At the Wilfrid Laurier University women’s lacrosse practice on September 8, a familiar face graced the sidelines of University Stadium. Head coach Lynn Orth made her return after missing a year due to illness.
“It’s awesome. It’s great. I miss these girls so much. I missed them during the summer, but I missed them more when I didn’t see them as much last year,” she said.
Cancer forced Orth, who has coached for 16 seasons at Laurier and claimed eight Ontario University Athletics championships, to take a year off from coaching.
The news took a toll on the team last year, however they managed to capture OUA bronze, a spot ahead of their finish in 2012. Former player Jody Garibaldi ended up stepping in as the interim head coach.
When the team heard the news that their coach would not be joining them last year, fourth-year Sara Hatch said staying strong mentally was huge for the team.
“I think the biggest thing was trying not to lose ourselves and lose our team. We are a really strong team, and I think we proved that,” she said.
The team faced a very emotional season, and according to fifth-year Shelby O’Ryan, the experience of playing without their coach was something that brought the girls together.
“Honestly we grew together so much through the course of the year after everything that happened. We are stronger as a whole. We respect each other more and we rely on each other more,” she said.
O’Ryan also believed that it was Orth’s way of coaching that made the transition to playing without her so smooth.
“She knows what she wants and she makes sure that we know our expectations. It never wavers, it never changes and it is very clear to us from the start. She is an excellent leader,” said O’Ryan.
Orth attributed her success in coaching to allowing the players to have their voice.
“I have done it for 16 years and I pretty much fine tuned how I think it should go. I’ve always allowed the girls to have input and to feel free to say anything or to tell me they do not want to do things a certain way,” she said.
The team finished fifth in the province in 2011, fourth in 2012 and according to Hatch, they feel ready to make that next step to the OUA finals this year.
“100 percent, I definitely do [think we can] because going from fifth to third in three years is a big jump. Some teams just float around where they are, but the fact that we were able to improve is great,” she said.
O’Ryan thinks the team chemistry will be a contributing factor in getting to the next level.
“We are all on the same page as opposed to some of us being more fit than others, or more focused than others,” she said.
The team only has two rookies this year, with the majority of the core players returning, which Orth thinks will help them throughout the year.
“They are all strong players and strong team players as well,” she said. “They all know each other really well and know their strengths and weaknesses, so it’ll be really good.”
Just a season after so much was left unknown, women’s lacrosse looks to have a steady and exciting year ahead.
They open their season on Sept. 13 in Guelph.