Club Women

 
February 14, 2009

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LMO's Jac Coyne is in Santa Barbara, Calif., covering the Santa Barbara Shootout, annually the largest, non-postseason WDIA event. Click here for his live blog.

Occidental Upgrade: Oxy Moving to Varsity

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

They may be thin on numbers - the minimum 12 players are on active - but the Occidental players are excited about their impending move to the NCAA. The Tigers coach, Herbie Huff, will have her work cut out for getting ready for the move.
© Dirk Dewachter

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- As one looks around the fields at the Santa Barbara Shootout, the premier club programs are on display. National powers like Colorado, Cal Poly, Santa Clara, Michigan and UC Santa Barbara, among others, draw the interest of even the casual women's lacrosse fan.

And all of those teams will be club programs next year.

A little bit later, when the heavyweights have already played, one catches a brief glimpse of the Occidental women's lacrosse team, a group of 12 players - the minimum to field a team - competing against what amounts to a WDIA junior varsity schedule.

And Oxy will be an NCAA Division III program next spring.

Sometimes things don't make perfect sense, but that isn't stopping Occidental from shedding its club label in 2010 and joining the varsity ranks. The transition really has no effect on the California WDIA scene, as the Tigers were a bit player, to be generous.

But Oxy's emergence gives the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) five programs along with Whittier, Redlands, Claremont, and Pomona.

With seven teams making up an automatic qualifying conference in NCAA D-III, this is obviously a big step for the conference.

But is Oxy ready to make this jump?

"We've worked really hard over the last couple of years to get the commitment and get the numbers to a point where our school would be serious about the program," said Emily Phillips, a junior co-captain for the Tigers. "I've seen some of the teams we're going to be playing next year and we are really going to have to step it up a lot. But I think we're ready."

"I'm not sure what to expect because it is really competitive out here in the SCIAC league, but I think we've played some pretty good teams and the WWLL is really competitive," said Nathalie Morrison, another junior co-captain. "I think we'll be okay when we get some more numbers."

The players have come to grips with the fact that this may not be an easy transition and there is a competitive leap to be made, but what about the coaching staff?

Through no fault of her own, the current head coach, Herbie Huff, is operating without a net.

Hired to both coach the club program and recruit for next year's inaugural varsity campaign, Huff has yet to be officially hired as coach for 2010. While she is the presumptive coach, a hiring freeze at Occidental has pushed back an official announcement.

"They haven't made any guarantees, because then I can get mad," said Huff, with a slight laugh.

If, or when, Huff finally signs on the dotted line, she'll be learning on the job. An '07 graduate of Claremont, where she played on the Athenas' first NCAA qualifying team, Huff is still feeling her way around the recruiting circuit.

"I've never recruited before, so I don't know what the typical yield is, but there is definitely a lot of interest and a lot of players in the applicant pool," said Huff, who said that while California produces most of her players, New England, Colorado and Baltimore are also feeder areas. "It's still too early to tell how many we've got."

Regardless of the number, the returning club players - all of which are expected to transition to the varsity program - are both excited and expectant of an upgrade in talent from the current team.

"The skill level will be different when the recruits come in and there will be cuts during try-outs," said Phillips. "There will be a lot of emotional difference for some players and some motivational work to do with them if they don't get enough playing time next year."

It may not seem like Occidental has everything in place for a smooth transition to the varsity ranks, but sometimes it's necessary for a leap of faith. Oxy has definitely done that, perhaps blazing a path for other WDIA programs.


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