Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Lacrosse Anyone?

This is R. C has taken the lead in writing our blogs and this is my first solo blog in years - although, C will edit it, post it to our website, probably do some formatting, and maybe even spray a little Windex on it…and, well, did I say I was doing this solo?

So, if you remember we got press passes for a WNBA game last month and I thought I was gonna die, I was so excited. Well, now we have the guts to ask for press passes to any event. For example, University of San Francisco would like a little coverage in our blog due to a new ad campaign sponsored by the NCAA to get more people to attend women’s sporting events and yes, we asked for a press pass (okay, more on that in another blog, let’s not get distracted here).

Since it is the “off-season” for women’s college basketball, we are always looking for more things to fill our time, such as the WNBA and other women’s college sports and bad rounds of golf. I want to share an accidental meeting with a Stanford coach not Tara or Amy, or even a basketball coach, nonetheless a Stanford women’s coach of Lacrosse, Jaime Sellers. I don’t know how to spell the sport, nor have I ever watched it, played it or met anyone who has; but she granted us an interview after we met on the basketball court and that is a whole other story. Oh, she whipped me good after explaining that basketball wasn’t her sport, ugh.

We later bonded when I found out she recently climbed Half Dome in Yosemite in the dark! I have made that difficult trek up the Half Dome trail ten times, and made it to the top six. Jaime did it in the freezing dark, started out on the mist trail, slipping and sliding, freezing and cursing and almost turned back. But as in all things, she persevered and continued on for many more hours. Her group made it to the top at sunrise, but she was too miserable and cold to make it all the way to the top. She stopped at the chains.

So, after extensive research on (read I goggled) this coach, Jaime Sellers, and read about an incredible athlete: Jaime Sellers is a first-year assistant coach, having graduated from William and Mary last spring after a 66-goal season that was good enough to break a school single-season record that had stood for more than 30 years. Over her college career, Sellers scored 108 goals and had 19 assists for 127 points. The native of Kennebunk, Maine, led William and Mary in six categories as a senior (goals, points, draw controls, shots, free position goals, shots on goal) and scored five game-winning goals, while earning All-South Region second-team honors.

This former All-Colonial Athletic Association first-team midfield player now handles the defense and scouting as her main Stanford coaching responsibilities. It is funny she was hired by Stanford at all, what with Sellers having burned Stanford for three goals when they met last year, and her scoring three against George Mason. At the time, George Mason was coached by current Stanford head coach Amy Bokker and current Stanford assistant coach Brooke McKenzie. Or maybe that was why she was hired, because they saw first hand what kind of Lacrosse skills and knowledge she had.

So, of course I told C all about Jaime and C said let’s write down a bunch of questions we can ask her. C even bought a digital recorder, she loves the gadgets, which we chickened-out of using even though C practiced on everyone including her cat. Recording interviews is big time, as we learned on our WNBA press pass adventure, and we are small time!

Okay, here are the questions we asked and us paraphrasing what she said:
What are some reasons that you have an offensive record-setting senior year in college after a rather ordinary junior year?

Jaime attributed this to a coaching change in her junior year. She felt the previous administration did not communicate well and she always felt off balance and didn’t know what was expected of her. The new coaching change brought in someone not to uptight and could communicate what she wanted out of the players, and trust them to give it to her. This was an environment Jaime excelled in. And it shows C and R that in coaching it is not enough to know the sport, you must be a good and effective communicator.

With the economic environment for women’s sports already limited, it is hard for young women to get a paying coaching job, especially with no previous coaching experience. It is almost unheard of. We asked Jaime how she got a paying coaching job right out of college, especially way out here on the West Coast. The answer is pure Jaime; she worked really, really hard to get this job. Starting right after her senior season, she started emailing and networking for coaching jobs. Sometimes coaches didn’t call her back. Sometimes they told her a spot was imminent only to find out another had been hired. Frustration was high and a lesser person would have thrown in the towel. When Amy Bokker got hired on as the Stanford coach, she was familiar with Jaime’s play. It didn’t hurt that Amy also went to William and Mary and Jaime’s coach knew Amy and put in a good word.

Jaime also told us that her senior year her coach used her as an on field general, and she did direct the defense as well as mentor a strong freshmen core in scoring. So, when her coach put in a good word for her, she wasn’t just blowing smoke. Jaime had coaching experience from how she approached her senior year.

Next we asked if Stanford tutors her or the players on what to say to the media. She laughed, what media? Lacrosse in general and women’s lacrosse in specific does not generate a lot of media interest. Have you ever seen a seen a women’s lacrosse game? Well, it’s hard when none are broadcast, not even the women’s D1 championship game. The athletes themselves don’t get many requests for interviews. As far as what to say or not to say, Jaime said the only rules she knows that restrict her surrounds recruiting: what you can and cannot say to a possible recruit, and since C and R are not going to be recruited for lacrosse (although C secretly wishes so), we are safe in this interview!

As R mentioned above, she has never seen a lacrosse game. We asked Jaime why lacrosse so popular in the east and not here in the west? She agreed, but wasn’t sure why either. She guessed that because lacrosse is big in Canada, it trickles down to that northeastern part of our country. It’s akin to water polo being prevalent in sunny California and Texas, but not so back East. Stanford doesn’t even play lacrosse in the PAC-10, as not enough PAC-10 schools have women’s lacrosse teams. They play instead in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.

With the bias that the best Lacrosse is played in the East, we asked Jaime if that colored the NCAA selection committee’s perception. Jaime asked if we researched what happened to Stanford last year. We said we had….’nuff said. Well, except if you haven’t followed women’s lacrosse, (something Jaime hopes to change one day), then you probably hadn’t heard what happened. Let us fill you in.

First of all, only 16 teams go to the Lacrosse championship, unlike the 64 teams we are used to in women’s basketball. Second, since 1982, all of the D1 championships have been won by teams east of the Mississippi. Now imagine that. If you’re not invited, you can’t win.

Last year, Stanford won the Mountain Pacific Sports Tournament championship, but that division gets so little respect, you don’t get an automatic bid to the tournament, like winning the PAC-10 in women’s basketball does. Last year Stanford was ranked 14th in the final national poll, beating three top twenty ranked teams, including third ranked Penn in its final game, yet did not receive one of the 16 bids to the NCAA tournament. Hmmm.

Stanford hopes to change the east’s mind about how we play lacrosse out here. This year, if you win the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, you get an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, and after Stanford’s last season’s success, they hope they can do it again.

Not only is Jaime an excellent coach, and was a great college player, she recently tried out for the Women’s National Lacrosse Team. Cool! Over green tea and mounds of food at the local Mongolian BBQ, she told us that the experience was great, but it seemed like the coaches already had in mind who they were going to pick and she wasn’t one of them. She said the end of the three day trial had them scrimmaging and certain players didn’t even need to play. She was hoping she could impress the selection committee, but again, politics, and favorites ruled the day.

Jaime has future aspirations to be a head coach someday, “back east”, she said. We hope she gets a little California sand in her shoes and decides to coach out here. Besides, how else is the west going to overcome this east coast bias in lacrosse if she leaves?

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