standard schedule is 15 to 18 games, according to the university.
The athletic director said the school felt that the sport’s growing popularity in the South helped make the decision easier.
According to the Georgia High Schools Association, there are 104 girls lacrosse programs and 100 boys programs in high schools across the state.
Question: What kind of conversations were happening at Brenau that convinced you that women’s lacrosse would be a good move for the school?
Answer: There have been discussions at the highest administrative level at the college, we’re always looking to add new sports and provide opportunities, and lacrosse repeatedly came up. … The popularity of the local sport has increased each and every year within the state of Georgia, the number of high schools that have added lacrosse, the number of entities that have added that, so there’s been a particular emphasis on that. It’s an exciting sport. We see some athletes who were previously in other sports, crossing over and wanting to play.
Q: What’s the first step? What can people be looking forward to as you start the process?
A: Now, we’ll set out to find a coach and hire them, try to have them in place by late summer, July or August, and we’ll have them start working on recruiting. From then, it’ll be about marketing the program and having a schedule in place, to make sure we’re being communicated through the Southeast where most of our recruits will come from. But we also want to communicate it where it’s also very popular, like the Northeast and be consistent with that.
Q: What kind of coach will you look for? Will you need to hire a search firm?
A: As has been the case with other coaches I’ve hired, I’ve tried to do that in-house. I’ve already had some interest from people who knew we’d started the program, as recently as this past weekend, we’ve had people inquire about opportunities to coach. … Certainly when you’re starting something new with the magnitude of lacrosse, you want to make sure you have the best person at the helm. When you hire a person associated with the sport, they come with the background and knowledge of where to go and find players.
Q: Will recruiting start as soon as the head coach is hired?
A: I don’t think those things are mutually exclusive, because one can happen while the other is going on. I’ve had former high school lacrosse players that are already enrolled at Brenau who are happy to play, just by virtue of the announcement. … We’ll bring the coach in, start recruiting the entirety of the 2016-17 academic year, the students will enroll in the fall of 2017 and be eligible to begin practice. Hopefully we’d be up to a roster of 18-20 by 2018, but there’s work to do before players have their feet on the ground.
Q: What can Brenau learn from other local schools who have recently adopted lacrosse programs, like Reinhardt University, who began women’s lacrosse play in 2010?
A: By virtue of being in the state of Georgia, we can lean on them for advice. They can help us understand and establish budgets, putting together typical schedules and using them to help us fill out those schedules. All of those things come about because we already have existing relationships with those schools, and we did the same thing when adding golf and track and field. We’re following that same model. They can help us provide leads on potential coaches and other important details.
Q: What might prospective student-athletes see as the appeal of coming to Brenau to play women’s lacrosse?
A: We’ve had our admissions counselors take quite a few visits to the Northeast, where they’ve heard from students who’ve expressed interest in lacrosse, so I think you have Brenau, which has gained a lot of momentum in academics, and the appeal of being in the South is quite strong. The whole Brenau/Gainesville/Atlanta area is very appealing … so a private college in the Southeast is something to look at, especially with the opportunity to play a sport in this part of the country.
Q: Have you reached out to local schools to talk about using their facilities for practices prior to the complex being completed?
A: We’re hoping (the complex) will be available as soon as possible. I’ve been in touch with local schools in the area to see if we can use some of their space and they’ve been helpful. We ultimately want them on our field, that’s part of the puzzle to play out in the next year or two. I think we’re in good shape there.
Q: What might fans see from a marketing angle, in terms of getting the word out?
A: It’s part and parcel of the whole process of recruiting. We need to get someone on board to find vendors for the uniforms that are consistent with the vendors that provide our current teams. We’ve got a lot of infrastructure to sell the program and market the team from our end.