Club Women

March 23, 2012

Chapman Women's Lacrosse on the Move Again

by J. Jude Hazard | | WCLA Division I Notebook/Top 20 Breakdown

Chapman senior defender Gabriella David says she's leaning toward using her final year of eligibility to be a part of the Panthers' first NCAA Division III team in 2013.

© Dirk Dewachter

The Chapman women's lacrosse team's transition to NCAA Division III will mean both business as usual and big changes for an upstart program that won the US Lacrosse Women's Collegiate Lacrosse Associates (WCLA) Division II national championship last season.

The Panthers (7-2) are currently ranked No. 9 in this week's WCLA Division I poll. Chapman moved to Division I this year after an undefeated Division II campaign in 2011. Next year it will be an NCAA Division III varsity program, as the university makes the eagerly-awaited move to the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC).

"I’m excited to go Division III, but at the same time I’ve always respected club and I don’t think people give enough respect to club," Chapman coach Brian Eisenberg said. "At Chapman, we’ve been really fortunate to have a good club experience and I’m respectful of that."

Eisenberg said the biggest changes for the program will come in scheduling, recruiting, fundraising and the financial burden on players. They no longer will need to pay dues to play, but the team will still raise money to travel to tournaments and away games.

As a club team, Chapman has far greater flexibility in scheduling than it will once it joins the SCIAC, and the program will have to conform to NCAA rules regarding recruiting and other aspects of the sport both on and off the field.

"We don't have to pay to play anymore, which hopefully means that a lot more girls will be able to come to play," Chapman junior goalie Anjali Thota said. "Having that aspect outweighs all the other aspects."

University officials said despite the many changes associated with moving to Division III, day-to-day operations of the women's lacrosse program won't look much different a year from now than they do today.

"They're going to operate just like they have before," said Doug Aiken, director of sports information at Chapman. "One thing about our men's and women's lacrosse programs at Chapman, even though they are club, they have already been under the umbrella of the athletic department. We've always kind of treated them as if they were a varsity sport."

Senior defender Gabriella David echoed Aiken's sentiments. David has an additional year of eligibility after this season and is leaning toward coming back to school for a fifth year to join the Panthers on the field next year.

"We do take it very seriously," she said. "The commitment we have now is basically like work or another class for us. It just works. Our coach has structured it in such a way that we're adjusting now for next year."

Eisenberg has been the women's lacrosse coach since the program's inception four years ago. He said he'd be thrilled to continue as coach next year when the program moves to Division III. Although Aiken does not make personnel decisions at the university, he said he is not aware of any desire at this time to make a change in Eisenberg's position.

"Our administration has done a really good job of educating our coaching staff on what rules will be in place. Brian has done a good job himself communicating with some of the SCIAC coaches to align with what some of the expectations will be," Aiken said. "Our atmosphere of treating them as a varsity program up to this point will really make the transition fairly seamless."

Meanwhile, the Panthers have put together an impressive 2012 season, with their only losses coming to No. 6 UCLA and No. 1 Florida Club. Eisenberg is pleased with how well his players have learned from their mistakes this year.

Chapman had a one-goal lead late in the game against Florida on Feb. 18, but Eisenberg said they were too aggressive on offense, gave the ball up and eventually lost 11-10. The team came out the next day and was faced with an almost identical situation against UC Davis Club. That time, they held the ball and held on for the win, 15-14.

"There's winning and there's learning. You obviously don't want to learn something in a championship game that's going make you lose," Eisenberg said. "I wanted to play great competition right off the bat."

"It was awesome to see how we could change and fix the problems that we had with Florida right to the next game," Thota said. "It was a completely different game, almost a completely different team. It was really great to see that."

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