Katie Russo is the first (and only!) Head Women's Lacrosse Coach in EMU history. After focusing on recruiting for a year, Russo has taken the program into its first season of competition in 2019-20.
She was honored to be selected to start up EMU's newest program.
"I want to thank Athletic Director Dave King along with the search committee for giving me the opportunity to make history at the new program," said Russo. "I also want to thank Frostburg State University Head Coach Hayley Whear for giving me the experience and support these past two years that has prepared me to take on this new role. It is a privilege to be back in the ODAC as a head coach starting a program, and I look forward to becoming a part of the EMU community."
Russo was on staff for two years at Frostburg State University as the graduate assistant coach, and before that was a captain and All-ODAC player at Randolph-Macon College from 2012-16.
King said that Russo's personality, the quality programs she has been part of, and her familiarity with the ODAC made her stand out among the strong pool of candidates.
"Katie's enthusiasm for life and passion for lacrosse make her the ideal person to start our lacrosse program," explained King. "Her personality draws people to her and she will be able to attract quality young women to help her build our program, convincing them that they can be part of something very special and make history here at EMU. She is not afraid to take on the challenge of starting a program. She embraces the opportunity to 'give back' to the sport and provide opportunities for others to have a quality athletic and academic experience. The search committee believes Katie is the perfect fit for EMU and for starting our lacrosse program."
Along with being a player, Russo fully invested in the D-III model of athletics by serving on Randolph-Macon's Student Athletic Advisory Committee. She said the combination of EMU's philosophy for athletics and academic reputation were an ideal fit for her.
"EMU offers rigorous academic study as well as a high level of competition for student-athletes within a tight-knit community," Russo noted. "I am big proponent of life after graduation, and EMU is shaping student-athletes to discover their purpose in life that they will lead as well as succeed in their futures."
King said the search committee also noted that aspect in Russo.
"Katie is a D-III person," he said. "She is committed to having her players fully engaged in campus life and also serving the local community while striving for excellence on the field. It is that combination that shaped her during her collegiate career and there is no doubt she will pass that on to her players."
Eastern Mennonite joins 10 other schools in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference sponsoring women's lacrosse.
Russo cited FSU's Whear, as well as her coaches as a player, MK Geratowski (Randolph-Macon) and Caitlin Moore (now at Mary Washington), for preparing her well to be a head coach. She was also excited for the unique opportunity to be the first women's lacrosse coach in EMU history.
"Though the game is growing at an exciting pace, very few coaches get the opportunity to start a program in their lifetime," explained Russo." That being said, I feel as though I am joining an elite group of head coaches who get to build a program from the ground up with their staff and student-athletes."
King also spoke not only of Russo's readiness to be a head coach, but also to start EMU's program.
"While most young coaches don't know if they are ready to be a head coach, those who know Katie were confident that she was ready," he said. "She has connections in the lacrosse world who she can rely on and who will provide guidance and counsel. EMU provides a very supportive community for young coaches to excel and I think she will flourish in this environment. I look forward to the opportunity to work with Katie and help guide her development as a quality head coach. We are really excited about the future of this program under Katie's leadership."
Russo spent the 2018-19 academic year recruiting players with the first game in program history set for March 7, 2020.
"My expectation for the program is to start building a solid foundation and a team culture from the moment I begin the recruitment process," said Russo. "I want my prospective student-athletes to expect that we will be welcomed into the ODAC as a competitor due to the expectations we have set as a team. We can only grow from this point forward, and I am excited for fans to see the very first EMU women's lacrosse team make history when we compete on EMU's turf field in 2020."