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BCI Debates: What fueled BC women’s lacrosse’s rise? Can other BC sports do the same?

2022 NCAA Division I Women’s Lacrosse Semifinals Photo by Greg Fiume/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Laura: Now that we’re maybe a less sad about women’s lacrosse losing (jk, still sad), it seems like a good time to chat about what has allowed that team to rise to the top the way they have!

Arthur: I think it’s two things. First, success begets success. Recruits like to go to schools with successful programs, and BC has been a successful program long enough that recruits would have noticed it during recruitment.

It’s the classic problem with bottom tier basketball/football programs: recruits want to go where they can succeed and bad teams are frequently not a good place. The lacrosse team is good, so recruits are going to want to come here.

The other thing is Acacia Walker-Weinstein. I don’t think enough can be said for how well these BC teams have been coached, and it’s not a coincidence that BC has developed players that have been amongst the nation’s best consistently for the past five or six years. Anyone can recruit well, but recruits go belly up all the time, and we just haven’t seen that from BC.

It’s not just talent, the game-plan is incredibly smart. If I wasn’t moving this weekend, I could have written a whole article about how smart a play Charlotte North made to get the tying goal against Maryland. North is obviously at the top of her game and one of the best in the country, but it’s that added element of smart gameplay that puts BC ahead, and give all the credit to the coach for that. Well, also to Charlotte North.

Joe: I think the rise of BC WLAX is a nice reflection of the combination of luck and skill necessary to really climb the ladder as a program.

You’ve got to give BC a lot of credit of course for hiring Acacia Walker-Weinstein, and the job she has done - not only as a head coach but also surrounding herself with top-tier assistants - has been phenomenal. The dream scenario is to find the next big thing when they are just starting out their coaching career, and BC did exactly that in this case.

Where the luck element comes in - and this is in no way denigrating all the work that went in - is the series of fortunate breaks that help build things up: Walker-Weinstein was an associate head coach at UMass after her stellar career at Maryland, which probably made her and BC a more natural fit than it would have been if she was in a different region. Among the parade of great players to come through included Kenzie Kent, a local, where being able to play hockey was also huge in her decision to come play at BC.

And then of course where the skill comes in is that Walker-Weinstein identified and coached up a number of other great players who maybe didn’t come in with the hype of someone like a Charlotte North but still ended up being outstanding players. It takes a little bit of both, naturally. Like how BC was fortunate in 1994 that the greatest coach in men’s hockey happened to be a BC alum whose dream job was BC, and that led to BC becoming even more of a men’s hockey power.

Laura: Walker-Weinstein and her staff really do a fantastic job of getting those top recruits but also finding diamonds in the rough and coaching them into their best versions of themselves. I think that can be tough to balance, but she does it well.

And it’s so clear that the team really buys into her as a coach. (I mean why wouldn’t you, but still.)

Arthur: That’s a really good point. No one really talks about the Cara Urbanks or the Dempsey Arsenaults of the team, and those players are invaluable to its success.

Laura: Hey, we talk about them!

Joe: As for whether it’s replicable across the other sports, I think the answer is, boringly, “sort of” and “it depends?”

Much like in hockey, BC lacrosse benefits from having a reasonably fertile recruiting territory in its backyard with pretty good talent from MA, and then also being a well-known commodity as an institution in other lacrosse hotbeds like Long Island and the mid-Atlantic. It’s a little different when BC is recruiting in sports where the top talent comes from mostly, like, California, Texas, and Florida, which is true of most outdoor sports, and where BC is simply less of a ‘brand name’.

Bailin: Of course the epicenter of fencing in America is Atlanta, Georgia. /s

Laura: It seems like field hockey might be closest to getting there? They’ve had some really successful seasons recently. We have sports like volleyball where the improvement has been so clear under Coach Kennedy, but I don’t think anyone believes we’ll be able to compete with the powerhouses in volleyball because of our location and facilities.

Joe: Lacrosse just demographically/geographically probably has a higher ceiling than the other outdoor ‘Olympic’ sports... field hockey would be up there for sure. We’ve seen men’s and women’s soccer have some success - the ceiling for them is probably more like where they were at a decade or so ago, with regularly making the tournament and the occasional deep run, rather than what lacrosse is doing - being a consistent every year top power.

Arthur: Volleyball is also an incredibly high bar to meet to be a powerhouse. Those Big 10 schools aren’t messing around.

Curtis: I know there are a lot of complicated logistics, funding, and Title IX things to navigate when adding a new program, but I think the obvious program to replicate this success with is men’s lacrosse. It has all of the location and other advantages you’ve just outlined.

Arthur: Oh, now you’re going to start a comment section war.

Curtis: It’s just the men’s version of this path to success. Yes, I know that’s the most annoying thing possible to bring up, but I think it’s worth discussing!

Joe: It’s worth discussing, but it’s probably its own discussion, honestly — it’s a well-trod topic that we’ve been over time and time again. But maybe next week we can lay out the different pathways BC can consider on that front. It’s been a while since we’ve played that particular hit.

Arthur: Not for nothing, I’m not sure that’s true! BC could be good at men's lax. They could also be bad because it’s been a club team for so long and has no D1 recruiting infrastructure.

Laura: Idk next week we’ll probably be talking about a new AD

Joe: Ha! Well we’ll discuss it at some point, I’m sure. It’s one of the things the new AD will have to think about!

Joe: I think a good way of really crystallizing the challenge BC faces in these sports — which makes what women’s lax is doing even more impressive — is to take a look at this past weekend for UNC.

They must have had about 4,000 UNC fans in attendance watching them win a national title in women’s lax - seriously, there was blue everywhere. Meanwhile at the same time they had thousands of fans in attendance watching UNC baseball in the ACC baseball tournament. It’s just a huge program with a huge fanbase with a culture of success and top-tier facilities across all sports.

One thing that’s going to help BC WLAX have staying power, rather than being a flash in the pan I think, aside from having great coaching, is the fan support. I mean, people TURNED OUT for these games. But it’s not just that — the online engagement, TV etc. around lacrosse has blown away my expectations as someone who was totally new to the sport when BC emerged as a contender in it. I knew it was growing, but I didn’t know it had this rabid of a fanbase.

Laura: For sure. It’s been amazing to see how much BC fans have adopted women’s lacrosse, but we could be doing so much more to turn out for them.

Arthur: People love a winner. Also doesn’t hurt that it’s just when the weather is finally nice enough to go outside. I assume, I don’t actually know what it’s like for that. #southproblems

Joe: I can tell you that for BCI’s engagement in terms of social media shares/likes, and page views at BCI, etc., - lacrosse blows away pretty much anything other than football season, and when MBB is doing something major (beating Duke or UNC, firing a coach, getting a bad set of Chipotle orders, etc.). It’s a huge draw and gets a ton of eyeballs. I tell people this sometimes and they think I’m making it up, as though I really care either way, or have any reason to make it up. I am not a ‘lacrosse guy,’ I’m not here to do blind boosterism for the sport - I’m just saying it like it is from my perspective of having written about a whole bunch of different sports.

And then in person at the stadium, we see the way the fans come out, no doubt bolstered by the fact that lacrosse is a booming sport for youth participation in Massachusetts.

And yes, exactly, the weather helps. Like if BC soccer is playing huge games at home, it’s as the weather is getting progressively crappier. BC women’s lax’s big games and big crowds have been a welcome sign of spring/summer in recent years.

It’s clear that lacrosse is a pretty unique draw for viewers, and is tapping in to something in the fan base and the region. It probably helps that the NCAA game is the highest regularly watched, competitive level for women’s lacrosse, so that puts a lot of eyeballs on it for anyone who’s interested in the sport locally. (No offense intended to the world championships, the pro tours, etc., but those obviously don’t have the same level of attention, engagement, or prestige as the NCAAs at this point).

Laura: Sometimes I think about the fact that Charlotte North, arguably the greatest athlete to play at BC, will never make an ungodly amount of money playing her sport professionally, and I feel sad! I hope she gets all the sponsorship money she can!

Joe: I think you probably understate her earning potential! TBH. Plenty of camps, advertising opportunities etc. to come for her.

Arthur: I for one would 100% buy her jersey if I wasn’t saving money for my wedding.

Joe: But yeah I think the fan support, the demographics / geography of lacrosse, and weather being less of a barrier to success are the reasons why BC lax will stick around as a power, especially so long as we keep our great coach. Whereas great runs in some of the other outdoor sports are certainly possible, but maybe less sustainable?

Laura: We’re definitely also lucky that we already have all these great alums going into coaching.

Joe: I am not sure any other currently existing program at BC has the same unique combination of characteristics, though all of them would certainly benefit from hiring a world class coach!

Laura: Wow hot take!

Joe: Right? They should pay me for these hot takes.

But to bring it back to the ‘luck’ thing (and obviously talent identification is not all luck)- Walker-Weinstein wasn’t an established top head coach when she started at BC. She had the profile of someone who could be, but was still early in her career. That’s how BC is going to find its next great coaches, in any sport. Sometimes those coaching prospects work out really well - sometimes they don’t!

Arthur: I think there’s a few programs that can have flash in the pan success that parlays to reliably decent seasons. Nothing like what lax has. Women’s hockey could but they’ve got some stuff to figure out.

Joe: Well, hockey I think is a whole separate animal for a lot of reasons.

Arthur: Sure.

Laura: Yea, we are still a top program in both hockey worlds even if we haven’t had the success we’d want lately.

Joe: For sure. No shortage of great recruits wanting to come to BC. And that’ll be the case in lax now, too. It’s hard to see us becoming an absolute repeat destination for top players year after year in some of the other sports.....but then, few would have thought it was possible for lax 10 years ago, so never say never!

My other hot take in addition to ‘it would be awesome to hire a great coach in every sport’ is ‘it would also be awesome if some absolute top-level talent came out of New England, improving our chances of recruiting them.’ Like Kristie Mewis and Charlie Davies in the BC soccer heyday. Get cracking, families of New England!

Arthur: Someone put a football in someone’s hands or something!