Success with Honor Feature: Women's Lacrosse Coaches
March 4, 2008
By Caity Hohman, Athletic Communications Student Assistant
The words "Penn State" spark a different definition in every individual. Some are reminded of the pride in the university that links alumni, students, faculty, and fans. Others recall the tradition of the Nittany Lion. And yet still, there are many who cannot help but think of the smooth, rich, delightful treat that is churned out of the North campus creamery...ice cream.
"It's amazing!" exclaims assistant women's lacrosse coach Tara Hohenshelt. "It doesn't define Penn State," she admitted "but it's special."
The light-natured atmosphere of the room in 112 H BJC allows the three women to interact freely. Their sisterly bond is instantly apparent, and their playful nature is contagious, and while each woman has her own history and story to tell about their experience playing for Penn State, the interconnectedness of their careers is overwhelming.
Head Coach Isidor began her term as a Nittany Lion in 1991, helping Penn State to three NCAA Tournaments. In 1995, the Annapolis Md. native and senior co-captain led her team to the semifinals.
"It was a special year because we didn't have it easy," confessed Isidor of her senior campaign. "We draw a lot from that season."
Isidor was not alone in her journey to the semifinals. Formerly Tara Rowlyk, the then sophomore was also a member of the 1995 team. Hohenshelt remembered Isidor as a team captain.
"[She was] unbelievable--absolutely unbelievable," she explained. "When she said we were going to win a game we absolutely 100 percent believed in her."
Isidor's confidence was a tremendous boost to the team morale. That year, the women's lacrosse team started out losing their first three games, which, according to Isidor, "does not cut it here." But after recognizing the problems facing the attackers, the young, confident captain turned to her teammates and said, "I promise, when you get the ball I will be there for you. You don't have to worry. I will get the ball back from you."
Her teammates' trust was obvious. They refocused and recollected and went on to win 10 straight.
Hohenshelt recalled, "After we beat James Madison in that play-off game we were doing our victory lap and she [Isidor] turned around and said, `We're going to the final four!' And the smile on her face," Hohenshelt beamed, "I fully and completely put 100 percent of my trust into her. She was a natural leader and knew how to guide us to success."
After graduation, both women went on to pursue coaching careers at different universities. Isidor headed to Drew while Hohenshelt went on to Princeton where she recruited Lucey for the Tigers.
Lucey was resistant, however, and after exploring her options, the Springfield, Pa. native agreed to play for Penn State.
"At the end of the day it had everything I wanted," admitted Lucey of her decision to become a Nittany Lion.
Earning Regional All-American honors in 2000 and 2001, Lucey, a midfielder, was a great addition to the blue and white squad.
"As a player," Hohenshelt recalled, "she was everything and anything that you needed her to be. She was the coach on the field. She was the one that got everybody together, fired up, and organized. She was really dependable. And as a co-worker I feel exactly the same way."
Perhaps it is the admiration for each other's athletic ability or the respect they each possess for one another as professionals that has enabled this trio to become a winning combination. Regardless of how you put it, these women are coaching history in the making.
"A national championship is always our goal," stated Isidor candidly. "We were disappointed last year and we definitely want to get back to the NCAA tournament."
Although the coaches agree that not making it to the tournament was disappointing, Lucey pointed out the bigger picture, "It's not just about winning and losing but how you represent your sport and the other athletes that you are associated with."
More so than their desire to win, the coaches are bound by this commitment to the integrity of the university. According to Hohenshelt, it is the enthusiasm associated with the university that keeps people coming back.
"I think it's the school spirit," the coaching vet, who is currently in her ninth year as assistant coach to the Nittany Lions, explained. "I think it's the pride. We always say people who come here get bit by the bug. We just ooze so much energy and so much enthusiasm about the school and the school spirit that it embraces not just the athletic department but the entire community."
Coach Isidor agrees that there is something beyond the physical which attracts individuals to Penn State.
Commenting on the attitude of the Penn State women's lacrosse team, Isidor explained, "People who come to Penn State have the same basic mentality and feel the same way. I think athletes have changed, but the times have changed. Some things are definitely different but I feel like the three of us can relate well to the players because they came to Penn State for the same reasons that we came to Penn State and that is something special."
Continuing with her explanation of the connection between Penn Staters, Isidor added, "I think that is a special bond that we have and that's something we look for when we are recruiting. We look for people that are bit by the bug, we don't want people who are going to come here and not be as passionate about it as we are because we are definitely a family that feels strongly about Penn State."
This passion which Isidor emphasizes is what ultimately led all three coaches back to Penn State. As stated earlier, post-graduation each coach left Penn State to explore coaching opportunities in New Jersey. Isidor enjoyed a very successful run at Drew, guiding the Rangers to four straight Middle Atlantic Conference titles and a Division III NCAA Tournament appearance in 2000. As assistant coach at Princeton, Hohenshelt led the Tigers to the NCAA quarterfinals. Lucey too, left her alma mater and headed east. At The College of New Jersey, she attended night classes while she worked towards her Master's of Education. During this time she also served as a graduate assistant for the field hockey and lacrosse teams.
For three individuals so passionate about Penn State, it may seem strange that they were so quick to leave, however each coach agrees that it is a natural part of the learning process. In fact, it was their former coaches who pushed them to gain experience elsewhere.
"Julie Williams, who was the head coach here," clarified Isidor, "said, `You know, you should get experience somewhere else.' Even though we all want to be Nittany Lions forever, I think that was good advice to get experience at another university. I think it made me appreciate Penn State even more."
Lucey further explained, "It's something that I think all of us as coaches want to do. We want to learn as much from as many different people and as many other coaches as we can. Obviously Penn State is wonderful and the Penn State way is great, but at the same time there are tons of other lacrosse people out there [to learn from]."
They agree that was important for them to be able to take the skills and techniques they learned at the other universities and implement them to the Penn State regiment, and although they each experienced tremendous success else where, they could not help but express their eagerness to return.
"It was like coming home," explained Lucey, exhaling as she reflected on her decision to return. "I came back to visit and as soon as I was driving in and I saw Beaver Stadium and the BJC I knew I was coming back."
Isidor could not agree more. "I would not have left for anything but Penn State."
It is their love of Penn State that drove them to return and it is their respect for the program that keeps them here.
"We have 29 varsity sports here," explained Hohenshelt, "but when you are part of a specific sport you feel like you are the sport on campus. You're not just another number in the group. You are the most important thing. The student athletes are well taken care of and you are able to feel that when you are a part of the program."
Lucey also expressed her opinions about what distinguishes Penn State athletics from other universities.
"I think that because of the pride, everyone feels like they are a part of something bigger," explained the youngest assistant coach. "Everybody is on the same page. I feel like the coaches here are all very similar in terms of their values and their goals so that is probably part of the reason that we are able to work well together. People want Penn State to do well as a whole. They are part of Penn State, not just Penn State athletics, not just women's lacrosse, it's because they are part of something better."
Viewing Penn State on a universal level has allowed these women to sustain the ideals of the university throughout their program. They recognize the support of not only the students and the athletic department, but from the State College community as well.
"I think what is so fun is the support of the community," Isidor stated proudly. "Penn State University and the students are great supporters, but I love when I'm downtown in a restaurant and a member of the community will say, `Hey coach, great game,' and I don't even know them. I think that is one of the most special things--community support. They are all die-hard Penn Staters."
This enthusiasm transcends age and occupation. This energy runs through the veins of PSU supports and is what leads individuals to exclaim, "We Are! Penn State!" It is this pride that drives members of the university to strive to succeed in all areas with honor and grace.
"Every program, whether it's academic or athletic, here at Penn State wants to be the best," stated Isisdor. "That's the expectation for us, to be the best, but the way we go about being the best is what is honorable. No one would ever want to do anything to affect the tradition or the pride of Penn State. We're going to be the best but we're going to do it in the best way possible. [Whether it is] the coaching staff, our student athletes, our administrators or our supporters, we all share [those ideals]. It's one family. We all want to be the best and we all want to do it the right way.
Hohenshelt posits that it is individuals' desire to honor the tradition post-graduation that defines Penn State's standard of success with honor. Emphasizing the importance of character and integrity, Hohenshelt added, "We do things the right way, and we represent this university and our program with the image that we want to bring others into. For our players, [we hope] that they graduate here and continue to be good citizens beyond lacrosse. It's not all about being the top athlete in the country. Although we would like to be number one, [it's important to] represent Penn State while you're here, both on and off the field, and also after graduation."
Their desire to honor the university is a testament to their admiration of their alma mater. Although each women is different and brings various elements to the women's lacrosse program, their ties to the university make them family and connect them with their players. And although the words "Penn State" spark a different definition in each of their minds, it can be said that university's recipe for pride and tradition result in an outcome that is just sweet as creamery ice cream.