VCU women’s lacrosse program is still a year away, but for head coach Jen Kasper O’Brien, coaching the club women’s lacrosse team has been her solace. With anticipation growing for the inaugural year and preparations for the new club WLAX season in progress, O’Brien welcomes seven new players to the fold: a seven-person freshmen recruiting class who will act as the foundation for the startup program, as well as an eager club squad, some of whom hope to make the jump to the Atlantic 10 conference next year.
As coach for the club women’s lacrosse team for the last two years, O’Brien has had the unique opportunity to implement new methods of coaching that differed from previous coaching jobs. The biggest reason: O’Brien was tasked with coaching players who didn’t strictly come to VCU for the sole purpose of playing collegiate sports. For those at club WLAX, it merely acts as a hobby. Practice isn’t required. GPAs won’t determine whether you play or sit. For O’Brien, she says she knows changing her mentality as a coach was paramount.
“I was definitely a coach that it was black and white and I knew coming to practice ‘this is what I was going to expect,’ and ‘this is what I was going to see,’ and working with the club team it forced me to kind of change it up,” O’Brien said.
Indeed, a lot has changed. Since VCU Director of Athletics Ed McLaughlin announced the hiring of O’Brien last year, O’Brien balances both club lacrosse and VCU commitments. Recruited players are now on campus participating in strength and conditioning workouts as well as focusing on foundation concepts such as stick work and team chemistry. O’Brien hired Tara Coyle and Meg Decker as full-time assistants and recruiting is ongoing with 14 potenial signees expected for next year.
Before arriving at VCU, O’Brien had a five-year stint as an assistant coach for Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Prior to that, she worked as an assistant at Stanford University in Stanford, California. Now here at VCU, O’Brien says she feels she has improved as a coach because of her flexibility with the club players. Whether five girls or 15 show up to practice, she says she has to constantly be on her toes, and think of new ways to entertain her players.
“I’m being charged with really getting them to buy in and that’s been fun because I need to do that no matter what player is in front of me,” O’Brien said. “So I’ve been forced to think outside the box a little bit and really try to find some different ways to unite the recruited girls with our club team so we are one team on that field.”
O’Brien and her coaching staff anticipate some players from the club team will make the varsity team as walk-ons. In addition to the seven recruited players, O’Brien says about 15 club players show up for practice drills as well. She says she has explained to the hopefuls that they are essentially in a year-long tryout to make the 2015-16 women’s lacrosse team. By year’s end, she would like to think that she could pick any one of those 15 to be a part of the lacrosse program, but it all starts with commitment.
“I think they have what it takes physically,” O’Brien said. “It’s just a matter of seeing if it is something they really want to invest a lot of time in or if it’s something they really want to keep as just a fun activity that they can do on the side.”
For the seven players who have already been selected to the team, O’Brien praised the recruits, describing them as sponges trying to soak up as much information as possible. “They are competitive, they want to work hard, they want to please us and that is going to really force them to work that much harder,” O’Brien said.
As each day passes, the mounting pressure O’Brien feels is what she places on herself. In addition to recruiting, practices and coaching, O’Brien is heavily involved in scheduling games for the next year. Joining the A-10, O’Brien feels the team will have a great amount of competition and understands that building a program may take time.
“We want to put a good product on the field, especially that first home game we want everybody to come out here and say ‘this is VCU Lacrosse’, ‘we’re fast, we’re physical, we are playing with a ton of emotion and passion’ so we have a ways to go and that’s where I feel the pressure,” O’Brien said.
This weekend, the club women’s lacrosse plays a scrimmage at the Cary Street Field. The majority of their games will be played in the spring. It’s an opportunity to see what could very well be key additions to a VCU women’s lacrosse team that will play their home games at Sports Backers Stadium next season.