It has been a season of firsts for the Montreat women’s lacrosse team.
There was the team’s first game Feb. 19 against Lincoln Memorial University at Pulliam Stadium (the Cavaliers lost 19-2). Of the two goals Montreat scored, the first was by freshman Amber Hill, playing in her first college lacrosse game. The goal - the first ever for women’s lacrosse at Montreat - came in a game in which many of the players were playing organized lacrosse for the first time.
But much of that is to be expected when a school builds a new athletic program from scratch. Which is precisely what is happening now under Cavaliers head coach Katy Ferguson.
The school’s roots in the sport began to take hold in January 2014 when Montreat announced the hiring of lacrosse director and men’s head coach Will McMinn. The former coach of the lacrosse team at Concordia University in Irvine, California, McMinn was given the task of establishing a successful program at his new school, much like he did in his previous position.
Drawn to the job at Montreat by the school’s Christ-centered approach to education he felt the position at the school was his “calling.”
“I wanted to be at a school just like this,” he said. “The philosophy at my previous school was changing as they were pursuing going to NCAA Div-II. Montreat has an uncommon mission to impact the lives of young people in a very particular way.”
McMinn, who has 30 years experience in the sport as a player and coach, guided the men’s team to a 1-10 record in 2015, its inaugural season. When the time came to find a coach for the women’s program, he reached out to Ferguson, who had previously built the program at Oklahoma Baptist University.
Ferguson guided Oklahoma Baptist to the playoffs in her first two seasons at the school. McMinn felt that she was a “perfect fit” for the Cavaliers position. After accepting the job, Ferguson found herself in a familiar situation.
“Having the experience of starting a program where the sport was virtually nonexistent, in Oklahoma, I had the chance to come to the East Coast where lacrosse is more prevalent,” she said. “But here in Western North Carolina it’s still very new, especially the women’s game. But we’re very centrally located, and it’s a beautiful area. That helps a lot with the recruiting aspect.”
The relative lack of familiarity with the sport in the region has produced an interesting mix of players who have varying levels of understanding of the sport. The Cavaliers’ roster has only three experienced players. Some of the lacrosse players play other sports at Montreat and answered the call to try out for the team.
“Four of them started playing in January, and the rest started playing last fall,” Ferguson said.
What the Cavaliers lack in experience, they make up for in enthusiasm, their coach said.
“It’s been great to see how much the girls enjoy the game,” Ferguson said. “They also really want to be pushed because they want to learn the right way to play it. That’s really exciting for me as the coach.”
Her experience in Oklahoma provided Ferguson with a firsthand look at the challenges associated with coaching a program in its first season. As a result, she stresses to her players that a consistent desire to improve is the quickest way to build a strong program.
Ferguson emphasizes the importance of fundamentals, focusing on each player’s specific improvements as the team develops a stronger chemistry.
“It’s really about focusing on small victories, with the ground balls, and getting more shots on goal and less yellow cards,” she said. “It’s OK for us to not win a game yet. But for us to still be having fun at the end of each game, that’s the most important thing right now.”