By Eric Andrews | Echo
The Taylor athletic department announced last Friday that the men's and women's lacrosse teams will turn into varsity programs in the coming years.
The men's team will make the jump to the varsity level during the 2018-19 school year, while the women's team will follow suit in2019-20. Once the teams are in place, Taylor will feature 20 varsity intercollegiate athletic teams. The move comes on the heels of the addition of junior varsity (J.V.) teams to the men's and women's soccer programs.
While the promotions to varsity are new for the lacrosse teams, the teams enjoy long histories. The men's lacrosse program has existed for nearly two decades, dating back to the late '90s.
"It started with guys playing on the lawn between (Nussbaum) and Reade," men's team president and senior Mitch Pawlanta said.
Since then, the men's team has played in three different leagues, been led by a handful of coaches and offered hundreds of players the chance to compete on the field.
The women's team was formed in 2001 but did not become an official club until 2005, according to women's team president and senior Jessie Kuniholm. Though experiencing ups and downs throughout the last decade, the women's team has established a solid foundation due to strong leadership over the last five years.
"(The leaders before Jessie and me established) a reputation at Taylor (of) a pretty solid, well-organized, well-run club," women's team vice president and sophomore Madeleine Burkholder said.
Over the years, players and alumni from both teams have urged the university to turn the lacrosse teams into varsity programs. Despite the students' desire, the timing and logistics never worked out. However, due to a desire to expand the athletic department, the door for Taylor lacrosse has been opened.
Since the idea of turning the teams into varsity programs had been on the table for a while, Kyle Gould, athletic director,and Skip Trudeau, vice president for student development, researched the notion early in the fall semester. Gould and Trudeau included the idea in their report for enrollment initiatives.
"When Skip and I submitted our report, (the idea) was in there," Gould said. "The university cabinet, the board, everyone, felt like it was a good decision. It happened in a six-week span, where it kind of went from, 'This would be a good idea,' to 'Yeah, let's go do it.'"
While the history and tradition of the lacrosse teams made the decision easy, the desire to increase enrollment was also a driving force. Trudeau noted that having lacrosse teams has been a deciding factor for some students considering Taylor. Trudeau hopes the decision to turn the teams into varsity programs will increase Taylor admission numbers.
According to Trudeau, lacrosse is a rapidly-growing sport, and adding programs will help diversify Taylor's student body. The administration specifically desires to reach into hotbed lacrosse areas on the East Coast.
The first step in the transition is hiring a head coach for the men's team, which the athletic department hopes to have in place this summer. Once a head coach has been hired, the recruiting process will begin to prepare the team for varsity competition in the spring of 2019. A similar process will be utilized for the women's team.
The teams currently play on the old soccer field near the softball field, and Gould said that the lacrosse teams will continue to play there in order to give the lacrosse teams their own space. Taylor's maintenance department will be working on the field to get it in top shape by April.
Gould said alumni will fund future facility improvements, as has been the case with many of Taylor's other athletic facilities.
"We want to energize the lacrosse alumni to get involved and do things at that facility," Gould said. "We want to have a top-notch lacrosse facility."
Gould stated the first goal for facility improvements, though not imminent, is to build both men's and women's locker rooms at their current field, followed by installing turf and lighting.
The athletic department hopes to acquire associate membership from another NAIA conference, as the Crossroads League does not currently feature any men's lacrosse programs.
The women's team will continue to compete at the club level for the next three years, remaining in the Women's Collegiate Lacrosse Association. Similar to men's lacrosse, the Crossroads League is not fit for varsity competition at this time, as only Bethel has a women's lacrosse team. The women's team will likely need to look into an option similar to the men's team upon transitioning to the varsity level.
"We want very competitive athletic teams that fit within the mission of Taylor University," Trudeau said. "We want (to be) attracting those kind of student athletes-good students, good athletes, mission-fit and very competitive teams. I think lacrosse has every capacity to do those kind of things."