CONWAY — Coastal Carolina women’s lacrosse coach Jaime Sellers understands that many – if not most – folks along the Grand Strand might be a bit foggy as to the rules of her sport. She understands that it doesn’t yet have a foothold here in the state; especially not like in the northeast where lacrosse is a staple of many college and high school athletic programs.
But that just means there’s plenty of growth potential as the Chanticleers formally debut their newest varsity sport Friday, and she understands that well because she’s seen the process unfold before.
“When I was at Stanford, our camps over three years went from like 50 to like 150 [participants],” Sellers said. “... We really felt it was pretty easy to promote the game there because there was so many interested kids that wanted to play. The three years I was [in California] and the two years since I’ve left, more high school programs have been added and some of the programs there that were not as strong are now strong. So it’s pretty quickly that it happens.”
The south is the next frontier for lacrosse, Sellers said, and she’s not the only one of that opinion.
Leaders at Coastal Carolina, including then-newly hired athletic director Hunter Yurachek, determined there was enough interest in the sport to seek support from the Board of Trustees in 2010 to add women’s lacrosse as the school’s 18th varsity athletic program. The process continued with the hiring of Sellers in August 2011, the assembling of the program’s first ever recruiting class that November and now, Friday, the first official game as the Chants host Cincinnati inside Brooks Stadium.
“On an annual basis, we survey our students and assess if there are interests on campus that are not being met,” Yurachek said. “And as we surveyed our students in 2009-10 when I first arrived here, we determined that lacrosse on the women’s side was a need and an interest that was unmet.”
There were other considerations and factors, as well, of course. Adding another fully-funded women’s athletic program helps the university comply with Title IX guidelines that seek to maintain gender equity within collegiate athletics.
“Our student enrollment had changed where there had been a swing,” Yurachek said. “When we added women’s lacrosse, we were closer to a 60-percent female and 40-percent male [ratio], and your options for women on the athletic side need to be in some proportion. And when you have football and a roster of 105, that sometimes makes that challenging.”
It wasn’t just Coastal, though. The Big South Conference followed suit and announced that it would sponsor women’s lacrosse league wide due to growing participation in the sport by its members. Eight conference schools are competing in the sport this season.
“It became very clear,” Big South commissioner Kyle Kallander said. “We got to five or six [schools sponsoring it as a varsity sport], and when you get to six you can get an automatic bid to the NCAA championships so it was really a no-brainer for us because of the support it was receiving on our campuses.”
Sellers says she has sensed that support and some genuine excitement since arriving at Coastal. She’s had the last 18 months to get the program ready for its competitive debut.
Hired by Coastal after spending three seasons as an assistant coach at Stanford following her own standout playing career at William and Mary, she dived into recruiting upon arriving at campus and brought in about 60 high school prospects to a clinic that October from which 18 were chosen for the inaugural recruiting class. The Chants will open Friday with a roster of 25 players.
“I think the biggest challenge that we faced recruiting-wise is getting kids to campus,” she said. “Once we get them here, I don’t have a doubt in my mind that they’ll like campus, that they’ll like the area. But especially when the [traditional] dominant areas of lacrosse are further north, sometimes we miss out on kids because we’re too far.”
She’s hoping that establishing a positive foundation for the program this season will start to change that.
“We’re starting fresh so we truly have the opportunity to make it what we want it to be,” Sellers said.
As for what curious fans should expect ...
First of all, she said, women’s lacrosse is different from the men’s game that some sports viewers might have seen on ESPN from time to time. Less physicality, different rules, its own nuances, etc. She says she’s spent a good amount of time answering questions and educating people as best she can.
“They always say it’s the fastest game on two feet because you pass [the ball] in the air as you run,” Sellers said. “It’s pretty quick, and a lot of people try to compare it to other sports to understand it. ... So I would say broad-base conceptually, it’s pretty similar to basketball except for that it’s on a soccer field with twice as many people. But we run zone defense, motion offenses ...”
She tried to get the first game pushed to the evening to attract a larger crowed, but Cincinnati couldn’t accommodate that schedule, so the Chants will make their debut Friday afternoon. But over time, Sellers hopes that area sports fans give the Chants and women’s lacrosse in general a chance.
“The sport is growing really quickly, and I really think the South is going to take off next,” Sellers said. “The West has been the hot place that’s growing quickly, but Florida’s really growing quickly, Georgia’s really growing quickly, North Carolina’s really growing quickly so we’re kind of in that area where it’s just starting to get popular. So to be one of the only universities in the area that has it ... I think this is a really great spot to start something from scratch.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.