They are the women's club team you have seen practicing in Henry Crown, on the Midway, and on the grassy area in front of Eckhart Hall. When it comes to lacrosse, these inspired athletes will play anytime on even the smallest patch of open space.
While most people have heard of lacrosse, few have actually played or bothered to learn the rules. The game, which was invented by the Native Americans, is as intricate as the leather strings of the crosse (which is used to carry the ball) because it combines elements of many different sports. Fourth-year center Pema Latshang often finds herself comparing lacrosse to hockey, while other players note its similarity to soccer in field size and positioning. A second-year in the College but a first-year on the team, Becky Free, picked up her position with relative ease because "the defensive philosophy is a lot like basketball," the sport she played in high school.
Like Free, many members of the team are former high school athletes who came to college looking for athletic competition with a manageable time commitment. First-year Keri Robertson wanted to continue her participation in athletics when she arrived at Chicago, but shied away from the intensity of a varsity sport. She calls club sports "a good medium between IM and varsity." Captain and fourth-year Rebecca Kimport agrees that club sports have an attractive advantage. "Because we are a club, we have the camaraderie and athleticism without the pressure," she said.
Playing time is not determined by ability, but rather by commitment to the team.
"We want to give all players a chance to improve," Kimport said, "and we are glad to teach the game to anyone willing to show up at practice and give it a try."
Fittingly, the team roster for this season boasts eight players who had never picked up a crosse before their first practice in January, and three others who have only one year of experience.
New players Free and Robertson both agree that their teammates were supportive of their attempt to learn a new sport. "The team was very willing to work with new players to help us develop skills," Free explained.
Because the team is a club, there is no coach. Instead, the team establishes player-coach captains who do more than just wear a whistle. The captains are not merely the players highest in the pecking order either. They must take care of all the administrative work that a coach or athletic department would, including the management of team finances, planning games, and running practices. Kimport, a current captain along with Jennifer Hallock, and administrative captain Jen Hur, points out that captains must make minutia a priority. "Not only must the captain plan what drills are done in practice, but she also has to think about who's going to line the playing field and move the goals [in preparation for a tournament]."
Kimport knows firsthand that player-coaches are in a challenging position. She notes that they have to remember to practice as if they were players, but also to strike a position of authority so teammates heed their directions and the team stays organized.
Almost 10 years of ambitious and dedicated player-coaches have brought the club to its established and competitive position today. Although women's lacrosse has been played on campus for years, the program was revamped and moved toward more serious competition in the mid-1990s. With strong organizational leadership and extensive experience with the game, former captains like Meredith Fishbane and Rachel Knipe helped the team earn a reputation of respect in the nationally recognized Women's Collegiate Lacrosse League.
The women's lacrosse team keeps Chicago's tradition of Big Ten competition alive as it perennially faces teams from the University of Iowa, University of Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Purdue.
The team practices during the fall and plays one exhibition game followed by intense indoor training during winter quarter. As other varsity teams can attest, the monotony of Henry Crown's multi-purpose room starts to get old by seventh week. Because of the quarter system, the actual lacrosse season occurs during the first four weeks of spring quarter. In addition to daily practices on the Midway, the team travels to tournaments throughout Illinois and sometimes beyond. This year, Chicago picked up two wins over Knox and Wisconsin at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois on April 5. The Maroons continued to improve with a hard-fought loss at Wheaton College five days later. The team made its mark at the University of Illinois on April 12, splitting the day with a win against Ball State and a loss to Truman State, the top-ranked team in the league.
Chicago finished its season with a home tournament this past Saturday on the Midway. The team claimed a 6-4 victory over Western Michigan University but lost to highly talented Illinois and Iowa squads.
Even with such an inexperienced roster, the team finished strong this season at 4-4. The offense was led by graduate student Cosette Creamer, fourth-year Manuela McDonough, and Hur. Another offensive spark was winger Erin Cunningham, a second-year transfer from Maryland. Cunningham's lacrosse experience and enthusiasm for the game made her a consistent threat to the opposing defense.
The players who know less about visible results but a whole lot about heart and hustle round out Chicago's defensive side of the field. Third-year veteran Ruth Sheppard and second-years Becca Everhardt and Holburt anchored the Chicago defense, while fourth-years Jerrin Zumberg and Jen Paruch ruled the midfield. Not only were Latshang and second-year Allison Dahl responsible for running the offensive spread, but they were also defensive weapons that played both ways at center.
As in hockey and soccer, the defense is nothing without the goalies. Rookie Danielle Hleihel had several quality stops while fourth-year Amy Patel continued her tradition of toughness as one of Chicago's finest goalies.
As the curious and confused stares of passersby suggest, Free had it right when she said of playing lacrosse for Chicago, "It's not like anything I've ever done."