A NEW ERA OF VCU FIELD HOCKEY IS HERE

Jim Rohn, a famous motivational speaker, once said "Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change."

That might be the perfect quote to sum up the first three months of the new era of VCU Field Hockey under Head Coach Shannon Karl and her staff.

"I was really excited to know that I was going to be able stay here in Richmond with these players," Karl said. "They're great young women that bring a lot to the table. Many of them, I recruited to come here and I've had relationships with them since they were in high school. It's a great way for me to hopefully send them off with a successful senior year. I feel really lucky to work with the administration here. I think they've been nothing but supportive of our program."

Karl's first task as head coach was to round out her coaching staff and that's exactly what she did when she recruited former assistant, and VCU alum, Laura Baker to come back as an associate head coach. The staff was rounded out when recent Longwood grad, Lauren van de Kamp, joined the staff as an assistant coach.

Van de Kamp, a Richmond native, contacted Karl via email as soon as she heard about the opening.

"She's a native of Richmond, but was over in London playing for a very well established club team, both of which were big draws for us," Karl said. "First she congratulated me on getting the job then indicated her interest in the position. I told her to get back to me when she got back to the States in December. I knew I had to work on getting Baker back before I did anything else."

Karl knew Baker from back when she was a player at VCU, she had been a graduate assistant for the team the year after. In 2010, as an assistant, Baker helped the Rams to a CAA Tournament and their second-most wins in school history.  In 2011, Baker got the opportunity to join the program at LaSalle University in Philadelphia as their top assistant. While there, she helped guide the explorers to their first A-10 Tournament appearance in 16 years . Her rookie goalkeeper posted the nation's best save percentage under her tutelage. 

 "If that's not evidence as to how Laura Baker impacts programs, I don't know what is," Karl said. "Her knowledge of the game is incredible and I have a great amount of respect for her. As soon as I knew I was named head coach, I called her, without a bit of hesitation."

The new head coach contacted Baker and invited her for an interview in Richmond. She took her out to dinner on her own dime and even went as far as to decorate the table with confetti, and display a special 'Welcome Back' menu.

After Baker agreed to return, Karl fulfilled her promise to van de Kamp. Lauren returned to the States and within a couple of days she met with Karl. The young hopeful had worked camp for the Rams during the summers and liked how they ran their program. Whenever she spent time around the team and Karl she got the sense that they seemed more like a family. It was these experiences that made her want to work with VCU full-time; and the feeling was mutual.

"She just has it all," Karl said. "I think she brings a great deal of energy and youth to the picture. She brings new ideas to the table everyday for us. We need fresh, new ideas, that's how you get better."

One of Karl's biggest staff additions was behind the scenes as Troy Morris took over the reins as the program's strength and conditioning coach. Morris has challenged the Rams from day one.

"Troy does an unbelievable job of pushing our players outside of their comfort zones. He expects them to get better everyday and he's the reason we are seeing such big gains in the weight room and with the overall fitness level. We're extremely lucky to have him on staff."

Once she had her staff in place, Karl could really focus on the season ahead and begin to transform the team; starting with leadership.

"In terms of the new culture that we're implementing, we're valuing leadership and self-ownership very much," Karl said. "I feel the biggest thing we haven't done in the past, is really give our kids the tools necessary to grow as leaders, and that's what we want to do collectively as a staff."

Players that had an interest in being captain had to endure a rigorous selection process. Individuals submitted a resume, cover letter, letter of interest, personal statement and two character references. Then a hiring committee of eight people interviewed the hopefuls.

"We did that because we felt whoever was willing to jump through those hoops and put the necessary work in, had to be committed to the cause," Karl said. "Captains should be an extension of our staff, willing to reflect and communicate our message to the team."

Something the staff wants to communicate to the players is the idea of action, and taking accountability on and off the field this season. With three unique personalities at the helm, that compliment each other, it shouldn't be a difficult task.

"I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I am impulsive, high energy and at times impatient and loud," Karl said. "And Baker is the complete opposite. She takes her time to think about decisions and she keeps to herself quite a bit, so when she speaks everybody knows it means something. Lauren brings a fresh new energy having just come out of college and done exactly what our kids are doing right now. So, she's the one they can feel comfortable approaching."

From the early practices, to Field Hockey 101 sessions where athletes watch presentations and videos, it's clear that times are a changing and finding a way to get everyone on board can sometimes be a challenge.

"We have some that have bought in immediately, but we also have some that have taken longer to adjust to the change," Karl said. "I don't blame them because it's different and change is scary when you don't know what to expect. Our hope is that what we're trying to implement is powerful enough to take that doubt away. And that soon enough, through a lot of action they be all-in."

And Karl hopes when play is changed, understanding is increased, and competitive fire is brought back, is when those buy-ins will be seen.

"We want to represent VCU and this department in a positive way."

- Written by VCU Athletic Communications Student Assistant, Nan Turner

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