YSU lacrosse coach setting standard in 1st year

CANFIELD — People tend to remember the first of anything that they have ever done, and Theresa Walton, first-year coach of Youngstown State University’s newest sport, women’s lacrosse, won’t soon forget the foundation her players laid for future teams.

Speaking to the Curbstone Coaches during Monday’s meeting at Avion Banquet Center, Walton admitted that while it has been a challenge implementing her program, the team has met her challenge and grown over the course of the season, which has two games remaining in their charter season.

“We wanted to put together a strong group, one to come in and just establish a culture,” said Walton, whose Penguins defeated Kent State, 23-20 on Sunday. “We were looking for athletic minds and players that could play multiple positions.”

Walton’s first roster is dominated by newcomers, with 19 true freshmen, two redshirt frosh players and just one senior comprising her 22-member group.

“Being a young group and with the majority incoming freshmen, we wanted to see where they could help us on the field and then play to their strengths,” she said. “As the season progressed, we’ve really started to figure out where these players can enjoy success, not just this year but for years to come. It’s a large class, and they’ve definitely stepped up.

“Through the recruiting process, the perk was immediate playing time as a Division I student-athlete. With that privilege, however, comes responsibility when they step onto the field. We didn’t make this year easy on them and didn’t want to play that year-one card, trying to act like it was going to take a lot of time to develop.

“We wanted them to feel like they could play and do well right away. Our biggest message to this group was as long as we can run with teams for 60 minutes and we’re not quitting on anything, then we’ve accomplished our biggest goal, which was to walk away from this season knowing that we can play with the top teams in the Mid-American Conference. They will take that confidence into next fall.”

Walton said the MAC, which is in their first season of sponsoring women’s lacrosse, already has an automatic NCAA tournament bid.

“It’s a phenomenal conference to be a part of,” she said. “It just started this spring, it’s the first year of lacrosse in the conference and the first year of our program. The great part is with Robert Morris coming over from the NEC, it gave us the automatic qualifier, even for this spring.

“Robert Morris and Central Michigan will be battling for the top seed and NCAA bid, and next year across the board, the conference will be extremely competitive. Kent State will be in their fourth year as a program, Akron their third year and we’ll be in our second so as it continues to make progress.

“I know a lot of our teams are going to realize success, not just going to the NCAA’s and winning once they get there but also while playing out-of-conference games. Central Michigan and Robert Morris did a great job this year playing out-of-conference teams. As new as the conference is, it’s already a strong conference.”

Despite their 2-6 mark, Walton’s squad has been a competitive aggregation.

“The biggest thing we’re impressed with as a coaching staff is their mentality, their approach to each practice and not just games,” she said. “Every single day this group is excited to be on the field. It’s a different year for everyone in athletics, so you’re way more grateful just knowing how last spring went for these girls, to not have a senior year of scholastic experience so now you’re able to have that senior season.

“We talk to them to just treat this as their senior season. What statement do you want to leave knowing that you have all the game time in front of you so just go leave your mark on the field knowing that you got stronger this year?

“As we went through the season, that became more and more of the goal and just to be present and mindful that we’re lucky to even be out there every single day.”

Walton and assistant Kendyl Clarkson have already inked 11 players for next season.

“We have a strong class coming in this fall, with players from upstate New York, several Canadian players and a couple from Maryland, Virginia and Ohio so we’re excited that our reach is still strong,” she said. “We’re just excited that the freshmen coming in will immediately raise our talent level. It’s a group that will compete for playing time while the overall competitiveness in practice will filter over to games. We’re expecting to make great strides just from this spring to the fall and will have more of a healthy roster size.

“Right now, we haven’t seen a single game where we’ve had our true starting line-up, whether it was COVID or injuries. It will be nice to see a fresh group next year where we can play around with different looks on the field.

“Right now, we’ve been dealing with 15, maybe 16 players on the field, which is right on the threshold of cancelling games.”

Next Monday, YSU head football coach Doug Phillips will serve as guest speaker.


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