New programs and coaches add to the excitement for varsity sports
By Karly Kovac ’16
With the addition of several new head coaches to the athletic program, the Blue Streaks are ready for another competitive year. The men’s lacrosse coach, Brian Small; the women’s lacrosse coach, Rachel Dell; and the women’s basketball coach, Kelly Morrone, are eager to begin their legacy. With their own mantras about how to approach competition, the three articulate their philosophies and values, as well as what they expect from student-athletes.
For Small and Dell, establishing foundations for successful lacrosse programs (men in 2013-14 and women in 2014-15) is essential. Being part of a premier NCAA lacrosse team isn’t new to Dell.
“Being a member of the first recruited class of the St. Bonaventure women’s lacrosse team is a point of pride for me,” she says. “I was recruited by other schools, but chose St. Bonaventure because of the unique opportunity to be part of that program’s foundation. I knew I was going to have a huge part in setting the tone for the future.”
By Dell’s senior year, the team made the conference tournament for the first time, in part because of the leadership that was recruited in the first class.
“It was an awesome experience being part of the beginning of something so special in my life, and I’m looking forward to building the Blue Streaks women’s lacrosse program in a similar way,” she says.
Small, who was born and raised in Baltimore, the mecca of lacrosse, has been around the game since he was 5 and has been coaching at the collegiate level for several years.
“There’s a lot of room for success because John Carroll is an institution where you can be successful right away,” he says. “It’s a place that has national championship aspirations, and with my career and experiences, the school is a great fit.”
Morrone, hired as JCU’s 12th head coach of the women’s basketball program, is laying a foundation of expectations and standards that will position the team for success quickly. Working under four head coaches allowed her to observe different philosophies when approaching the game.
“By being a part of different conferences and staffs, a philosophy of coaching can shape itself throughout a career,” she says.
Seeing others methods has allowed Morrone to idealize what she wants to accomplish and adapt these experiences to her first head coaching position.
The foundation of success each coach anticipates depends on their expectations of their team and individual student-athletes. With a young team, the nontraditional, nonchampionship portion of the men’s lacrosse practices in the fall will be essential for allowing the team to grow.
“It’s introducing players to a different level of play as far as collegiate rules versus high school rules,” Small says. “The game is more demanding and physical, playing more games and starting the season earlier. We’ll break everything down to the basics and teach the guys to get accustomed to this level of play.”
Refining the skills of Morrone’s players is something she can teach on the court, but players’ passion is most essential.
“We’ll be looking for the warriors of our game – the players who operate with no fear and are ultimate competitors, kids who are willing to get after it and play hard all the time,” she says. “I’ll take the one who’s willing to run through brick walls and ask questions later, one who isn’t as refined with her skills but has heart. That’s something you can’t teach, and that’s what I look for.”
Small also seeks student-athletes who are coachable.
“We don’t want guys who think they know it all,” he says. “You can’t teach athleticism, but you can teach a kid to catch and throw a lacrosse stick and help him develop his lacrosse IQ. “Athleticism is a quality that can go a long way.”
A well-rounded approach
Each of the coaches’ backgrounds and connections throughout the country should allow for a well-rounded approach to their individual coaching styles. Most recently, Small worked at Quinnipiac and Sacred Heart universities. Along with running the substitution box during games, he has been an offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, and face-off coach.
“I’ve made connections with people throughout the country running club programs, high school programs, and places where we can recruit,” he says.
Morrone coached at the University of Buffalo, Davidson College, the University of Rhode Island, and the College of William & Mary. In her playing days on the Lady Gamecocks basketball team at University of South Carolina, the three-year captain led her team to a No. 3 ranking nationally. In her time at USC, Morrone also was a four-year letter winner and an academic honor roll team representative.
While Dell has recruited student-athletes from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New England, she’s looking forward to expanding west and into the Mid-Atlantic region to recruit for JCU. In her time coaching lacrosse at Elmira and Hartwick colleges, she learned about different philosophies. At Elmira, the team achieved first-time successes including two trips to the conference tournament, including one Empire 8 Championship game and it’s first ECAC tournament berth. Her time at Hartwick was spent rebuilding and stabilizing the program, which included producing the second-best record in 10 years, being named an IWLCA Academic Merit Squad team, and mentoring more than 20 all-conference players, including one who was a 2012 NCAA Woman of the Year nominee. She says JCU’s prestigious academic rigor will draw from different regions of the country.
Finding a balance
Along with dedication to their respective games, the coaches emphasize that a balance of athletics and college life is vital to their motto.
“For some guys, it’s their first time away from home, and they’ll have to choose the right things, as well as the way they want to live their college life from a health and physical standpoint, eating the right things, and making sure they’re taking care of their bodies,” Small says. “Fun is important as well, but it’s finding the balance between lacrosse, academics, and the social aspect.”
Discipline also is a quality players must apply to the game and life. Being a student-athlete means juggling time management, communicating with different types of people, and overcoming adversity – and sports is a way to bridge the gap between many different arenas.
“Education is the top priority,” Morrone says. “Part of coaching is setting up young people to be successful off campus. It’s to provide them life skills and experiences they can learn from so when they graduate, they enter the work world and professional community confidently.” JCU
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