RICHMOND, Va. – It's early on a crisp, late summer morning in downtown Richmond. Not much traffic and fairly quiet for an urban setting, except for the bustling excitement and motivation coming from the corner of Cary and Harrison Streets, in the middle of VCU's growing campus.
That's where the VCU Field Hockey program resides, practicing in the wee hours of the morning, focused on a new set of goals for a program in the middle of a culture change.
"For the last nine months we've been preaching a change of culture and a new direction. Our student-athletes have been receptive to the many changes within our program and are accepting the challenges we are placing in front of them," First-year Head Coach Shannon Karl said. "I am proud of the progress we have made since last fall, but our work is not done, we will continue to push the envelope, we will continue to work to improve every day."
Karl is joined by an extremely talented staff with Associate Head Coach Laura Baker, Assistant Coach Lauren van de Kamp and Graduate Assistant Daffyd Burry. Extended members of the staff that have been critical to the Rams new culture change are Strength and Conditioning Coach Troy Morris and former Life Skills Director Cassie Pasquierrello.
"This program would have never made the strides we made this offseason without the help and support of our entire staff," Karl said. "They've dedicated a great deal of time and effort into this group of outstanding young women." As a staff, we go to work every day with a team mentality, we each have something different and unique to contribute toward the positive direction of this program. The addition of Dafydd Bury has been exciting and energizing. He brings a wealth of international knowledge and we are fortunate to have him on staff with us."
However, it's the 20 girls that put on the Black & Gold every day that have truly made the difference with extra lifting and training sessions, more time together and a refocused mission statement.
"We spent a great deal of time in the offseason making an effort to change our style of play" Karl said. "I think we've started to play with more of a purpose, we think a little more about what we do while we are on the field and why we do it. As a staff, we're trying to increase and improve our student-athletes' knowledge of the game. That's a constant process that we cannot get complacent with. We've also made it a priority to spend some time together creating a mission statement, setting goals, and working to gain a better understanding of each other. We believe it's critical for us to have a strong and functional team dynamic in order for us to play as a cohesive unit this fall."
The culture isn't the only thing changing for VCU, as this fall will be the first in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
"We're very excited about the move, the league offers great competition and an opportunity to face new foes. The staff also has a lot of friends in the conference," Karl said. "Obviously, we're no stranger to Richmond's staff and talented program, but we're also good friends with the staffs at Saint Louis, Temple and La Salle. They all run tremendous programs and are teams that we respect very much."
But the Rams aren't just planning on showing up and seeing how it turns out, this group has made clear that their mission is to win and win a lot.
"We've got a great group of leaders and we're all staying focused on our goal and that's to win the A10," seniorMeaghan Neylon said. "That's certainly not an easy task by any means, but we know that if we continue to stay locked in for all 70 minutes every time we're competing, anything can happen."
VCU returns every goal and point scorer from last season, including three-time All-Conference honoree Kelsey Scherrer, who led the squad with 11 goals.
"I think we all have the same mentality of doing whatever it takes to help the team win," Scherrersaid."Whether its scoring goals or maintaining possession, just whatever is asked of us, we're going to do."
Even if it means practicing before most of Richmond gets out of bed in the morning.