This spring marks an historic first season for the EMU Royals women’s lacrosse team, who open at Juniata March 7 and play the first of six home games on March 11. For head coach Katie Russo, seeing her athletes in uniform ready for competition will be a dream fulfilled.
In a job that she says “found me,” the former Randolph-Macon athlete and Frostburg State assistant coach has high goals beyond simply building a new program that will be competitive in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC). And so does her team.
EMU, ranked 11 out of 11 in a recent ODAC poll, has a chip on their collective shoulder. “People say, ‘You have a new program. If you win one or two games, you’re good,’” Russo said. “That’s not my mindset and the mindset of my players. We have high but attainable goals and we know we need to prove ourselves.”
Her athletes know they were specially recruited. Russo used the slogan “Play Now, Make History,” as she made the rounds of summer tournaments (16 each summer in 2018 and 2019) and jockeyed for the attention of then-rising juniors to build the 2020 team. “I really pitched the the size of the school, my background, and the opportunity to make an immediate and long-term impact. The ones who are here know they will be on the field all season long.”
The team practiced in the fall, won one of two scrimmages, and spent the early part of the spring, along with time on the turf field, in the classroom building team chemistry and organizational culture. They’ve discussed selected passages from The Inner Game of Tennis, by Timothy Gallwey; Sum It Up by former Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt; and Above the Line by football coach Urban Meyer. They’ve also delved into the philosophy of Virginia men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett.
Along the way, Russo shared one of her “pillar” statements: Trust the process.
The latest task has been developing mission and vision statements. “Great lacrosse programs and all successful organizations have them, and we need them,” Russo said.
With the addition of the few dual-sport athletes, the team rounds out to 15 players. Russo has never stopped recruiting. Any athlete who is “selfless,” ready to put others before herself, with a positive attitude who will work hard, encourage and support her teammates, is welcome to talk with her about lacrosse.
And so are fans. The team will host a Lacrosse Open House at 5 p.m. on Monday, March 9, on the turf field, to introduce the game to the campus community. A short scrimmage will be played. Attendees can meet the players, talk with them about their sport, learn what to cheer for, handle the sticks and participate in a drill.
What the Athletes Say
Your team slogan is “Play Now, Make History.” What does being part of a new lacrosse program mean to you?
#20 – Callie Habr
“Back home, Virginia Beach to be specific, lacrosse is a relatively new sport. My high school, Bayside High School, got lacrosse my sophomore year. Being a part of a new program is an experience unlike any other. It is an honor and a privilege not many people get to do.”
#23 – Juliana Ghally
“Being a part of a new program means we get to show our skills to the teams that don’t know what is coming.”
#5 – Katie Johnson
“Creating relationships with my teammates and coaches, understanding my role, and helping to inspire others.”
#6 – Ashlyn Eby
“It means everything we do is a new record and a potential tradition players years to come will follow.”
What do you love about the sport of lacrosse? And what do you especially like so far about Royals lacrosse?
#10 – Morgan Tricarico
“I love the fast-paced game play. So far, I especially like the relationships I have made from the Royals lacrosse program.”
#27 – Zyeasha Ba
“I love the intensity of the game. This sport can turn someone like me, who is not loud, into someone with a voice.”
#1 – Jaida Sainvilus
“I love everything about lacrosse but I love making new friends while playing the most. I love how with Royals Lacrosse we are coming out strong and determined even when we are being doubted.”
In five years, when the “next generation” of EMU Royals lacrosse players comes on campus, how do you hope you and your team will be remembered?
#2 – Skylar Hedgepeth
“I want us to be remembered as a team that truly surprised those around us. I want our passion, dignity, and sportsmanship to speak for themselves.”
#7 – Kenzie Gardner
“I want the next generation to remember that our team started the first program of Spring 2020. I want our team to remember the enthusiasm we brought to EMU. I want this team to pass on the perseverance we set on this team.”
What are the team’s greatest strengths?
#26 – Arianna Nixon
“Encouraging each other every practice from start to finish.”
#3 – Cindy Argueta-Rivas
“Teamwork, passion, and dedication.”
#22 – Mykenzie Davis
“We’re very good at working together, calling out our names and encouraging each other.”
#8 – Cat Hammond
“I think that we’ve created a culture of both hard work and fun. Practice is never too serious, but we know when to focus when we need to.”
What has been your favorite experience of the season so far?
#15 – Nicole Miller
“Trying on our uniforms for the first time and feeling like a team!”
#17 – Bri Garcia
“Our Fall Play Day. In the morning when we all met up and had breakfast together, it was quiet. Once we actually got to Randolph and stepped on the field, I don’t know what happened but we all just clicked and kicked butt that Sunday. It was one of the best feelings in the world.”