March 3, 2011

More Than Words: Mesa State Follows Simpson's Lead

by Mark Macyk |

Lauren Wells, who sustained injuries in a car accident doctors said would prevent her from playing again, is the starting goalie and captain for the new Mesa State women's lacrosse team.

Mesa State is the kind of place that should sell itself to recruits. From different points on campus of the Grand Junction, Colo., school, you can see Grand Mesa, the Colorado National Monument and the peaks of the Rocky Mountains. The Colorado River snakes its way around the city. And the school just put in $1.5 million locker rooms for the lacrosse team.

But amenities and a panoramic view only go so far when you're heading up a brand new Division II program in the west. A coach needs to get creative. Abby Simpson, whose Mavericks played the first three games in school history last week, did just that.

Simpson, who grew up on Long Island and played at Cortland, was offered the job at Mesa State last spring, but couldn't come to Colorado fulltime until January, when she finished her degree. Much of the team was already in place when she arrived. Simpson had been in and out of the school during the fall, meeting players and letting them know expectations.

But she didn't stand pat with the players who volunteered. The team is brand new, but contains three seniors, among them Meredith Dolny, who has emerged as one of Mesa's top defenders. Simpson picked her off the volleyball team.

"A ton of people told me to do that," Simpson said. "I'm so glad I did. Volleyball players, basketball players, those are the one's that are best at defense."

The Mavericks have grabbed another volleyball player to shore up the defense, and don't be surprised to find other multi-sport athletes in Simpson's first recruiting class, which already numbers seven, and should shore up the depth on a team that right now has just 17 eligible players.

The team has one goalie, Lauren Wells, but with her background, college lacrosse is nothing. As a junior at Chaparral High School, Wells was in a bad car accident and doctors said she'd never play again. She was on the field the next season. Now a college freshman, she's a team captain and has played every minute in the cage, making 21 saves in the season opener.

"She's a different kind," Simpson said. "An exceptional girl and a phenomenal athlete."

Mesa lost its first three games last week in St. Charles, Mo., alling to WCLA club power Lindenwood 18-3 on Thursday, Fontbonne 10-9 on Friday and Savannah College of Art and Design, 12-7 on Saturday.

Despite the rough first weekend, Simpson sees promise from her squad. So much promise that she sometimes has to ease off and lower her expectations, reminding herself this is the first time these players have played college lacrosse.

"I have a handful of girls who are great players," Simpson said. "They just worked their butts off. They wanted it so bad. This weekend was an eye-opener. I have to realize that I need to be more realistic. Its our first time playing as a team.'"

Still, Simpson believes her team can win the WILA, formed this season with Adams State, Regis and Fort Lewis. The league will hand out championships, individual awards and honor an "All-Western" team. Simpson also said she only sees it growing from here.

As far as the growth of Mesa State, Simpson said she hopes to bring the team back to her home state for a trip, in as soon as two seasons. Maybe even visit national power Adelphi, where her twin sister, Emily, played.

"If my team saw how East Coast teams played, their mouths would hang open," Simpson said. "By that time, maybe we could go out there and give those teams a run for their money. It would be tough, but I think it would be a good experience. A lot of girls here have never been to New York."

Simpson hopes some New Yorkers will follow her lead and head out west, something she never thought she'd do.

"I'm terrified of flying," she said. "I said there's no way I'm moving out here, but I stepped on campus and it's unbelievable. It's everything you can imagine and more. There's open space everywhere. You'll be driving and you'll se a mountain. It's gorgeous."

Then she stopped, as if it were a recruiting pitch.

"I'm not just saying that because I coach here."

If Simpson has here way, players won't just take her word for it. They'll come out and experience it themselves.

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