March 11, 2009

Searching for a Will and a Way

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Will Oakley started his coaching career at the WDIA level, which should pay dividends as he attempts to build the University of Dallas without the resources of many other NCAA Division III programs.

Looking at the box score from his last game - a 33-3 setback to a second-year program - Will Oakley was looking for positives. It's not an easy task when you're on the business end of a 30-spot, but that's what his team needs right now. And, frankly, it's why he was hired.

Oakley is the embodiment of the "light at the end of the tunnel" for the University of Dallas women's lacrosse team.

When it was established, Dallas was a beacon of women's lacrosse. The first varsity program of either gender in Texas when it was founded in 2004, the Lady Crusaders were thought to be harbingers of a coming varsity lacrosse boom in the Lone Star state.

From that point onward, the program sat like a once-shiny car left out in the withering Texas heat for five years.

With minimal resources and inconsistent stewardship, the program dulled to the point of being barely viable. There were four coaches in those five years and an ever-dwindling number of players coming out for the team. The effect was predictable: Dallas amassed a 10-49 record during the stretch.

"When we started this program, we did it with some people who didn't have much experience or much interest, quite frankly," said Richard Strockbine, Dallas' athletic director, about his coaching hires. "We wanted to do this, but we had to take people who were willing to take the job, but maybe it wasn't the highest thing on their priority list."

What Dallas needed was someone who was looking to make a name for himself in the coaching ranks, but also had a track record of success without a whole lot of help.

They needed Will Oakley.

Unlike most coaches with an NCAA background, Oakley wasn't afraid of the daunting task awaiting him and the relative lack of resources that could make his life easier. Having cut both his playing and coaching teeth in the club ranks, Oakley was used to making the most of what little he had.

A native of Wilmington, N.C., Oakley attended Georgia Tech, twice earning Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) All-American honors before taking over the reins of his alma mater's Women's Division Intercollegiate Associates (WDIA) - or club - team the following year. He guided the Yellow Jackets to an 8-3 record and was named the Southeastern Women's Lacrosse League Coach of the Year, parlaying that gig into a stint with the University of California at Irvine, another WDIA program.

"Dallas just seemed like the next step up from the WDIA," said Oakley. "Being the first [varsity program] in the state, and the only one for the past six years, shows that they are ahead of the curve and they are definitely willing to take a chance in pushing a new sport in an unknown area."

Due to the Dallas program's atrophy and small recruiting classes, Oakley has been forced to comb the student body for players to fill the field. It's not the optimum scenario, but certainly one he is used to.

"I've had that background for the past four or five years of teaching girls who are new to the game," said Oakley. "So instead of taking over a program with 50 girls who have 10 years of lacrosse experience, it was still inside my comfort zone, but pushing it a little bit because we're playing better and better competition. The WDIA is great lacrosse, but once you get outside of the Top 25, you start getting out of that range."

Because he was hired late in the game, the next recruiting class may not be as fruitful as he had hoped, but Oakley is working hard to make UD a destination for local players. He was recently elected to the board of the North Texas chapter of US Lacrosse, showing both the community and his institution that he is serious about developing the Lady Crusaders into a squad worthy of its varsity status.

"He is really involved in the game," said Strockbine. "We needed somebody like that."

As the 33-3 loss to Adrian (Mich.) demonstrated, there is plenty to do, and Oakley is starting small.

"I want to build a good corps of players so that we can do seven-on-seven practices," said Oakley. "I'd love to have more wins than last year and I think we went 2-12 last year, so three wins would be terrific. Again, it's more of a long term thing."

The light at the end of the tunnel is just a pinprick right now, but considering the abyss that Dallas was faced with just six months ago, Will Oakley has already made a difference.


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