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For the last decade, Columbia lacrosse has seen new coaches lead brief successful stints only to return to the bottom of the Ancient Eight within a few seasons.

The past decade in Columbia lacrosse has seen seven last-place finishes and zero winning seasons, but the Light Blue has still managed to exceed expectations. For the first time in program history, the Lions did not finish the season in last place or tied for last place in the Ivy League—and then proceeded to rank above the bottom of the table two more times.

Before 2010, Columbia lacrosse had accumulated two wins in all Ivy League competitions. But over the past decade, The Light Blue has recorded nine Ivy League victories, culminating in Columbia’s first berth in the Ivy League Tournament in 2018.

From 2010 to 2019, the Light Blue went 47-102 in all competitions and 9-61 in Ancient Eight play under coaches Kerri Whitaker, Liz Kittleman Jackson, and Andrea Cofrin.

The Lions scored their first Ivy victory of the decade under Jackson in 2011, and for the first time in program history, the Lions finished above last place in the conference. But for the next five years, under Jackson and then Cofrin, the Lions saw only two other Ivy League victories and more of the same Columbia lacrosse failings.

The 2017-2018 stretch was different, the brightest in Columbia lacrosse history. It seemed to show that lacrosse had turned a corner under second-year coach Cofrin. With her at the helm, the Lions had their two best two Ivy League finishes, placing fifth and fourth in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

In 2017, for the first time, the Lions defeated Dartmouth. They also went on to defeat Yale, gaining their first multiple-win Ivy League record with stellar players like Victoria Kalamaras, CC ’18; Taylor Quinn, CC ’17; and Lindsey Ewertsen, CC ’19.

The 2018 season was Columbia’s best. Although the Lions still had losing record (6-10), they collected three Ivy League victories for the first time, defeating Harvard, Yale, and Brown. The Light Blue competed in its first Ivy postseason, losing in the first round to Princeton 17-7. Ewertsen was also awarded Ivy League Midfielder of the Year, becoming the first Columbia player to win the award.

In 2019, the Lions lost four consistent starters from the previous year, including points leader Kalamaras and record-tying keeper Kelsey Gedin, CC ’18. Despite returning their top three goal scorers, including Ewertsen, the Lions lost their two-season spark. 2019 was a disappointing year that saw the Lions go 1-6 in Ivy play and finish last in the league. In 2020, the trend continued, and before the season was canceled due to COVID-19, the Lions did not win a game, Ivy or otherwise.

Changes at the helm

The beginning of the decade marked the end of coach Kerri Whitaker’s era in Columbia lacrosse. Whitaker’s eight-year stint as head coach saw the team accumulate 58 wins, the most of any lacrosse coach at Columbia. Whitaker helped significantly improve and expand the program from 2002 to 2010, and she remains the longest-serving coach in program history. She oversaw Columbia’s first .500 season in 2006 and then set the record for most wins in a season at nine three years later.

Whitaker resigned following the 2010 season citing personal reasons, and the Lions hired Liz Kittleman Jackson, an assistant coach for Penn who helped the Quakers win four consecutive Ivy League Championships. During Jackson’s first season, the Lions accomplished something they had not done in program history: They avoided the bottom of Ivy League standings, beating out Yale for the seventh-place spot.

In the rest of her five years, Jackson managed to lead the Lions to only one more Ancient Eight win against Yale again in 2015. The Light Blue finished last in the Ivy League every year after 2011 under Jackson, and its best record was a mediocre 5-10.

After another disappointing season in 2015, Athletic Director Peter Pilling announced that Jackson and Columbia would be parting ways and that a national search would begin to find the next coach to lead Columbia lacrosse. The search landed on Andrea Cofrin, an assistant coach at Yale who had succeeded as Saint Anselm’s head coach during the 2013-2014 season.

The Cofrin era included the greatest team and individual achievements in Columbia lacrosse history, and the successes came fast. In Cofrin’s second year, the Lions defeated Dartmouth, won multiple Ivy League games, and placed fifth in the league, all for the first time. Four individual players received Ivy League honors at the end of the season, another first for the program.

Cofrin’s next year was even better. The Light Blue came in fourth in the Ivy League—its highest finish to date—by defeating three Ancient Eight opponents, also a program-best, and made its debut appearance in the Ivy League tournament. The Lions did so behind incredible solo efforts from players like Lindsey Ewertsen and Victoria Kalamaras. Ewertsen was awarded Ivy League Midfielder of the Year, and Kalamaras topped off her senior season by setting the all-time Columbia assists record. Five Columbia players received All-Ivy honors, and for the first time, two Columbia players were on the Ivy League all-tournament team.

But Cofrin saw her 2019 team fall back to last place in the Ivy League standings, and 2020 looked even worse as the Lions faltered with a 0-6 start. After losing to Cornell by 18 on March 7, Cofrin resigned.

Before the season was canceled, the Lions lost to the University of Connecticut under interim head coach Taylor Pennell. And after a decade of significant turnover, the Lions have ended the 2010s much like they began them: searching for a new head coach.

Ben Goldsmith

Game of the decade

The best game of the decade was a sign of Columbia lacrosse’s apparent turnaround—its brief transformation into an Ivy League contender under head coach Andrea Cofrin—and it happened to be the Lions’ 2017 Ivy League opener against Dartmouth, at Robert K. Kraft Field.

The Light Blue had never beaten Dartmouth, and in Cofrin’s first year, Dartmouth finished fifth in the Ivy League while the Lions placed last. But the Lions had retained major talent in Taylor Quinn, CC ’17, plus younger upperclassmen Laine Parsons, CC ’19; Lindsey Ewertsen, CC ’19; and Victoria Kalamaras, CC ’18, so they were prepared to make a statement win for a new era under a new coach.

In the first half, Ewertsen and Parsons scored a combined seven goals and brought the Lions to an 8-6 lead. But during the break, Cofrin wanted more from the Lions’ defense. The Light Blue “made a few adjustments defensively to try to stop their drives,” Cofrin said, and the team continued to emphasize what it needed to do: “play [its] game” and focus on what [it] could control.

About midway into the second half, the game was no longer a contest. After making adjustments, the Lions’ defense did not allow a goal for the first 20 minutes. And on the other side of the field, in the same span, their offense netted eight. At the 10:30 mark, the score was 16-6, and the Light Blue had virtually solidified its first program win over Dartmouth.

Then-junior Kalamaras led the Lions in total points on the day, with three assists and two goals. And then-senior Quinn, after scoring only once in the first half, solidified the Lions’ victory with a hat trick in the second. Parsons, a sophomore, led the team in goals, scoring three in the first period and two in the second. The victory was an all-around effort, with contributions from both sides of the field and all levels of the roster.

Columbia’s victory in its Ivy League opener set the bar high, and the 2017 team continued to succeed the rest of the year, defeating Yale for the Lions’ first season with multiple Ivy League wins. The momentum gained in the Dartmouth win carried over to the following year, as the Lions won three Ivy League games and, with many of the same players, appeared in their first Ivy League tournament. Beating Dartmouth was a flash of the heights the Cofrin era would reach, and it provided a glimpse of what Columbia lacrosse had lacked throughout its history: new program firsts, Ivy League wins, and stout, stout defense.

Ethan M Wu

Players of the decade

In the 2010s, all of the Light Blue’s collective success in the Ivy League was fueled by record-breaking individual Lions. In this period of 10 years, more Lions were awarded Ivy League honors, named to the All-Ivy tournament teams, and placed themselves in the Columbia lacrosse record book than at any other time in program history.

The Columbia lacrosse players of the decade come from the Lions’ short, bright run of two multiple-win Ivy League seasons and an Ivy League Tournament appearance. Victoria Kalamaras, CC ’18, at attack and Lindsey Ewertsen, CC ’19, at midfield fueled the Lions in their record-breaking 2017 and 2018 seasons.

In 2015, Kalamaras began her first-year season under coach Liz Kittleman Jackson, playing all 15 games and starting 5. Although the team struggled to a 1-6 finish in the Ivy League, 5-10 overall, Kalamaras was a bright spot, leading the team with 12 assists with and a shot percentage of .522 despite her lesser playing time.

Kalamaras turned into a second-team All-Ivy League player under new coach Andrea Cofrin. She became the only player in program history to have posted consecutive seasons with more than 20 goals and more than 20 assists, which she did in 2016 and 2017. In 2017, Kalamaras recorded a record-breaking 42 assists in 15 games.

In her senior season, Kalamaras was a first-team All-Ivy League player and captain of the Lions. With 106 career assists, she set a new Columbia record, and added another consecutive season of more than 20 goals and assists, becoming the only player in program history to have three, or even two, such seasons. Kalamaras finished her career with arguably the Lions’ best season ever, as they appeared in the Ivy League Tournament for the first time in program history.

In 2016, then-first-year Lindsey Ewertsen was already a first-team All-Ivy player, and she became the first player in program history named to the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association All-Rookie Team. She started 15 games and recorded 32 goals and 50 draw controls in her debut season.

As a sophomore in 2017, Ewertsen dropped slightly to a second-team All-Ivy player despite causing the second-most turnovers (33) and recording the third most draw controls (50) in a single season at Columbia. After winning two conference games in a season for the first time, the Lions entered 2018 needing Ewertsen to replace star midfielder Taylor Quinn, CC ’17, if they were to continue their success.

Ewertsen not only replaced Quinn but quickly surpassed her. 2018 saw Ewertsen and the Lions thrive like never before. As the Light Blue reached fourth in Ivy League standings, Ewertsen became the first and only player in team history to be awarded Ivy League Midfielder of the Year, and was also named to the IWLCA Mid-Atlantic Region second team. Ewertsen set a new Columbia record for single-season draw controls (76) in 2018, and she accumulated the most career caused turnovers in program history (91) with still one more year of eligibility.

As a senior, Ewertsen captained the team again as a first-team All-Ivy League and second-team IWLCA Mid-Atlantic Region player. She set career records for draw controls (212) and caused turnovers (133), but the Lions faltered, losing their recent progress and finishing in a familiar last place in the Ivy League. Alone, Ewertsen could not maintain Columbia lacrosse’s brief spark, but she cemented her status as an incredible all-around lacrosse player, leading the team for the first time in points (52) and assists (28).

Through their individual efforts, Ewertsen and Kalamaras led the Lions to their most successful stint in program history. This lucky overlap of one-of-a-kind players is rare, but it is exactly what a team like the Light Blue needed to launch itself, even briefly, from last place to the middle of the pack.

Going forward, the Lions will need many, many more players of the Ewertsen and Kalamaras caliber if they want to make their 2017 and 2018 splash more permanent. They will need the record-setting, award-collecting, team-leading individuals that Ewertsen and Kalamaras were—and they will need them to overlap, at the right time, with the right coach, in the new decade.

Staff writer Wick Hallos can be contacted at wick.hallos@columbiaspectator.com. Follow Spectator Sports on Twitter @CUSpecSports.

A decade in athletics lacrosse Andrea Cofrin Lindsey Ewertsen Victoria Kalamaras Liz Kittleman Jackson Kerri Whitaker
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