The Whitworth athletics program will expand to 21 teams when women's lacrosse debuts in spring 2019. Here, Coach Noelle Brouillard shares how she's working to build a successful program from scratch.
Garrett Riddle: What most excited you about the opportunity to start a program at Whitworth?
Noelle Brouillard: What most excites me about starting a program is the ability to not only bring a new sport to the campus community, but to also grow the sport in the Pacific Northwest. Lacrosse is a really interesting sport in part because there is still so much potential for its growth, unlike most traditional sports. I am excited to give female athletes another opportunity to participate in athletics at Whitworth, as well as to be a part of bringing the sport to this area of the country.
Garrett Riddle: What are the biggest challenges you face in building a new program at Whitworth and how are you addressing them?
Noelle Brouillard: One of the biggest challenges of building a new program is getting the roster numbers to compete and be a strong force within the conference. I think whenever a new program begins there is always the assumption that it will take a long time to get good players, but I believe that Whitworth is the type of university that attracts athletic students, so I want to use this to our advantage when developing our first recruiting class.
I am trying to recruit heavily from the areas where Whitworth students generally come from (Seattle and Portland, Northern California and Southern California) that also have a strong foundation for lacrosse within the high school and club levels. I also think that with the addition of our sport we have the opportunity to reach student-athletes from non-traditional areas that are looking for a Division III program in a competitive athletic environment. Another challenge for building a new program lies in developing connections within the Whitworth community and alumni community. Connections with those who are currently part of the community and those who have been in the past are crucial to the success of any sports team in helping the team to sustain operations in the long run. I have tried to reach out to any resources both on and off campus that are available to me to help connect myself and the future of our program to the strong ties of the Whitworth community. I have been really surprised (in a great way) by the outpouring of excitement and support for the lacrosse program on campus. Everyone works so hard to make Whitworth an amazing place to go to school for its students and it's something that you notice right away when you walk onto campus.
Garrett Riddle: What are some of your top activities at this stage of the program-building process?
Noelle Brouillard: The number-one priority for the program at this time is recruiting. Another top priority for the beginning stages of building a team, at least in relation to my coaching philosophy, is establishing the vision I want for our program and values I want our team to be associated with. Above all, a team should be a place where athletes feel not only safe around their coaches and teammates, but also a place where they can grow and reach their true potential. Core values will play an important role in creating that family atmosphere within our team.
Garrett Riddle: What are your chief priorities in building a new program?
Noelle Brouillard: My chief priorities include getting recruits on campus, holding clinics to identify talent as well as grow the sport within the Spokane community, marketing the new program and allowing female athletes to know that playing lacrosse at Whitworth is now an option. My priorities also include connecting with resources and staff and faculty on campus to help better understand what it means to be a part of the Whitworth community and getting connected with current students on campus who are interested in playing lacrosse and giving them opportunities to play throughout the year.
Garrett Riddle: What are your primary goals as you construct an initial roster?
Noelle Brouillard: To bring female students onto campus who not only want to contribute on the lacrosse field, but also within the Whitworth student community and get involved in other aspects of campus life, which is a huge perk of playing at the Division III level. I am looking to create a roster of 20 athletes for the first year of competition, which includes a mix of incoming freshmen along with current students on campus who are interested in playing. Lacrosse recruiting is pretty accelerated in comparison to many other sports where the Class of 2019 is usually looking to be committed by the spring of their junior year.
Garrett Riddle: Where and how are you doing the bulk of your recruiting?
Noelle Brouillard: Recruiting for the sport of women's lacrosse really begins at the club team level. Club lacrosse teams play at tournaments mainly in the summer and fall months, with the spring months being set aside solely for girls to play on their high school teams. I have also tried to expand my recruiting strategies to reach areas and athletes that maybe are not on the radars of other college coaches because they haven't had the time or money to participate in club lacrosse. This involves reaching out to local coaches and lacrosse chapter contacts to find teams and players who really want the opportunity to play at the next level and maybe haven't had the looks from coaches that other girls have.
The areas that attract Whitworth students that are also big lacrosse areas are the Seattle and Tacoma areas, Portland, the Northern California/Bay area and Southern California. I am really making sure to target these areas first as they are areas that are familiar with the prestige of Whitworth. Other areas that have some lacrosse programs that also are familiar with the university are Idaho (Boise area), Colorado (Littleton, Boulder) and Texas.
Most of my recruiting this fall has led me to tournaments in California, since the weather is the nicest there for playing multiple games outdoors. You find that many club teams will travel a great distance to attend these tournaments, which allows me to see a lot of different players and teams in one location. I have also been reaching out to high schools across Washington and Idaho to connect with their programs. The Whitworth Admissions Office has been so wonderful in helping to hand out information on our program at their visits to these high schools that also have strong lacrosse programs.
The final club tournament for the fall/winter will be in January in San Diego, which is the biggest tournament for all of the West Coast teams. Once the high school teams start playing, I will travel out to them to watch individual games until summer recruiting starts up again. The face-to-face contact makes a big difference in forming connections with recruits with the goal of getting them to Spokane to visit our beautiful campus.
Garrett Riddle: How will you measure success leading up to your first official team practice?
Noelle Brouillard: Success for the program leading up to our first official spring season team practice in January 2019 (with snow potentially on the ground), will be defined by the quality of the student athletes that we bring into the program. A team is only as good as its members, whose unique combination of skills and talents will determine our success as a unit. I am excited to have the opportunity to bring a fresh group of athletes onto Whitworth's campus and have them grow as individuals, not only as the historic first team members, but as the first lacrosse team members to contribute to the university community.
Garrett Riddle: Are there any additional items that might be of interest to readers?
Noelle Brouillard: Here is some background of the sport of women's lacrosse, since it is very different from the men's side of the game:
The women's game is known as the truest form of the sport of lacrosse because it has kept most of the original characteristics that were derived from the Native Americans, who invented the game across the Canadian border. In women's lacrosse you do not wear any padding, and there are no body checks or stick slashing. The only equipment required for women's lacrosse are a pair of goggles (usually one or two wire bars across the eyes), a mouth guard, a stick and turf shoes or cleats. When you run with your stick you “cradle” the ball so that it stays in your stick. A women's stick pocket is flatter than a men's pocket and it doesn't have as deep of a pocket, so you need to have intricate stick skills to keep the ball in your stick and make accurate passes to your teammates. Lacrosse is known as the fastest sport on two feet, and the midfielders in our game run an average of three miles each game as they travel up and down the length of the field.