Across River, New Coach Makes Waves

CHANGING THE FORECAST
Thomas J. Beckford

New head coach Lisa Miller, the former leader of the Syracuse women’s program, is poised to change the culture of women’s lacrosse at Harvard in her first year at the helm. Just three months into the job, there have been a number of changes to the Crimson

Following 10 successful years at Syracuse, new Crimson women’s lacrosse coach Lisa Miller has wasted no time in launching a quiet revolution on the other side of the Charles.

After suffering through four losing seasons under former head coach Sarah Nelson ’94, who compiled an 18-44 record during her tenure at Harvard and failed to lead her team to a finish above .500 in the Ivy League in any season, the Crimson will look for Miller to restore the luster to a program that was once one of the best in the country.

And just over three months into the new regime, it appears that many significant changes are already underway.

In a somewhat unconventional move, Miller, who was hired in late June of this year, held open tryouts at the beginning of the fall season, and several recruits and experienced players failed to make the varsity roster.

While coaches often claim that no player’s roster spot is guaranteed, the cuts still came as somewhat of a shock to many involved with the team, both because of the number of cuts that took place and the fact that they involved former varsity players.

“Everyone who came to tryouts worked very hard, and they wanted to make the team,” Miller said. “But, it’s varsity athletics, and it’s competitive by nature. You have to earn your spot, and that’s what brings value to being on a team.”

In all, nine players have cut or quit since fall practices started, including two juniors and a sophomore that were previously members of the team. Two of those left the team for personal reasons, according to a number of players on the team who wished to remain anonymous.

Although Miller recognized that these cuts could potentially be divisive or controversial—particularly coming from a new coach—she felt that the benefits of making the program more competitive were worth the risk.

“Every year to me is an open tryout. It always will be, and it’s never going to change,” Miller said. “It’s the only way to run a fair program; if a freshman is better, she deserves to make the team, and deserves to play. I didn’t treat Harvard any differently than I did Syracuse.

“Every year the kids came in and had an open tryout to compete for position and for playing time,” she continued. “It’s competitive—it’s not collective or cooperative.”

Although the Crimson is not scheduled to play its first game until the spring, it already appears as if Miller’s coaching philosophy is a dramatic departure from her predecessor’s.

And, according to senior co-captain Lauren Bobzin, the hiring of Miller—and new assistant coach Sarah Albrecht, a former standout player at Northwestern—represents a step towards restoring the legitimacy of the Crimson program.

“Coach Miller brings a certain structure to the team that we haven’t had in the past,” Bobzin said. “Our overall intensity has picked up. She expects a lot more from us, and demands more. She brings such a knowledge of the game, has high expectations, even inspires a little fear, and that brings a lot of respect.”

Miller was named the 2007 Big East Coach of the Year in her final year with the Orange, her second such honor in decade with Syracuse women’s lacrosse. She was at the helm of the Orange program since its inception in 1998, guiding the team to a 103-51 all-time record including six postseason appearances, five trips to the NCAA Tournament and an ECAC Championship in 1999.

When Miller arrived at Syracuse a year before the team began competition in 1998, she surprised critics by recruiting 17 freshman to come to a school already renowned for its men’s lacrosse success but with no experience in the sport of women’s lacrosse.

Several team members said they hope that Miller’s enthusiasm and dedication will help end over a decade of futility for the Harvard women’s lacrosse program, which last challenged for the national championship in 1994—the end of an impressive run in which it competed in the national championship game nine out of 12 seasons.

“For many years Harvard was at the top,” junior Shannon Flynn said. “It’s unfortunate that it fell a bit, but it’s time for us to get back there. This year, that’s no longer a dream—it’s an expectation.”

—Staff writer Julie R.S. Fogarty can be reached at fogarty2@fas.harvard.edu.

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