February 10, 2009

North Central Prepares for Inaugural Season

from press release

Eleven years after her first experience as the member of an inaugural lacrosse campaign, North Central College head coach Jenni Kapanen is going through the same process once again, as she prepares to guide the Cardinals into their initial season of varsity competition.

In the spring of 1998, Kapanen stepped onto the field as a starter for the first-ever women's lacrosse program at Franklin Pierce University (N.H.) After more than two years of planning, organizing, and recruiting, she begins the hands-on process of preparing for a competitive lacrosse schedule as a head coach for the first time this week with the start of practice.

"Occasionally, I'm sure I'll have flashbacks to my first practices as a player," she noted. "I certainly have a greater appreciation for my coach than I probably did as a player, now that I know how much goes on behind the scenes. I've seen a lot of the additional challenges that come with being a first-year team, and I hope that experience turns out to be something that helps us."

Kapanen's experiences at Franklin Pierce take on great significance as a point of reference, considering that as the first varsity NCAA Division III lacrosse program ever in the state of Illinois, North Central's team does not come with a set of instructions.

"The hardest part of this process has been all of the unknowns," she pointed out. "There's never been a lacrosse team in this area at this level before, so there really isn't a model to compare to. We started out with a lot of ideas on the table, and have sorted them out along the way. There's no way to know what the best procedures are, so we've been making them up as we go.

"I've gotten a lot of advice from people associated with the sport, as well as some other people who are involved in coaching, but we have to find out what works for us. What worked well somewhere else might not be the best thing for us."

Kapanen can also lean on her experiences as the Cardinals' women's soccer coach. Since inheriting a team that was outscored by an aggregate total of 52-9 the season before she took over the squad in 2004, she has compiled the highest career win total of any coach in the program's history, and her 2008 team established a school single-season record for fewest goals allowed.

"I can go back and see what I did with the soccer program, and try to apply some of those principles, but I also have to figure out what works best for this team specifically," she said. "They're two separate programs, and they can't be run the same way. It really forces me to focus more. It's a challenge, but it's a healthy challenge."

Making this mountain of a task a more manageable molehill is graduate assistant coach Lillian Yanni, who has been able to focus solely on the lacrosse program's preparations while Kapanen spent the first part of the academic year navigating the soccer team through its season.

"Lillian has been a huge asset," Kapanen stated. "Her energy and knowledge of the sport are phenomenal. She's still very close to the game, having recently finished her collegiate playing career (at NCAA Division II Regis University in Colorado). She is still new to coaching, so I think my experience from that end will benefit her. I think we make a good team."

Foremost among Kapanen's goals for the program as practice begins are bringing the members of her new team, many of which are new to the sport, up to speed on the basic concepts and determining roles that best fit each player's abilities.

"We'll talk about what we want to accomplish, but we probably won't have any more specific goals until we know what we have," she indicated. "We'll start with the basics, and get into more detailed things as the season goes on.

"Primarily, I'm just very excited to get started. I think it's a great opportunity for these players, because they have the chance to put their own stamp on this team. Every player has a chance to do that within their own team and their own sport, but this group has the opportunity to set the tone for an entire program from the beginning."

The Cardinals will play their inaugural varsity match against Adrian College (Mich.) on Saturday, Mar. 14, at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium.

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