Rollins had a long ride home after a tough loss in the NCAA semifinals in the spring, but they're back and still doing things their way in Florida.
(Photo by Scott McCall) Regardless of outcome, Rollins was going to have the longest trip home from last year's Division II women's lacrosse Final Four at Stevenson. That was before the South Region final, when the Tars' lost a two goal lead with two minutes remaining and Limestone won in double overtime.
After all that, the return trip could certainly have seemed even longer. But this is Rollins, the weird team from Florida, whose Facebook page this summer was frequently dotted with standup paddle boarding videos. Of course they'd take the Zen approach to last season. It's the journey, you know?
"More than anything I hope the team realized it was pretty cool and pretty special," said Rollins coach Dennis Short. "Hopefully we'll never forget the fun. We want to win, but at the end of the day it's the experience. Hopefully they'll focus more on the effort than the outcome."
The outcome wasn't ideal, but even four months later, Short reiterated that he'd tell his team to take that shot again. When you play Limestone, possession and a one-goal lead isn't exactly a guarantee. Short said he'd rather they hadn't picked up the yellow card after Limestone cut the deficit to one, but otherwise, no regrets.
Because at Rollins it has always been about the experience. It's easier to keep championship near misses in perspective when you remember that two years ago they didn't have a field or that six years ago Short practically cut the entire team.
Now, with another successful season behind them, the Tars face maybe their toughest challenge. The players who built the program into a power -- players like Erica Pagliarulo, Sophie Townsend, Courtney Bianculli and Annie Koeblitz -- have graduated. In their place, riding in on the success of two straight trips to the Final Four, is the Tars' most talented recruiting class ever.
The question becomes how can Rollins stay Rollins? It starts at the top.
"The biggest thing I do is try to be the culture keeper," Short said. "We can certainly develop lacrosse players. I have a lot faith and confidence in my coaching staff. But if we start sacrificing a positive attitude, that's when we''re gonna run into problems. That's my job. "
For the time being that coaching staff includes Bianculli, an original member of the original team, who is now a graduate assistant.
"We're still trying to get her the heck out of here," Short said.
While the coaches handle the on-field stuff, the bulk of recruiting has been handed over to Short's wife, Chrissy, who has big time credentials with a marketing background and a previous career as the tennis coach at Ohio State.
All that frees up Short to handle the big picture. Making sure the players keep things in perspective, with a positive attitude, work ethic and commitment beyond the game. Making sure they understand that a season in which you only lost twice, by a combined two goals, to Limestone is a success.
It's not like that season can't be replicated. There's plenty of returning talent. Caroline Lamere (the offensive quarterback, who led the team with 54 points) and Kelly Thayer (27 goals) will keep the offense rolling. Alley Rhinehart has been the pleasant surprise of the fall, looking to step up on a defense that graduated almost everyone. And the ignitor of Rollins' attack, goalie Elyse DeLisle, enters her final season in top shape.
"You gotta love it when your goalie is one of your two or three best athletes," Short said. "I've never seen the kid look better."
They'll work in with an 11-person recruiting class that will be especially key on defense. Rollins hasn't played any games yet -- that's an advantage of Florida, you can play fall ball in November -- but the early returns from from the freshmen show plenty of defensive cohesiveness.
"I think they understand the class we just graduated," Short said. "We don't have anyone to replace the individuals, but collectively the chemistry has me excited. They function as a unit."
And while it will take time to work that unit in, they already have one Rollins tradition down pat. The photos of the freshmen are up on team website. They're wearing the Tars' signature Urkel glasses. They should fit in just fine.
riginally published in Lacrosse Magazine.