Building a new program is one thing, but building that program in the middle of a pandemic is another. The creation of Missouri Western’s women’s lacrosse team was announced back in 2019, and head coach Rachel Benzing had essentially one semester to put together a team and have them on campus by the fall of 2020.
A full lacrosse roster consists of 30 women, but Benzing’s goal for year one was to sign at least 18. Before COVID-19 sent the world spiraling back in the spring, she already had 12 recruits.
“It’s a little crazy,” Benzing said. “To hit 12 before all hell broke loose was pretty lucky.”
After that, recruits had to make their decision without even visiting campus. Admissions updated their virtual campus tour, and Executive Producer of Video and Digital Media for Griffon Athletics Ryan Menley, put together a video showcasing all of the facilities that the lacrosse program would use.
Those two videos and occasional phone calls with Benzing were the closest that recruits could get to seeing campus before they decided if it could be their new home for the school year.
Benzing hit 15 recruits. Next,18. Then, the NCAA announced that they were giving back eligibility to spring-sport athletes who had just gotten their season taken away.
“When NCAA announced that everybody was going to get their year back for spring sports, that’s when the transfer portal really blew up,” Benzing said. “That’s when we got the opportunity to really bring in more transfers and blow our original goals out of the water.”
Brooke Freeman, a redshirt freshman, was recruited during those crazy circumstances. After being sent home from her previous school in the spring, Freeman decided she wanted a change and asked her coach to put her in the transfer portal. Benzing was the first coach that reached out to her and had sent her links to the campus videos. Freeman admits that it was difficult not being able to actually visit campus, but she was amazed by Missouri Western’s facilities.
“That was really nice,” Freeman said. “I was watching it with my mom, and I was like, ‘You’re kidding me, this team wants me?’ It was too good to be true, almost.”
Benzing’s roster hit 20, and on the Friday before classes started this fall, Benzing got her 24th recruit.
Freshman Mya Allison had been recruited before the pandemic hit and said that Benzing really caught her eye with how much she cared.
“She was just with me through the whole recruitment process,” Allison said. “She would call me and ask me how I was doing, give me updates on how things were going and would ask me about my life. No other coach did that for me.”
Currently, women’s lacrosse is still scheduled to play 13 games in the spring, with a decent chunk of them being here at home. Benzing is hopeful and really wants to play all 13 games. Her players, including Freeman and Allison, are also staying motivated and looking forward to finally playing lacrosse again.
“I really want a season,” Freeman said. “My season got cut short last year, and I was upset because I wanted to play.”
Allison’s currently recovering from an injury but is looking forward to making history with her team. She likes the idea of having little wins and showing the Midwest what the sport of lacrosse is all about.
Now, the lacrosse team is conditioning, lifting and working on stick work. Team bonding includes Tuesday Talks, where the team gets together –distanced, of course– once a week to talk about different topics.