As Emily DeJiacomo drove from Big Canoe back to Birmingham, Alabama, on a late-September afternoon in her brown 2010 Kia Optima with a dent in the side, squeaky wheels and a New York tag, she got a call from Mike Lochstampfor, Brenau University’s Director of Athletics.
It was 2016 and he was about to officially make a pretty big move for athletics at Brenau by offering DeJiacomo a job as the first head coach of a lacrosse team that was really non-existent at the time.
Now, with a team of 10 scholarship athletes and six others, DeJiacomo and the Golden Tigers are ready for the lacrosse game in the school’s history when they face-off against Georgetown College at 6 p.m. today at Bobby Gruhn Field in Gainesville.
“We don’t get to compare ourselves to anything because we get to start it,” said DeJiacomo, who last coached at Birmingham-Southern College in 2016 and was named the Southern Athletic Association Coach of the Year. “So, I’m ready.”
She never anticipated coaching at Brenau, though. She knew it was predominantly a women’s college and wasn’t interested in coaching at a place like that. But Jason, her husband, convinced her to apply for the position.
Once DeJiacomo set foot on campus for the interview, she was sold. But she didn’t think she would be offered the job, and still wasn’t sure what she would say if the opportunity was presented. But when Lochstampfor called her on that three-and-a-half hour drive from Big Canoe, all she could say was yes.
“I didn’t really think too much about it,” DeJiacomo said. “So I said I’d love the opportunity because at (Birmingham-Southern College), I felt like I’d accomplished what I felt I could do.”
Now, a year-and-a-half later, DeJiacomo has a completed roster and ready to start the inaugural season.
It wasn’t easy getting to this point, since DeJiacomo didn’t have much to sell her prospects on during the recruiting process. Brenau didn’t have a field, equipment or even any players that would draw others to the school.
But that was part of what drew DeJiacomo to the school in the first place.
“I get to actually do this from the ground up,” DeJiacomo said. “The big thing that drove me was this gets to be mine.”
And she said the program wouldn’t be where it is without the help of Allie McConnell.
“It’s been an unbelievable dream,” said McConnell, a junior at Brenau and Forsyth Central High graduate. “Honestly, I never thought I’d be back in this position where I would be playing lacrosse, or even just a collegiate sport.”
She played lacrosse throughout high school and always wanted to play in college. But she never felt at ease at any of the schools she visited that already had teams. She, like her coach, fell in love with Brenau when she toured it, though.
McConnell immediately started emailing back-and-forth with Lochstampfor. Once on campus, she met with him about starting a team. Finally, she was able to go to lunch with DeJiacomo, who was hired just a few weeks later and they began to get to work recruiting.
“Last year, I would have considered her my student assistant,” DeJiacomo said. “She literally went to high school games, lots of tours, lots of parents and she emailed girls.”
Together they recruited players across the southeast, the majority from Georgia along with a couple from Florida and Tennessee and one from North Carolina.
Some of them didn’t have lacrosse on their radars, and they definitely didn’t have Brenau at the top of their lists of schools, since it’s mainly women who attend and they wanted a more diverse experience in college.
Still, DeJiacomo was able to get a team together, even if it has some seniors who have never played lacrosse before.
“We’re all on pretty much the same level,” said Cora Wallace, freshman at Brenau and North Forsyth grad, where she played four years of high school lacrosse. “We don’t really know what to expect in any of our games. So we kind of all have the same nerves.”
Despite the nerves, the players are happy they get to start something at Brenau. When anyone looks back at the history of the university, they’ll see pictures of this team as the first ones to play lacrosse for the Golden Tigers.
“Everyone is on the same page of wanting to make history,” said Kailey Posea, a freshman at Brenau who went to North Forsyth and has played lacrosse since she was in the sixth grade. “So it’s going to go from being nervous to being excited we’re stepping on the field as one of the players from Brenau’s first lacrosse team ever.”
And no matter the outcome of the first game, or the season as a whole, DeJiacomo is proud to be taking the next step in her career by building a team from nothing.
“I just want them to enjoy it and take it all in,” DeJiacomo said. “I told them you can only go up from here.”