Apr. 24, 2014

Lacrosse: A refreshing look

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February 18, 2014

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As William and Mary heads towards conference play among its winter sports, the spring sport athletes prepare for the new season.

Fresh off a first-ever National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament run, the College’s baseball program looks to carry its momentum forward with first-year head coach Brian Murphy (click here for the video). The lacrosse program welcomes first-year head coach Hillary Fratzke and looks to improve on a 2013 campaign that saw five wins. Under director Stephen Walsh, the track and field program will look to defend its CAA titles.

A broken 2013 season and the resignation of head coach Brooke Ireland seemingly left new-hire Hillary Fratzke with a lot of pre-season rebuilding. Conventional wisdom suggested Fratzke would have to discern how a roster full of talent and experience had managed just five wins a season ago.

Fratzke, though, isn’t a conventional coach. A former two-time CAA Player of the Year while at Towson and most recently a Northwestern assistant coach, Fratzke chose to ignore the entirety of last season’s film. No review would take place.

“Right before we started preseason, I decided I wasn’t going to look at last year; I wasn’t going to look at what they did last year and what they didn’t do because, from an individual standpoint, I wanted to see what they could do all over the field,” Fratzke said.

Fratzke’s mentality brought with it changes to the structure and standards William and Mary had grown accustomed to under Ireland. Practice times shortened and Fratzke reorganized drills to include more repetitions for the entire roster as the focus shifted to game situations.

“The old way has clearly not worked for us in the past, and it’s nice to have a coaching staff come in with a fresh start and breathe some life back into the program. We had an incredible fall season, and that really shows the fact that they’re not reflecting on the past,” senior defender Hannah Clarke said. “It’s going to be successful for us down the line. We’re already seeing success. It’s almost a night and day difference between last year’s team and this year’s team.”

Aside from changes in day-to-day activities, Fratzke also introduced an emphasis on the mental component of collegiate athletics. The program, Fratzke stressed, wouldn’t focus solely on the lacrosse field. Academic success, community service and a “One Tribe” mentality took precedence.

“I think the overall culture of the team was pretty good coming in: a very unified group of girls, very supportive of one another, hungry, good attitudes. All fall we focused on being positive, not only with ourselves, but also with one another,” Fratzke said. “I guess if you’re going to say struggle, that would have been it — just trying to get them to stop beating themselves up so much and knowing that if you’re putting your best effort out there, then you’re improving every day. And that’s the most important thing.”

Off-field changes paralleled a new philosophy on the field. Coming in with no preconceptions of the College’s roster, Fratzke quickly upset the status quo by throwing players into unfamiliar positions. Defenders worked through offensive drills and midfielders ran in the defensive third as conventional positional boundaries slowly disappeared.

“Hillary’s mindset is basically that anybody is capable of playing anything at any time. That gives us the confidence that no matter where someone is, they can do everything on the field,” junior attacker Ellen Shaffrey said. “We know they can do everything on the field because we’ve practiced it.”

The College adopted a fluid style of play, forcing the players to expand beyond their comfort zones. Fratzke sees the change as instrumental to this season’s success. Should it maintain confidence and pressure across the field, the Tribe will challenge almost any opponent.

“It’s giving everyone a fresh start, so no matter where you were last year it doesn’t matter. You put your best foot forward and play as hard as you can, and the coaches didn’t have any opinions about anybody, didn’t have any thoughts,” Shaffrey said. “It made it a lot easier, I think, for the team to be unified this year and just come out together and play.”

A sense of community was a selling point when Fratzke interviewed for the head coach post late last summer and was a key construct in her message to the team. Fratzke wanted the Tribe to focus on playing for the team rather than individual or positional success.

“I think one of our biggest weaknesses in the past was that there have been some competitive attitudes on the team and not necessarily that ‘One Tribe’ mentality,” Clarke said. “This year, without a doubt, everyone is doing everything for the team, and that’s what is going to really bring us success down the line.”

Much like past seasons, the College opens with arguably one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation. This season features three national top-10 programs in the first five games. For Shaffrey, the schedule offers a chance to vet weaknesses and build toward conference play.

“Our mentality is always simple: effort and focus,” Shaffrey said. “Just taking what we’ve learned previously and applying it to every situation … that’s what this team worked on in the fall — working on the little things while keeping the big picture in mind.”

Despite the challenges of rebounding from a five-win season, the College is confident. Playing against Fratzke in practice helps, but the emphasis remains on entering each game with the proper mentality.

“The difference between the good and the great players is literally the six inches between your ears. If we can work to really build that — that will be the difference between success and no success,” Fratzke said. “I have no doubt that these girls are talented and they’re all athletes and they all work hard. It’s really going to be the mental aspect that’s going to take us to the next level.”

 

Interviews with Head Coach Hillary Fratske, senior defender Hannah Clarke and junior attacker Ellen Shaffrey below.

Head coach Hillary Fratzke

On the biggest struggle as first-year head coach:

I think the overall culture of the team was pretty good coming in: a very unified group of girls, very supportive of one another, hungry, good attitudes. All fall we focused on being positive, not only with ourselves but also with one another. I guess if you’re going to say struggle, that would have been it — just trying to get them to stop beating themselves up so much and knowing that if you’re putting your best effort out there, then you’re improving everyday. And that’s the most important thing.

On choosing William and Mary:

I remember always coming here when we would play, and it was a beautiful school. The facilities were nice, but, in general, the campus was very aesthetically pleasing. From a recruiting standpoint, that’s pretty amazing. But really, the biggest selling point to me was two things. The type of school William and Mary is — it’s a very academically oriented school and I think from a lacrosse standpoint and an athletic standpoint, the kids that work really hard in the classroom also tend to be the kids who work really hard on the field. I like that draw. You’re already getting kids who have that work ethic and that drive in them. The second piece is I came on my interview here and I just remember meeting everyone on the interview and just feeling like they were all really great people — a really good family environment. When it comes down to it, the people around you are what make your life.

On off-field changes:

As a team, we try to not make it just about lacrosse. We try and make it about the Tribe, we try and make it about performances in the classroom, we try and make it about everything in addition to being a collegiate athlete.

We want you to have above a 3.0, above a 3.5. We praise that. Hopefully, the girls feel that we care more about what they just do on the field.

On reviewing last season’s film:

Right before we started preseason, I decided I wasn’t going to look at last year; I wasn’t going to look at what they did last year and what they didn’t do because from an individual standpoint, I wanted to see what they could do all over the field. I think it shook them up a little bit when they all started playing midfield and when they all started playing low defense and low attack. But, in reality, I didn’t want to pigeon hole them in a position. I think it was a little different for a lot of them, but I think some people who thought of themselves as low attackers or low defenders became midfielders and vice versa. I think that’s really going to end up as one of our strengths this year — to maintain that pressure and that confidence across the board on the field is going to be huge.

We don’t want to look at the roster from last year in terms of positions. We don’t want to look at stats; we don’t want to do anything because then it’s going to give us preconceived notions.

On the advantage of playing, coaching in the CAA:

Obviously, I played against William and Mary and coached against William and Mary when I coached at Northwestern for two of my three years there. I knew a few of their players — I actually did their scouting report as well. But at the same time, I wanted to come in with fresh eyes and give them all a chance to show me what they had all over the field. I think they’ve done a good job with that. They didn’t let it get to them too much mentally, and they actually embraced it. At the end of the day, hard work and character really do beat out talent.

On the pros and cons of tough non-conference schedule:

I don’t think there are any cons to it. I think when you’re playing top talent you are challenging yourself. To me, that’s the best way to get better. I don’t want to play to get the ‘W,’ I want to play to become better as a team. I think when you’re playing a lot of these really great teams, they’re going to exploit your weaknesses. You realize what you can do better. I think at the end of the day, especially since our conference play is at the end of the season, it’s great to have that preparation going into the conference. You can really garner those mistakes that could potentially bite you on the back end and now you’re going to recognize that pretty early on.

On season expectations:

I think we’ll be very competitive this year. People say, look at this year as rebuilding or confidence building, but at the same time you can’t be externally motivated. You have to be motivated by your performance individually and together. If we can keep that mentality, it will definitely turn out to be a good season.

On coaching philosophy:

The difference between the good and the great players is literally the six inches between your ears. If we can work to really build that — that will be the difference between success and no success. I have no doubt that these girls are talented and they’re all athletes and they all work hard. It’s really going to be the mental aspect that’s going to take us to the next level.

 

Senior defender Hannah Clarke

On working with Fratzke:

The old way has clearly not worked for us in the past and its nice to have a coaching staff come in with a fresh start and breathe some life back into the program. We had an incredible fall season, and that really shows the fact that they’re not reflecting on the past. It’s going to be successful for us down the line. We’re already seeing success. It’s almost a night and day difference between last year’s team and this year’s team.

On focusing on unity:

That’s really going to be the driving force for our success this year. I think one of our biggest weaknesses in the past was that there have been some competitive attitudes on the team and not necessarily that “One Tribe” mentality. This year, without a doubt, everyone is doing everything for the team and that’s what is going to really bring us success down the line.

On a tough non-conference schedule:

It exposes your weaknesses at a higher level and it forces you to play up rather than when you play a team that’s weaker — our team has a tendency to play down, so it forces us to actually rise to the occasion. It exposes areas of our game that we need to work on but also reveal[s] certain things that we’re actually really good at and can use moving forward into the CAAs.

On relating to Fratzke as a former player:

It’s incredible, in all honesty, to have a coach so fresh from the game. They jump into practice and still play with us — they’ve still got it, first of all. It’s a challenge to play them in practice.

 

Junior attacker Ellen Shaffrey

On reorganized practices:

It’s giving everyone a fresh start, so no matter where you were last year it doesn’t matter. You put your best foot forward and play as hard as you can, and the coaches didn’t have any opinions about anybody, didn’t have any thoughts. It made it a lot easier, I think, for the team to be unified this year and just come out together and play.

On Fratzke’s mindset:

Hillary’s mindset is basically that anybody is capable of playing anything at any time. That gives us the confidence that no matter where someone is, they can do everything on the field. We know they can do everything on the field because we’ve practiced it.

On tough non-conference schedule:

You play the best teams you can play, and it makes you better for the CAAs, and you learn so much no matter what happens. It’s a good thing.

Our mentality is always simple: effort and focus. Just taking what we’ve learned previously and applying it to every situation … that’s what this team worked on in the fall, working on the little things while keeping the big picture in mind.

On emphasizing the mental aspect of collegiate athletics:

Hillary appreciates the mental side of the game as well as the physical. I think she’s really brought that into the program, where we haven’t really had that but desperately needed it.

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Chris Weber

Chris Weber

Sports Editor Chris Weber '15 is an English major from Spotsylvania, Va. Follow @chrisweber18 on Twitter.

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