NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Julie Duffy came to the Merrimack women’s lacrosse program because she saw the potential. After building the Findlay program from the ground up, she took the job this past summer and has the Warriors one win shy of last year’s total through just 10 games.
The foundation is being built this season, and the future is nothing but bright, she says.
At Merrimack, the men’s lacrosse program has been a national power for more than a decade. The men’s and women’s soccer programs have been fixtures in the national tournament and field hockey was in the national championship game last year.
Those factors all showed Duffy that Merrimack was a place that supported athletics. It made her excited for the potential of a women’s lacrosse program that has lacked consistency in recent years, among a rotating door of head coaches.
“At Findlay, I was there for five years and we had them to a good point,” she said. “I grew up in Massachusetts and I knew of Merrimack. I remember the days when Merrimack was a nationally-ranked program. I remember thinking, during the process, what happened that made the program go from nationally ranked almost every year? It’s a great school with great academics and in a great location. The biggest thing, I think, is that they have had a lot of turnover with coaches. It’s been a little bit of a revolving door and I think that can be tough for the athletes. I want to bring sustainability and consistency in the position. The potential here is amazing.”
“Most importantly, we have the backing of the department. I think you always look at the success of the other teams and if other teams are having success, you have support. That can take you a long way.”
The Merrimack program has had four coaches in the last five years. With those changes have come four new systems and four new coaches for the players to adapt to. In some cases, as soon as that process was done, a new coach was installed.
It wasn’t anyone’s fault, either. Duffy commended the previous coaches in what they were able to do in a short period of time, particularly with the quality of people they recruited to the program. In athletics, sometimes things just happen. A better job — maybe outside of athletics altogether — comes along, or a family situation changes.
“They all were great coaches and they all left for different reasons,” Duffy said. “Mike Daly has won national championships. Sometimes, just other opportunities open up.”
Once again this season, the Warriors are adapting to a new head coach. Duffy said she hopes she is able to bring the consistency that the program has lacked in recent seasons. She said the players are very receptive to her and her staff, as well.
“They’ve been doing it a lot, but it’s almost like you hit reset when you have a new coach,” she said. “Everyone is on an even playing field. We’re all equal. Everyone has to do their job for us to have success and what I have been impressed with most is the work ethic. These girls have showed up from our very first practice ready to go.”
Duffy said that the talent is there, it’s just putting together a total game. Offensively, one skilled player can carry the attack. Defensively requires everyone on the field to be on the same page, from a communication standpoint. That’s where the Warriors have struggled most in the early going, but there is noticeable improvement.
Merrimack has kept close games against several nationally-ranked teams. It’s just a matter of getting over that hump, and finding consistency as a team, defensively, should help create those victories.
“We have 18 freshman and sophomores,” Duffy said. “That’s out of 26 players, so it’s a lot. Our sophomores have had two coaches in two years, so that takes some adjusting. I think the fact that we have been close with some nationally-ranked teams shows our talent level and our potential.”
Duffy said that have been some differences she’s noticed between starting a program new, like she did at Findlay, and trying to rebuild a program that has had a heard start.
“When you start a program, it’s your kids and they’re playing your style and your mentality,” she said. “It’s different taking over. But here, we’ve told the players, it’s a clean slate. But there are still some issues to clean up. You have some previous styles to change. The past two coaches were great, Mike and Paula are great coaches, and that has made the transition easier. Mike has won national titles and Paula started the program at Ohio University. We’re just a different staff, and there would be some things to get used to no matter what. We’re trying to get our mindset to mesh with this group, and it can be hard to do that in one year. I think the girls are buying into our system. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is that we’re OK until the pressure gets put on. When we’re pressured, our subconscious needs to go back to the system. In non-pressure situations we do it well, but we’re trying to get to a point where we can have that same success under pressure, too. It’s all just training your memory to get it done in pressure situations.”
If the Warriors can get on the same page, the potential is endless. For now, as they continue to rebuild the program, that’s the No. 1 goal.
“If we can get there for 40 minutes, we’ll be in great shape,” said Duffy. “I think we’re close. Right now everyone has a great attitude, a great work ethic and we’re trying to make sure we play the right way. If we do that, the success will come.”