From 1994 to 2008, the Yale women’s lacrosse team enjoyed a run of success unmatched by any other period in the program’s history. During that stretch, the Bulldogs were perennial contenders for the Ivy League championship, qualified for the NCAA tournament twice and never won fewer than nine games.
But the last decade has not been as kind to the Elis. In the last eight seasons, Yale is just 48–73, having finished in the bottom of the Ancient Eight every year since 2009. However, head coach Erica LaGrow, now in her second season, is hoping to turn the program around in the hopes that the Bulldogs will have a chance at postseason play for the first time since 2003.
“To put it simply, she knows exactly what she’s doing — she has such an intelligence of and passion for this game, as well as a refreshingly competitive drive, one that has undoubtedly rubbed off onto this team,” goaltender Sydney Marks ’18 said. “The team has not only grown in strength and skill but everyone is also driven and disciplined to a degree I hadn’t seen before this year. That’s not to say we haven’t worked hard in the past, but it just feels different, and it feels different in the best kind of way because of Erica and the culture she’s promoted.”
Before taking over at Yale, LaGrow started for all four seasons as a midfielder during her collegiate career at North Carolina. Around the same time, she trained and played with the U.S. women’s national lacrosse team and won a gold medal at the 2009 Women’s Lacrosse World Cup in Prague.
The Skaneateles, New York, native began her coaching career as an assistant at Florida in 2010 under Amanda O’Leary, who was the also head coach at Yale from 1994 to 2007. LaGrow pioneered a Gators’ women’s lacrosse program that never played a Division I game prior to her arrival but became a nationally ranked contender that won numerous conference championships and made five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. As Florida’s offensive coordinator, she played an integral role in developing four Tewaaraton Award finalists as well as several first-team All-Americans.
In July 2015, LaGrow was announced as the ninth head coach in the 40-year history of Yale women’s lacrosse. Her arrival came on the heels of the departure of former head coach Anne Phillips, whose tenure over seven years generated lackluster results and failed to result in strong performances toward the end of the season.
“Coach LaGrow is a very encouraging coach who does an amazing job of motivating each player on the team to put forth their best effort every game and practice,” midfielder Hannah Logan ’20 said. “Erica being named the head coach of the lacrosse program here was a great addition to all that Yale has to offer, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to play for her.”
In LaGrow’s first year as coach, the team’s play dropped somewhat, slipping from a 7–8 to a 5–10 record with assists, goals per game and shots per game decreasing, though not dramatically. However, as a new coach bringing her own philosophy and style to the team, LaGrow’s first-season statistics are not necessarily indicative of her impact on the players and system.
Through its first four games, Yale has already seen significant improvements, with a massive increase in goals and shots. Compared to last season, the Bulldogs have already scored 66 goals, more than half of the season total from last year, with their goals per game up from 7.87 to 16.5. Yale’s shots per game have increased by 10.6 points, while its shot percentage is up to 52.8 from 37.9, though the Bulldogs have yet to face some of their toughest competition.
Yale also boasts the seventh-best defense in the country, so far allowing only 6.67 goals per game, while Marks is 13th out of 150 goalies ranked in the NCAA, allowing an average of just 7.6 goals per game thus far. According to Marks, who has been the starter for the team throughout LaGrow’s tenure, the head coach has been multitasking as a goalie coach, something the two netminders feel has made a significant difference.
“Coach LaGrow’s dedication and love for the game alone inspire us to come together as a team to best represent the Yale Bulldogs,” midfielder Vanessa Yu ’20 said. “Her sense of urgency and intensity motivate us to strive for success on the field and reap the benefits of hard work. What separates LaGrow from all the other coaches that I’ve had in the past is her grit. Her unconditional confidence in us as a team gives us the strength and passion to fight and battle against our toughest opponents.”
With a win last night over Marist, the Elis are on a three-game win streak, matching their longest unbeaten stretch from last season. But their success thus far has to be considered in context, since Yale beat two of the four teams it has faced — Quinnipiac and Marist — last season as well, and the three wins have come against relatively mediocre squads.
However, Yale’s play this season compares favorably to its performance against the same teams. In the games against the Bobcats and Red Foxes, Yale won by a larger margin than last season, while its loss against Albany was much less lopsided than its defeat last season.
“I am truly honored to be the head coach of our women’s lacrosse program,” LaGrow said. “I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work with remarkable young women every day. It is the relationships we build that mean the most to me.”
LaGrow and the Yale squad will face Harvard on Saturday at 1 p.m.