The Original lady laxers

The Original lady laxers

Teammates pose with the first coach

Goalie Maura (Shine) Rudolph ’90 (center) and teammates pose with the first coach to ever return for a second season, Mike Monick.

As The University Celebrates 50 Years Of Women At Fairfield, Founding Members Of The Women’s Lacrosse Program Share Their Story.

We ran five or six miles before each practice, so non-runners tended to weed themselves out. And, except for the goalie, we played without safety equipment — not even goggles. It was a tough sport if you didn’t like contact... But if you could hack it, we were a welcoming group!

— Kristen Van der Linde ’89

The co-founders of the women’s lacrosse program at Fairfield, Diane Martin ’87 and Kathy O’Rourke ’88, had almost ev- erything they needed to launch

a club team – demonstrated student interest, administration approval, a stipend for a coach, and a practice field. “They just needed the players,” said founding team member Jennifer Kohl ’89, “and for that, the classes of ’89 and ’90 came through.”

As luck would have it, Kohl, a West Nyack, N.Y. native, had started at Fairfield in 1985 alongside two of her high school lacrosse teammates, Kristen Van der Linde ’89 and Ellen (Meagle) Loveless ’89. Together, the trio began recruiting friends to join the nascent team’s spring ’86 season. “There were no try- outs; if you had a pulse and wanted to play, you were in,” joked Van der Linde.

Which isn’t to say they didn’t take the sport and their training seriously. Because wooden sticks lacked the technology of today’s equip- ment, there was less passing and more running  in the game back then. “We ran five or six miles before each practice, so non-runners tended to weed themselves out,” said Van der Linde. “And, except for the goalie, we played without safety equipment — not even goggles. It was a tough sport if you didn’t like contact... but if you could hack it, we were a welcoming group!”

In the club’s second year, Maura (Shine) Rudolph ’90, a three-sport high school athlete from Avon, Conn., was invited to a practice even though she had never before played lacrosse. Unfamiliar with the oddly named women’s la- crosse positions like ‘second home’ and ‘third home’ and ‘cover point,’ Rudolph said, “I knew what a goalie needed to do: just stop the ball.” So she agreed to be the back-up goaltender.

Her back-up role didn’t last long; the Stags’ starting senior goalie quit the next day, leaving the newbie alone to cover the net — with a field stick — in a tough match-up against a league team from Long Island, N.Y.

Rudolph proved her mettle in that first game. Her grateful teammates presented her with a goalie stick at the following practice, of- ficially launching her successful four-year run as Fairfield’s goaltender. One of Rudolph’s favorite memories is of the team’s 15-14 victory over Trinity, played in extreme weather conditions: “There was hail bouncing off my helmet!” 

In the early years of Stags women’s la- crosse, there was no budget for equip- ment or uniforms, so team members bought their own sticks and “shared” uniforms with the varsity field hockey

 Cawley, Becky, and pals enjoy a little down time.

Teammates huddle for warmth on the sidelines of an early game.

team. “We wore kilts,” confirmed Van der Linde. “At the end of their fall season, the field hockey players would throw their uniforms in a box – not even washed – and we’d go down and take whatever fit.”

Each spring, the lax players were respon- sible for booking games and arranging their own bus transportation. They made cold calls to colleges within a three-hour drive and scheduled memorable match-ups against the likes of Babson, Yale, Columbia, West Point, and Siena.

“On the bus ride home from Siena,” said Patty O’Connor ’89, “we detoured off the high- way and stopped at the Shines’ house in Avon for dinner. Maura’s parents fed us all – 30 girls in muddy uniforms and cleats.”

Alternately dubbed the “chicks with sticks” and the “lady laxers” by student reporters in The Mirror, the women’s club lacrosse team be- came a familiar sight on campus, lugging their equipment to Barlow Field, heading straight from practice to the cafeteria for team meals, dressed in their “borrowed” kilts on game days, and in red and white Fairfield lacrosse hoodies at post-game celebrations on the beach.

Said Van der Linde, “By senior year, we had really coalesced. And the more we kept coming back stronger each year, the more supportive the University grew.” The varsity men’s la- crosse team attended a women’s home game and even challenged the club team to a friend- ly match-up on campus.

As recorded in The Mirror by cheeky report- er Christine Carolan ’89, “The ladies battled the men’s squad Sunday afternoon under modified rules and narrowly lost 8-7... the girls attribute the loss to the guys’ unfair long stick advantage... be your own judge on that complaint.”

Playing lacrosse at Fairfield “certainly ignited a passion,” said Rudolph. A few years af- ter graduation, she moved to Chicago and joined a women’s lacrosse league as a way to meet people in her new city. “Two of my teammates and I became the first three nationally certified referees in the Midwest,” she shared. “We spent winters teaching girls how to play the game.”

Rudolph has since moved back East to Massachusetts, where her two daughters play lacrosse and she has coached for the past nine years. Many of her Stags teammates also have sons and daughters who play.

As busy as they are — juggling family re- sponsibilities and careers in advertising, fi- nance, law, and law enforcement, just to name a few — members of the original Fairfield women’s lacrosse team still find time to stay connected with one another and their alma mater. For three decades now, they’ve sup- ported the Stags program, followed its rise to NCAA Division 1 status, and cheered the team’s many successes — which include four MAAC Championship trophies and NCAA postseason berths.

In 2018, a group of lacrosse team alumnae returned to campus for a women’s game at Rafferty Stadium. Wearing matching “Fairfield Women’s Lacrosse Inaugural Team” sweat- shirts, they were recognized at half-time and invited to meet current Head Coach Laura Field and her players after the game.

“There’s definitely an opportunity for us to become more of an asset to these young ath- letes,” said Van der Linde, a trial attorney in Jacksonville, Florida, who noted that student- athletes’ résumés stand out to her “because I know what they’ve been through — they’ve had to work hard, enhance their skill set, com- pete for a spot... and they’ve had to handle being benched at some point for something.”

Kohl, an EVP and executive director at VMLY&R, a global communications company, agreed, “All the diplomacy, the collaboration, the negotiating skills honed on the practice field and in games are skills that benefit you in the workplace, no matter what career you pursue.”

But perhaps the most cherished takeaway from their years on the lacrosse field together is the lasting bond between the players on Fairfield’s inaugural team. “That sisterhood is so important,” said O’Connor. “I’ve been in some tough jobs, like in the FBI which is so male-dominated. Women have to support each other and be there for each other.”

“We were this little seedling that grew and grew,” summed up Kohl. “It’s the most inspir- ing thing to see how women’s lacrosse has grown into a competitive D1 program with a beautiful stadium and their own locker room. It just feels great to be part of that story.”

FAIRFIELD WOMEN’S LACROSSE TODAY

 Ben Cawley ’96 walks with Becky, a two-year-old Labrador retriever, in the Guiding Eyes training program.

Head Coach Laura Field will welcome back her team’s entire starting line-up in 2021.

No NCAA sport has grown faster in recent decades than women’s lacrosse. In 1997, the year the Fairfield women’s team rose from club to NCAA Division 1 play, the Stags were one of 56 teams compet- ing at the D1 level; today, that number has more than doubled.

The 2020 season began in February with 118 NCAA D1 women’s teams. Fairfield women’s Head Coach Laura Field had high hopes for the spring as she entered her fifth year at the helm of the program and her 12th year with the Stags.

In all of Coach Field’s prior 11 seasons on the Fairfield sidelines, the Stags had consistently reached at least the semi- final round of the MAAC Conference postseason, and the team had collected four MAAC Championship trophies — most recently back-to-back in 2018 and 2019. In 2019, the women also hosted the first-ever postseason NCAA home game on Conway Field at Rafferty Stadium. So it was understandably “one of the most helpless and surreal days” in her coaching career when the 2020 season was abruptly curtailed due to Covid-19 and the team held its last practice at Rafferty on March 12.

Expressing awe for their resilience and work ethic, she told her players in an open letter, “... your journey as a team will forever be a ‘what-if’ that can never be answered.”

With “cautious optimism” for play to resume next spring, Coach Field’s entire starting line-up will return in 2021. “Knowing that we return with arguably the most talented senior class I have coached at Fairfield,” she said, “we feel that we are in a good place to adapt to any challenges the return to play throws at us, and to defend our MAAC Championship.”

Other Articles in the Fall 2020 Issue

Alumni Profile: Hugh Morgan '69

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Alumni Profile: Katie Burke '96

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Donor Profile: Bob Venero P'21, '24

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Guiding Eyes

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Art Inspired

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Goodbye, Mr. Fitz

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A New Chapter

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Letter from the President

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