Lacrosse recruits remain active despite quarantine

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Image via Pitt Athletics

Pitt’s inaugural lacrosse team has nine players lined up for the 2020 season.

By Alex Lehmbeck, Senior Staff Writer

Every morning, class of 2020 Pitt commit Riley Patrick wakes up and heads straight to practice. There, she runs, practices her passing, works on her footwork and crafts her hand-eye coordination.

Patrick isn’t practicing alongside her teammates or her coaches, though, instead performing all workouts from home. That’s because she, like nearly every other high school, collegiate or professional athlete, had her typical routine halted by the cancellations and precautions caused by rapidly growing COVID-19 concerns.

Although in-person schooling, team practices and competitions have been placed on hold, Riley and her fellow future teammates took on the task of continuing their workouts at home. With advice from Pitt women’s lacrosse head coach Emily Boissonneault, these players look to continue improving their games.

Maureen McNierny, Pitt’s first lacrosse signee in school history, has used the time to go for runs and bike rides around her neighborhood. She’s also used workouts sent by assistant strength and conditioning coach Mary Beth George that require minimum equipment.

“Coach Emily has encouraged us to find creative ways to work out, practice lacrosse and stay connected with each other during these tough times,” McNierny said. 

Unlike the rest of the college lacrosse world, the Panthers have not lost an opportunity for a national championship after the NCAA’s decision to cancel the remainder of all 2020 spring sports. Pitt women’s lacrosse, a new program, is still nearly two years away from stepping onto the field for its inaugural season.

Pitt, which announced towards the end of 2018 the addition of varsity women’s lacrosse, hired Boissonneault last summer to lead the program. A few months later, Boissonneault added professional lacrosse player Daniela Eppler as her first assistant coach. Their first recruiting class will arrive on campus for the 2020-21 academic year, with the program’s first competitive season scheduled for 2022.

This certainly isn’t Boissonneault’s first time building up a program. She dominated during her four-year college career at the University of Detroit Mercy, starting her career during Detroit’s inaugural season. She also began her collegiate coaching career as an assistant at Winthrop University in its first ever season of play. In 2018, she won a national championship as an assistant for James Madison University. These experiences appealed to many of her signees.

“Emily has tons of knowledge about the game and she also has a very impressive background,” Pitt commit Madigan Lublin said. “So I have a lot of confidence in her and I can’t wait for where it will go and how strong it will be.”

During her first year at the helm of the program, Boissonneault has spent most of her efforts recruiting. Although the team roster heading into its first season will likely have more than 30 players, the Panthers hope to have at least 14 players on campus for next year. This would allow them the opportunity to play 7v7 scrimmages at practice.

“Because I’m building the rest of that group off of transfers, it’s not as large of a pool,” Boissonneault said. “Anytime you recruit a transfer, you have to be careful as to what you’re getting. There’s a reason it didn’t work out. Is it an attitude thing? Is it a playing thing? Is it that it just wasn’t the right fit? All of those things kind of come into play.”

As Dustin Gray, Pitt’s senior associate athletic director for administration, explained, Pitt’s location is perfect for recruiting elite talent. According to Gray, 75% of first-team All Americans from the past three years came from Pennsylvania, Maryand or New York. Pitt’s six incoming recruits next year include one from Pennsylvania, one from Maryland and two from New York. 

“It’s tough because a lot of kids from Pennsylvania, unless you’re from Pittsburgh, haven’t been to Pittsburgh,” Boissonneault said. “Girls that I’m recruiting out in Philly, for example, or the eastern side of the state, haven’t been here, so it’s still an introduction to the city. Up until this year, most of the girls around the country weren’t even considering Pitt.”

McNierney, Patrick and Lublin are three of the nine players lined up for next year’s roster thus far. Six of those players committed from high school, and the three newest additions currently play for Pitt’s club lacrosse team. 

Throughout the 2019-20 school year, Boissonneault hosted practices with club lacrosse players as part of the recruitment stage. Kierin Ratliff-Kailbourne, a sophomore at Pitt, is one of the girls making the transition from the club to varsity team. As one of the oldest members on the team, she recognizes a role she’ll need to fill.

“[We’ll have] to be leaders not only on the field but off the field,” she said. “Showing them around Pittsburgh and getting people to really love the school and buy into everything. [Pittsburgh’s] lacrosse can grow because of our team being here.”

Ratliff-Kailbourne and the other two club players have helped Boissonneault in her recruiting efforts this year. When Pitt hosted recruiting camps, where players interested in Pitt could showcase their abilities, the three of them helped organize drills and keep things moving smoothly.
Shortly after the team signed its first six commits, Pitt athletics unveiled its Victory Heights initiative, which includes plans for a new lacrosse field. Although the lacrosse aspect of the plan doesn’t have a set timeline yet, the team sees it as a meaningful sign for the future.

“For one thing, it will be a great attractant for new recruits to see brand new facilities,” Ratliff-Kailbourne said. “And to see a growing athletic program, not only for lacrosse, but other sports too. I have only played in the Cost Center and the Dome, and those are both nice facilities, so to see some even better will be really cool.”

Boissonneault emphasized the importance of learning from Pitt’s other team coaching philosophies to adapt her own system, pointing especially to the quick rebuilds of the volleyball and basketball programs under Dan Fisher and Jeff Capel, respectively.

“Basketball is really similar to lacrosse, so I do go to a lot of the basketball games,” Boissonneault said. “I think coach Capel has done a similar thing, obviously not to the heights that Dan has gotten his team to right now, but I think for us, I like watching the basketball team because they have three really young players leading that team. No, it’s not perfect all the time, but that’s gonna be us in a couple years where we’re relying on the youngest athletes to help us build our leadership and build our culture.”

While Pitt’s incoming recruits anxiously await their arrival this fall, assuming the COVID-19 cancellations don’t disrupt it, a new batch of commits follow closely behind. The Panthers have already signed 13 players from the class of 2021.

“[Pitt’s recruiting] has been going really well,” class of 2021 commit Kiara Feibusch said. “Just starting it from scratch, the progress they’ve made already is incredible.”

Though the coronavirus has current spirits low, the players’ excitement to get back on the field and build a dynasty increases every day.

“I can’t wait to start a whole new legacy,” Patrick said. “I can’t wait to see what our team is going to do. We have a lot of talent, and obviously coach Emily is an amazing coach. I think that we definitely have the capability to come out strong our first season. I’m super excited.”

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