Nine years ago, Laura Baker admittedly couldn’t find Virginia on a map. Now, she is the new head field hockey coach at one of the largest public universities in the state.
VCU in late June announced Baker’s hiring, nearly two months after former head coach Shannon Karl stepped down.
Baker, a four-year starter with the Rams from 2005-08, is back with the program following a one-year hiatus, which she spent as an assistant and goalkeepers’ coach at La Salle University.
Her journey is one of intrigue and inspiration.
Growing up in Kent, England, Baker had no plans of living in the United States until a
VCU assistant reached out to her in 2004 about playing for the Rams.
Her knowledge of the U.S. was limited to a handful of short visits at the time, but the decision to attend college in an entirely different country didn’t seem so challenging to Baker.
“I didn’t look at any other schools,” Baker said. “To be honest I didn’t know where Richmond was. I knew Virginia was roughly between Florida and New York but I said, ‘why not?’”
That choice was one that would transform her life forever. After starting as a goalkeeper for the Rams all four years, Baker was approached about joining the staff as an assistant following her senior season.
She enrolled in a yearlong master’s program and immediately fell in love with the new position.
Working alongside a former superior in Karl, Baker thrived in her new environment and made an impression on the soon-to-be head coach of the Rams, so much so that when Karl decided to resign this past May, she thought to contact Baker to replace her.
While living in Philadelphia, Baker received a call from her former mentor and began yet another transitional period in her career.
“It was a no-brainer,” she said. “Why wouldn’t I come back to the city I love, my alma mater?”
The Rams are coming off an impressive 13-win season, a mark that is tied for second-best in school history. They return six starters from last year’s team, and have 11 home games on the schedule for the first time ever.
Baker insists that the transition from assistant to head coach has been seamless so far. In fact, she says that her experience as a player at VCU should play to her advantage.
“One advantage is that I went here and I know the kind of student athletes that would be attracted to a school like VCU,” Baker said. “Having been here, I know what to expect from the academic side and the student-athlete side.”
Baker recognizes the added pressure that comes with her new title, but doesn’t envision any major changes in the tactical or strategic approach of the program. After all, with the help of Karl and current assistant Lauren van de Kamp, she did help build the darn thing.
Consequently, the goals haven’t changed in Richmond. Baker’s eyes remain set on an Atlantic 10 championship just one season after the Rams fell to the University of Richmond in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
In addition to her short-term goal of achieving conference superiority, Baker is determined to establish VCU as a perennial top-25 team. She recognizes that there is progress to be made, but believes her on-field knowledge and van de Kamp’s recruiting experience will combine to form an annual national contender at VCU.
As for the future, Baker’s plans shouldn’t surprise anyone. When asked where she envisions herself in five years, Baker didn’t hesitate to express her loyalty.
“Hopefully here,” she said. “I have huge ties to VCU and this is a dream job for me. I want to keep building on what we’ve done the last three years and continue to build that tradition.”
Baker continues to play field hockey recreationally in Florida each year. She still ranks in the top-10 of nearly every goalie statistical category at VCU.
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