Significance of Opener Not Lost on Army Women
WEST POINT, N.Y. — Three years of planning came to fruition with the debut of the Army women's lacrosse team Friday.
As the victorious Army men's team exited the field, on rushed the women's squad in something akin to a changing of the guard. For the first time in the celebrated history of Michie Stadium, a women's team played center stage.
"We went in knowing how big a deal it was and how big a step this is for females at the Academy,'' junior Erin Jollota said, "but we also saw it as a game.''
History will show that Army lost its varsity debut, 14-9 to Manhattan, on a bitterly cold, overcast afternoon at Michie, but that fact will become a mere footnote as the team took its first steps out of a club program existence that dates back more than 30 years. Army is one of four NCAA Division women's programs making their varsity debuts in 2016. (Central Michigan, Radford and Virginia Commonwealth are the others.)
"I am glad that we got out first game underneath us and we can move on from here and grow and learn from some things,'' Army coach Kristen Waagbo said. "I am really proud of the girls stepping on the field for the first time and representing Army in women's lacrosse.''
To some extent, Waagbo tried to downplay the historic nature of the contest to help her young squad acclimate to a normal game day but that was hard to do.
"I didn't want the girls' nerves to get too high,'' she said. "It was evident and it was palpable. There was a lot of excitement leading up to it this week, even just coming on the field and exchanging with the men.''
The only commemoration of the event was a small pregame ceremony attended by Waagbo, her assistants, three captains, athletic director Boo Corrigan and women sports administrator Stephanie Menio, with a signed ball going into a showcase.
The weather certainly spoiled what had promised to be a better-attended doubleheader on Saturday — with forecasted temperatures in single digits, a decision was made to move the men's game with Massachusetts and women's game a day earlier. About 100 fans braved the cold to watch the historic contest. A number of students, dressed in green fatigues, danced in the stands and performed jumping jacks as a means to stay warm.
Army held a small pregame ceremony attended by Waagbo, her assistants, three captains, athletic director Boo Corrigan and women sports administrator Stephanie Menio, with a signed ball going into a showcase. (Courtesy of Army West Point)
First-game jitters came into play as Manhattan stormed to a 3-0 lead inside of four minutes. The Jaspers swept the early draw controls and made Army pay.
"Some of the first-half nerves were in there,'' Jollota said. "That was a hard start, but it showed how resilient we are.''
Former Army volleyball player Rachel Hornick scored the Black Knights' first goal 13 seconds after the Jaspers' third goal. She didn't recognize the historic nature at first, just happy to pull Army back within two goals, but Hornick was thrilled to get the tally. And no, she did not keep the ball.
Sophomore Amy Johnston scored four goals in her varsity debut, carrying over her scoring success from Army's 2015 club team, which went 8-3. Johnston, for one, recognizes the difference between the club and varsity levels.
"It's the speed of play,'' she said. "You have to be a lot more agile in your mind as well as on your feet. You have to think three steps ahead of the play. You have to know what's going on. You also have to move with it. You have to get ahead of the play, as in if the ball is going out, you have to move fast to where you need to be and you have to support your teammates in multiple ways, like physically and mentally. ... There is a lot more going on than last year.''
Just like the arrival of the women's basketball team in the late 1970s helped females gain a recognized foothold within the Corps, so too should the emergence of the lacrosse team.
"We're the first women's team to play a sport at Michie,'' Johnston said. "That is a huge achievement, to be able to do that. The cadets at West Point take note of that. They know we're playing at Michie.''
Jollota's mother attended West Point, and her brother, Sean, played for Army's men's team. She said the upgrade of the lacrosse program to varsity is just one step in how the U.S. Army is creating more opportunities for women.
"Opening the combat arms branches to the women is great,'' Erin Jollota said. "It really is showing how the army is breaking down some barriers, and how women are becoming more of a presence in the army and how they really are taking those huge steps, like the three females who passed Ranger School. They are breaking down barriers, which is awesome.''
Manhattan picked up four goals from Megan Yarusso, three from Stefanie Ranagan, two from Claire Roediger and Sarah Lang and single tallies from Melissa Vogelgesang, Molly Fitzpatrick and Kaitlyn Cunningham. Nikki Prestiano had seven saves for the Jaspers.
There certainly were more smiles than tears following Army's first contest, even though the eye-black face paint on many looked like running mascara.
"I am kind of torn right now,'' Johnston said. "I am so excited with how we did do, and I know we had a lot of positive moments in the game, but we also have things that we can work on. It's a stepping stone to where we can be this season.''
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