MONDAY, JANUARY 30, 2012
England national team battle showed promise of young JU program
As the Jacksonville University women’s lacrosse team battled to hold the lead during their exhibition game against the world’s fourth ranked national team, none of the players and coaches thought about how improbable it would be that the third-year private school in Florida would be in that situation.

Twenty-three Dolphin players saw action against England. Twelve freshmen and sophomores showed how very young the program still is.

But as the Dolphins pushed out to a 9-8 lead with just over 10 minutes to play, eyebrows began rising as fans wondered how the small, private university competed with a well-established national team program like the English National women’s lacrosse team.

The Dolphins’ game against England was comparable to the top-ranked defending NCAA champion Northwestern University’s match at Champion’s Challenge held at Orlando’s Wide World of Sports. The half-time scores were nearly identical: Northwestern carried a 5-3 lead, playing evenly with the English for much of the first half. The Dolphins went into the intermission tied at 5-5 against England.

“I don’t know if we can compare ourselves to other teams. We try to focus on being who we are and what we would like to be as a team,” says McCord. “There are some strong programs out there and our goal is to be every bit as good as they are doing things our way and having a highly satisfied team in the process.”

JU, just minutes from some of the world’s most popular beaches, operates on a budget that is typical of most small universities. The roster is stocked with players most top-20 programs are unfamiliar with. Twenty-three Dolphin players saw action against England. Twelve freshmen and sophomores showed how very young the program still is.

They have never been heralded with a top-20 recruiting class. Yet the Dolphins won fourteen games in 2011 and nearly upset an English team last week that went on to defeat second-ranked Maryland by a goal and tie number 14 Syracuse. Maryland and Syracuse are longtime national lacrosse powerhouses.

“I don’t think it’s about budgets, or how good your football program is to our players and coaches here at Jacksonville University,” says Mindy McCord. “It’s about the team bond and the student-athlete’s experience all around. I think we do a great job of building the team concept. Forget about the record. Think ‘team’ first.”

The team prides itself in its unique approach to life, often times holding practices at the beach, or doing team-bonding exercises that cut into practice time, like the team’s recent kick-ball tournament. The players are having a good time while they continue moving up the charts, driving 32 positions higher on LaxPower’s rating system in 2011.

“Rankings and ratings are rewards for a team’s success, but we don’t care about them. I tell my team every day that my only goal is to know that I coach the best team in America,’’ McCord said. “Great teams are on a quest to be their best individually and together simultaneously. Ultimately there can be only one national champion and we do not control rankings, RPI, and other statistics, so we focus on us. Team first; everything else a distant second.”

JU has excelled off the field as well as on, carrying a 3.4 cumulative team grade point average, one of the most impressive accomplishments any collegiate sports program can obtain. The team takes part in community service projects that are player-led and is known on campus as one of the most spirited and supportive teams at the university.

“All of the things we love to do as a team do not require a huge operating budget, but they do make a huge difference in the lives of our student-athletes. Mr. Verlander (JU’s director of athletics, Alan) believes that teams should win championships and change lives inside and out. We strive to measure up to that standard.”

With the 2012 season approaching, the Dolphins face in-state rival Florida on the road to open. Florida is ranked fifth in the nation and its roster features several star players, many of whom were top-rated recruits.

“We have to prepare with a lot of zoom-focus and energy to face a team like the Gators at their place. They are explosive and talented. We will keep our focus on one possession at a time. They are a great team. It’s nice to aspire to defeat a great team. You are only as good as your rival and our in-state rival is very good and very well coached.”

One player on the UF roster McCord is very familiar with – her daughter, Taylor.

“I always want success for my daughter, just like I want success for every single one of my student-athletes at JU,’’ McCord said. “On that particular night we will be focused on helping our team at JU to be successful and only focus on her in terms of game plan. Every other game I will enjoy watching her play.”