One coach traded cardinal for scarlet this summer in the hopes of reviving an Ohio State program that had tumbled toward the bottom of the Big Ten.
That would be Amy Bokker, who led Stanford to eight NCAA tournament appearances and six conference titles during an 11-year stint in Palo Alto.
It’s a move that comes with risk. Bokker essentially traded in a sure thing with the Cardinal, who made or were on the cusp of appearing in every NCAA tournament during her tenure, for an opportunity with many unknowns.
The Buckeyes haven’t competed in an NCAA tournament since 2015, a high watermark for the program when it defeated No. 1 Maryland in the Big Ten semifinals. Bokker takes over a program that has nary a single player with postseason experience in one of the toughest conferences in the country.
Nevertheless, it’s an opportunity that excites Bokker.
“The timing was just right,” Bokker said of the dramatic move 2,000 miles away from The Farm. “(Ohio State) is a sleeping giant with resources.”
The recruitment was not unlike that of a player-coach relationship. First, Bokker was introduced to Janine Oman, Ohio State’s deputy director of athletics, through a mutual friend. The ensuing 90-minute phone call excited Bokker and from there the ball was rolling.
Later, a conversation with men’s coach Nick Myers enticed Bokker to make a visit. She was blown away.
“When I stepped on campus, the first thing that is evident is the support that goes into all the athletic programs and the student-athletes,” Bokker noted. “Ohio State is not without resources in any way: to the people, recovery area, weight room, locker room…I’m in a brand new office.”
When it comes to new, Ohio State is stepping up. In August, the Board of Trustees approved $20 million toward a brand new lacrosse-only stadium. Groundbreaking is set for October 2020 with completion slated in time for the 2022 season.
“The timing lined up to be here,” Bokker said. “I just feel like I could make an impact. That’s my why, to make an impact to help give these student-athletes the tools to succeed and perform not only on the playing field, but beyond that.”
Another draw, which might make other coaches wary, is the prospect of competing in the Big Ten Conference. Ohio State finished sixth in the seven-team league last season and it features defending national champion Maryland, a revived Northwestern program that reached championship weekend in 2019 as well as Penn State who earned back-to-back trips to the semifinals in 2016 and 2017. Factor in a budding program in Michigan that was a top-10 mainstay during the 2019 season and perennial postseason squad Johns Hopkins and the foundation exists for growing pains in Bokker’s first season.
She’s not shying away from it.
“One of the big attractions [of coming to Ohio State] was playing against great competition,” Bokker added. “If we’re doing that, you’re competing for a national championship. I feel like we have some good pieces and good freshmen and the recruiting is going well.”
Bokker’s ramp up in Columbus is accelerated with the assistance of Kristen Carr and Kara Mupo, associate head and assistant coaches, respectively, who were with her at Stanford.
“I feel like we had some great camaraderie and mojo [at Stanford],” Bokker said. “So we wanted to finish what we started. I’ve been grateful to have Kristen for four years and a chance to elevate her to associate head coach, which she earned.”
To balance the coaching staff that was California-based for several years is director of operations Stephani Schmidt, a member of the first women’s lacrosse team at Ohio State in 1996. Schmidt also coached at Ohio State (1997-2001) before leading programs at nearby Otterbein and Denison.
As for focusing on the players, Bokker is realistic in transition. The change is hard as none of the currently rostered players were recruited by her. Nevertheless, a strong core of seniors accepting of the situation eases some of the discomfort.
“I think that our senior class is presenting really good leadership,” Bokker added. “They want to leave their mark. I keep going back to the pride that they take in putting on an Ohio State logo. It’s real and they want to live up to the excellence each and every sport has here. I think they have that pride and they’re so excited to be part of what we’re building, the biggest thing is how much they’ve embraced our new staff and the changes we’ve made. Change is hard and it’s not going to happen overnight.”
FALL FOCUS: POINTS OF EMPHASIS
There is so much that is new when a coaching change happens that simply the mechanics of the day-to-day are highlighted. Ohio State’s situation is no different as Bokker instills her systems and management style. Bokker has three areas where she is looking to solidify her Buckeye squad.
Confidence in big games
“Confidence and competing in this conference. Knowing they can be in games with our Big Ten opponents.”
Fitness for an uptempo style
“Fitness has been important. I want to drive home that we’re playing high paced and have a team that can sustain it: full field for a full 60 minutes. The game is not won in the first 10 minutes. We need to have the stamina to compete the entire game.”
Comfort in practice, communications and style
“I think we’re just using fall to get used to the language that we use: How we’re coaching our expectations, to transition into drills quickly, how the players can relate to our staff easily, how to get the most out of each one of them. I take pride in how we coach each player differently, what makes each one of them tick individually, but also position units and team units. Communication is key.”
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