It doesn't have to take years to build a winning women's lacrosse program at the University of Colorado.
The program could be instantly competitive when it begins competition two years from now in the spring of 2014 if the school hires the right coaches, supports them with the right budget and infrastructure and if those coaches recruit well.
No one understands this better than Lindsey Munday, the head coach of the new program at the University of Southern California.
Munday and a handful of players, including seven on scholarship, are grinding out practices, weight room sessions and all the work associated with intercollegiate athletics this spring without the reward of game days. The new program doesn't begin competition until the 2012-13 school year when she will welcome 15 new freshmen.
This is the second program Munday has had a hand in building from the ground up. She was involved as a player when she signed with Northwestern in 2002 as a member of that program's second recruiting class. She began her career in 2003 and went on to become one of the most decorated and respected athletes in the game. She helped Northwestern earn a pair of NCAA championships in her junior and senior seasons.
Munday said every school has its challenges in starting a program. She said USC has made it easy on her, allowing her to focus mostly on recruiting and developing players and not the nuts and bolts of the process.
"It's really, really exciting and rewarding," Munday said of building a women's lacrosse program from scratch. "It's just fun to be able to create traditions and make decisions that are going to be here forever and to lay the groundwork for what we think is going to be an incredibly successful program for years to come. I think as a coach, it's just as exciting as it is for these players that are here this year to be a part of it from the beginning and seeing the little improvements we're making on the field."
The hardest road
Colorado officials announced in February they plan to add a women's lacrosse program as the 17th sports team in the athletic department. Doing so helps to better balance the department under Title IX laws which require equality between men's and women's teams in terms of the athletic opportunities and resources a school provides.
It is the first time CU has added a program to the department since the addition of women's soccer in 1996. The last four sports to be added at the school all have been women's teams.
There will be a similar group of women at CU a year from now going through the same thankless spring that Munday and her players are experiencing now. How many players and who they are as well as who they are being coached by and where they will practice, scrimmage and eventually play their games remains to be seen.
"They have the hardest road in my opinion, being here on campus and not playing," Munday said. "They're the only ones who can say they were in it from the absolute beginning, from the inception. I think it's hard for them, but at the same time I think it's a great opportunity for us to work with them and to have a whole year with them to practice without any consequences of games."
CU athletic director Mike Bohn and associated athletic directors Ceal Barry and Julie Manning already have recruited the first two players in the program's history -- midfielder Tori Link from Cherry Creek High School and midfielder Ella Stapp from Mullen. Both are juniors and still will be in high school a year from now.
CU officials also are hunting for the first head coach for the program. They hope to announce a hire by mid-April at the spring football game. Sam Bartron, founder and coach for the Team 180 club lacrosse programs in Denver said she briefly considered pursuing the job but decided she likes her current position too much.
"I think they need someone who has got something to prove and who has got the credentials to do so because that is going to attract the kind of athletes they need to make the program a success," Bartron said.
That person will bear much of the responsibility of building from this point on. A likely starting point would be adding some recruits or transfers in the late signing period in May.
"I think in some ways it might be easier to start from scratch because you can invent the culture of the team and the program as you go," University of Denver coach Liza Kelly said. "I think it's just going to take time to get players there and that's it. You're starting off with one class, and that is going to be the biggest challenge, just numbers."
East Coast bias
While Colorado's first two recruits come from local programs, it's likely that a sizable chunk of its roster will be made up of recruits from the East Coast, the hotbed of talent in lacrosse. Kelly and Munday both recruit the East Coast heavily, asking prospects to come west for school. Just like most college football coaches around the nation make sure to establish contacts in Texas.
Kelly has 26 players on her roster this spring at DU and 17 of them came from East Coast High Schools. The women's lacrosse program will likely be the one CU team regularly making trips to play on the East Coast each year in support of that recruiting effort.
"That's what all of the teams out west really do," Kelly said. "I think we've got some great talent in Colorado, California, Texas, Utah. A lot of the western states are really getting a lot better, but the bulk of the teams are on the East Coast. So that is definitely where you need to travel to play a solid schedule. ... It's definitely recruiting oriented. There also is great competition back there."
The new Colorado program along with USC, Oregon, Cal and Stanford will have something to sell in recruiting that many other women's lacrosse programs around the nation can't match -- television appearances.
With the Pac-12 Network and its six regional networks launching in August, there will be plenty of air time to fill. The five Pac-12 women's programs, competing in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, will likely have games televised, though no one is sure how often or how many. Munday said she has been told her team will have opportunities to play on the network.
"It would only make sense to feature a lacrosse game from time to time," Bohn said.
Base in place
While lacrosse in the west has a way to go to catch up to the east, the first coaching staff for the CU program will have a lot to work with from the first day on the job.
Colorado already has a lacrosse culture and small fan base to build upon from its successful club teams on campus.
Audra Horton has played club lacrosse at CU for four years after graduating from Thacher School in Ojai, Calif. She is one of three captains on this year's team. Horton said some of her teammates see the addition of varsity lacrosse at CU as a chance to possibly move up to that level. Others see it as an enhancement to the love for the sport that already exists for some at the school.
"There were some initial mixed feelings about adding an intercollegiate team, and the potential effects it would have on the women's club team," Horton said. "However, the vast majority of girls think that it will draw more lacrosse players to CU, for both club and intercollegiate levels. Therefore, there is more excitement in the air than any other sentiment."
The surrounding area has demonstrated a passion for the sport that also should help the fledgling CU program. Local lacrosse fans helped the Colorado Outlaws lead Major League Lacrosse in attendance for the sixth straight year in 2011 and the Colorado Mammoth were second only to Buffalo in the NLL.
If there was any doubt that a collegiate program in the state could be successful at the highest level, it was erased last year when coach Bill Tierney led the DU men's lacrosse team to the Final Four where the Pioneers lost to Virginia.
"I think a lot of girls are excited about the opportunity to join a new team, create traditions and start something from scratch," Munday said. "They know it will be a lot of hard work and it will certainly be different than other programs that are established already, but I think we're finding girls who are really excited about that opportunity."
Bohn already is trying to tap into that local fan base not only to build a base of support for the CU team but also to find donors to help support it. He also has started a conversation with Nike about equipment and uniform designs for the program, topics the new coach will takeover when hired.
Munday said she has enjoyed those parts of building a new program, too. She regularly receives boxes of equipment and uniform design proposals.
"It's like Christmas all the time," she said.