Five hundred eighty-seven people. That is the total number of people who can say they’ve ever witnessed the Columbia women’s lacrosse team win a conference game. Sitting in the sparsely filled seats of Harvard’s Jordan Field, they probably didn’t even recognize the significance of the events at the time.
Two road wins—an 11-9 defeat of Harvard in 2005 and an 11-10 nail-biter over the Crimson two years ago—are all the team has during its 14-year history. In fact, since its inaugural season in 1997, the Light Blue has gone a remarkable 2-85 over the course of Ancient Eight play.
This year’s squad tries not to concern itself with that, though. New coach Liz Kittleman’s history is quite the opposite story.
An assistant at Penn for the last four years, Kittleman’s Quakers only lost 11 games over the course of her tenure—all against teams ranked within the national top four. In its past four seasons, Penn reached the NCAA quarterfinals once, the semifinals twice, and the championship game once, taking home four consecutive Ivy League championships along the way.
During that time, far below her in the standings, Columbia was meandering its way to a starkly different feat—extending its last-place streak to 14 straight seasons. Why make the leap down the standings chart?
“It [the team] is a lot of fun and an exciting time for the program,” Kittleman said. “I definitely saw a ton of potential in this team, which is why I took the job. It’s a good time for everybody here.”
Implementing a new style of offense and defense, the Lions should have an entirely new look this season. However, when asked about the team’s past struggles, Kittleman disregarded them.
“It’s not as much changing what was done in the past, but giving everything a brand new look,” she said. “I have not focused at all on what they used to do, but really just made my focus on what I can do.”
Her disregard for the past has certainly been noticed this year. Kittleman’s rigorous practice schedule has taken its toll on the team. According to the coach, they practice three hours per week Monday through Friday along with individual lifting regimens. The schedule is not unusual for most Columbia athletics programs, but the rigor of the training has caused distress among team members.
“Nobody here came onto this team knowing the time commitment that I would expect from them,” Kittleman said. “They just weren’t planning on putting this much time into lacrosse.”
An anonymous source from the team confirmed that the practices were more intense and physically demanding than the team was expecting coming into the season.
Even before a single game has been played, three freshmen—Michelle Worthington, Molly O’Brien, and Hilary Szot—have already quit the team because of issues with training and the intensity of practices.
All three could not be reached for comment.
“We certainly all parted on good terms. They decided that this program was not something they had planned on in terms of time commitment,” Kittleman said. “Nobody had planned on this. Their decisions were very fair. We now have the 22 players that are committed to being here and winning.”
Those 22 players will certainly have their hands full this season, which unofficially begins tonight with a scrimmage against the NYAC/Wales National Team at Baker Field. The team plays its first official game this Saturday at Monmouth, and Ivy play begins next weekend when the Lions travel to Brown.
Despite the struggles on the field and within the team, Kittleman believes the team is on its way to turning things around.
“One of our main goals is to take some strides within this conference, specifically within the Ivy League. In order to do that, we’re focusing on one game at a time,” she said. “You can’t start taking huge strides until you’ve taken the little steps, and our first goal is really to break into this conference. We know that will come.”
One thing appears promising. Columbia’s final Ivy game on April 23 is at its favorite site—Harvard’s Jordan Field. The Lions certainly hope the band of 587 witnesses will have grown by then.