USF Women’s Lacrosse Has Eyes Set on Spring 2025
by Joey Johnston, Athletics Senior Writer
TAMPA (December 13,2022) – The spring of 2025 seems like a long time away. But USF women’s lacrosse, still more than two years from its first game, remains on the move.
Bulls coach Mindy McCord, a lacrosse evangelist, and her staff already are deeply involved in the community, holding clinics, teaching the game, building relationships and investing in the area. This week, nearly three dozen high-school players from the classes of 2023 and 2024 — either already signed or committed to USF — will descend on campus for their official visit.
USF women’s lacrosse: It’s real.
And it’s growing really, really fast.
“Our goal is to be a national contender (immediately),” said McCord, a six-time Atlantic Sun Conference Coach of the Year at Jacksonville University, where she also built a lacrosse program from the ground up. “We’re in the city of Tampa. We have a great university. The alignment we have between the school administration and athletics is perfect. And we have absolutely tremendous resources.”
Even beyond the $22-million Indoor Performance Facility and the on-campus stadium proposed for 2026, McCord points to one level of resources as the most important.
Coaches who build a championship culture.
Student-athletics who believe in it.
USF signee Elle Trzaskawka of Medford, N.J., had committed to Duquesne before she visited USF’s campus last December.
“My gosh, it was so beautiful and I fell in love with it, but they didn’t even have a lacrosse coach at that point,” said Trzaskawka, an attack player who lined up for South Jersey Select. “I made it clear I was interested, but you never know if anyone is listening or will ever follow up. When Mindy McCord was named, she contacted me immediately. She had seen my highlight videos. She completely made me feel welcome.
“I love the way Mindy’s teams play, but I found out quickly that it’s about more than lacrosse. They make sure your mind and soul are in a good place. Mindy just has this effect on people where she pushes you and inspires you. I just had to be a part of it at USF. The success of the USF program, I think, is going to be so obvious.”
By all accounts, the ACC and Big Ten are the two best conferences for women’s lacrosse. But the American Athletic Conference, already USF’s league home, is third. So the Bulls’ conference schedule should provide a formidable launching pad.
“For a brand-new team, I think we’re going to do very well,” said USF signee Ansley Knor, a midfielder/defender from Acworth, Ga. “We’re all going to redshirt (in 2023-24), then be ready to go after a full year of practices and scrimmages. By the time we play games, we’ll have all the kinks out. We will be extremely prepared. I can’t even imagine that first game. We’ll all be so ready to play.”
USF signee Claire Natoli, a midfielder from Doylestown, Pa., who was the Philadelphia Catholic League Player of the Year, had already committed to Jacksonville. Switching to USF was an easy transition.
But how does a premier Philadelphia area player leave the lacrosse-friendly mid-Atlantic area and even get to Jacksonville, let alone USF?
“At Jacksonville, my first impression of the McCords was like, ‘Wow, this is like nothing I’ve seen before,’ ” Natoli said. “How they coach. How they care about you. Everybody says their program has a great culture. Everybody says their team is like a family. And I’m here to tell you that a lot of times, that is just talk.
“I’m excited about what we will do at USF. But my mom is even more excited. They get the parents involved. We’re all in this together. It’s as together as any program you will ever see. I’m very confident that USF lacrosse will be a contender from the beginning and we’ll be playing for national titles.”
The Culture And The Style
McCord, who grew up in Maryland, played lacrosse and field hockey at Lynchburg College. She was a lacrosse head coach at age 23.
In 1999, when she coached Division III Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College), she met her future husband, Paul, who was a football coach. He became an assistant special teams coach with the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, who won Super Bowl XXXV at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium.
He also moonlighted as Mindy’s goalkeeper coach because he had experience there in hockey and soccer. They began dating and married. She followed him to Jacksonville, quitting her lacrosse job, when he became special teams coach of the Jaguars in 2003.
The plan ultimately went awry when he was fired by the Jaguars. So McCord became a lacrosse pioneer, lobbying to add the sport in Florida high schools, conducting clinics, consulting, doing anything in and around the game. Eventually, McCord’s husband abandoned his NFL ambitions to join full-time in spreading the lacrosse message.
When Jacksonville began a start-up lacrosse program in 2008, the McCords finally had a permanent home and platform for their sport. Two seasons into their JU tenure, while debating the future, they dreamed of how their Dolphins could find long-term success against more experienced programs.
That’s when Paul saw the ESPN 30-for-30 documentary, “The Guru of Go,” based on the Loyola Marymount men’s basketball teams of Coach Paul Westhead. In 1989-90, Marymount led the NCAA with a record-setting 122.4-points-per game scoring average behind the dynamic offensive duo of Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers.
The Lions got national attention late that season when Gathers collapsed and died on the court. Kimble put the team on his back, rallying the Lions to an NCAA Tournament bid. During March Madness, Kimble shot all of his free throws left-handed in tribute to his fallen teammate.
Paul McCord reached out to Kimble, who he had never met. Kimble, sufficiently intrigued, visited Jacksonville and instructed the McCords in strategies to incorporate Loyola Marymount’s full-court, breakneck pace into lacrosse.
Jacksonville, perhaps lacking the stick skills of more experienced lacrosse programs, became national leaders in shots per game and scoring average. Now that style will be translated into USF lacrosse.
It’s uncompromising athleticism, a full-court basketball approach on 100 yards of grass, an all-out, non-stop assault on the net.
“We recruit speed,” McCord said. “Everything we do is fast. At Jacksonville, what we found was we didn’t have as many skilled players, but we did have athletes. When you tire another team out and run them hard into the ground, their skills get weaker. Then you can take over in the second half of the game.”
“If you like high-scoring basketball, where they run up and down the court and press them full-court the whole time, you’re gong to love USF lacrosse,” Paul McCord said. “We have developed a style and a brand.”
And a culture.
Paul McCord is the “brains” of the operation — “Scary thought, I know,” he said with a laugh — a numbers-cruncher, a data guru, an analyst who knows how to gather, aggregate and apply information.
Mindy McCord is the heart.
“Mindy cares,” said USF associate head coach Brittney Orashen, a former Jacksonville player who left an assistant coach job at Stanford to join the McCords at USF. “When you’re a coach or a boss, the ability to make people feel happy and valued is so important. Everyone knows their role. Everyone is held accountable. It becomes a fun, loving environment, where everyone is pulling in the same direction. We had that at Jacksonville. We’re going to have the same thing at USF.”
“Mindy’s energy is so good,” Knor said. “She has an aura that makes you feel at home. When she talks to you, it feels like family. It feels like you’re talking to your mom. If she’s interested in recruiting you, with everything USF has to offer, I don’t know how you say no to her.”
The Future Is Now
The crazy thing is McCord didn’t show initial interest in USF. She was happy at Jacksonville. She had built a powerful mid-major program that could beat the blue-bloods and get deep into the NCAA Tournament.
“I told Mindy, ‘Look, we at least have to go down to USF and listen to them,’ ” Paul McCord said. “Maybe we’ll learn a few things. Even if this isn’t the job for us, we have to listen.”
So the McCords listened — and they were immediately sold on USF’s potential.
“I got so excited about the possibility of becoming USF’s first head coach,” McCord said. “I had never considered leaving the Jacksonville area. But then I met Michael Kelly (USF’s vice president for athletics), Kris Pierce (deputy AD) and Rhea Law (USF president). I was in awe.
“When you change jobs, you have to be absolutely convinced about the alignment at the new place. USF is as aligned as I could have ever imagined. The leadership here is transformational. The way USF treats its student-athletes is transformational. We can recruit nationally elite players here and we can win big here. It’s just the best place to be and we are so appreciative of where this path has led.”
McCord has announced her first signing class of 20 players. In the spring of 2025, she will have two classes of players in place with a roster of about 40. When most of those players are sophomores, they are scheduled to begin playing in USF’s on-campus stadium (USF lacrosse will begin at Corbett Stadium).
“The future here is amazing and we have a lot of things to look forward to in years to come,” McCord said. “But make no mistake, we’re going to hit the ground running. We want to win from the start and establish our identity immediately. We want to grow this sport throughout Florida and become a premier destination. We have everything in place to make that possible.”
McCord said USF lacrosse will emphasize the total student-athlete experience.
“They are students first and the programs that already are in place, like Enhancing U, are absolutely outstanding,” McCord said. “Lacrosse players inherently are great students, so they will respond very well to the educational resources that are here.
“When you look at the comprehensive facilities and the stadium we will have very soon — maybe it’s even a place where we can host some Final Fours — it’s going to be a place where we can bring down the best competition in the country. We will be young in the beginning, but we will be training them to become leaders. We want to own the state of Florida and be a national contender. Both are very achievable at USF.”
Paul McCord said there will naturally be growing pains. But he said USF’s recruiting process will excel at vetting players and families, so the Bulls will be able to efficiently identify the right recruits.
“I think you have to get between their ears,” McCord said. “It’s how they perform under pressure, how they handle the speed of the game, how they handle homesickness. If you have the right character, you can adjust. Those are the type of young ladies that we are seeking.”
The first class of incoming USF lacrosse players say they are excited to be part of such an exciting venture.
“It’s all very united — all the way across the board,” Natoli said. “For those of us here at the beginning, one day in the future we’re going to look back and say we were on the ground floor of something really great.”