February 27, 2014

Army Added to NCAA Division I Women's Fold

by Sean Burns | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Army begins the transition from club program to Division I in anticipation of the spring 2016 launch of the program. (Stan Rogacki)

As the old saying goes, hindsight is 20/20, but we probably should have seen it coming: Monday's announcement of the United States Military Academy adding women's lacrosse as its 26th NCAA Division I program and 10th women's team.

The Black Knights are a member of the lacrosse-friendly Patriot League with a men's team that has tasted NCAA tournament success and boasts an alum, Garrett Thul, in the final running to represent Team USA at this summer's Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championship. The school is hoping to bolster the enrollment of female cadets in the wake of a recent policy change that removes restrictions on women soldiers being in combat.

As a bonus, Eugene "Boo" Corrigan, Army's Director of Athletics since 2011, comes from as rich a lacrosse background as one could possibly hope for, with a National Lacrosse Hall of Fame member father (Gene), Notre Dame head coach brother (Kevin) and former Virginia and Team USA player as a wife (Kristen).

Corrigan also had plenty of exposure to the sport from an administrative side during stints working in the athletic departments of Notre Dame, Duke, and Navy, which didn't have a women's lacrosse varsity program during his tenure, but just crossed the 100-win threshhold on Wednesday night.

"I've got roots in the game and my wife played on the national team," Corrigan said. "If you at the discipline and the athleticism that lacrosse has, it's just a great example of the value that college athletics has."

The decision to add the sport — the first women's varsity sport that Army has added since the 1984 addition of women's soccer — came quickly in reaction to both Corrigan's arrival and the combat policy change. The whole process took less than 18 months from genesis to announcement, according to Corrigan.

Support was quickly gained with Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, Superintendent at West Point and Brig. Gen. Richard D. Clarke, Commandant. It was easy to show that the sport produces valuable leadership attributes.

"We're excited to be a part now of what women's lacrosse is at the Division I level," he said. "We're thrilled as an institution about all that the game brings to young women and the lessons that can be learned as a player. We think it's really something that's going to feed well into who we are at Army and what we produce, which is great second lieutenants going into the United States Army."

The Patriot League, where Army's athletics programs make their home and archrival Navy has won four straight titles, has stepped into a more prominent role in the lacrosse world with the rising of the Midshipmen and the addition of Loyola and Boston University starting this spring.

"We want to be as good as you can be as quickly as we can be," he said. "Our plan is to have a coach soon and allow them to go through an entire academic year here at West Point, because we're really a unique entity in Division I athletics and we want whatever coach we get to know how things are."

The rest of the lacrosse world, which participated in Army's announcement via several D-I coaches such as Duke's Kerstin Kimel and UNC's Jenny Levy (all of whom had some ties to Corrigan's wife, non-coincidentally) by speaking on a video that was posted along with the original announcement on Monday, seems to be welcoming the Black Knights with open arms. As pointed out on Twitter by the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association, Army's announcement makes 493 schools playing women's lacrosse.

"It's an exciting day for women's lacrosse to have another service academy add the sport," said Navy's Cindy Timchal. "We feel like Navy set the tone. [Athletic Director] Chet Gladchuk had the vision to add women's lacrosse, and Army coming on certainly bodes well for the growth of the sport.

"Our conference is going to be tremendous," she added. "You see it on the men's side with programs like Lehigh and Colgate and now Loyola and BU coming in. They're just over the moon at the league office. It's an exciting time to be involved with the Patriot League and women's lacrosse."

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