As lacrosse makes inroads into Arizona, ASU women launch their inaugural season
Courtney Martinez Connor has spent two full years building the Sun Devil women’s lacrosse team from scratch and she is ready for the start of the new team’s inaugural season on Feb. 9.
“It’s exciting for the university, the athletic department and the state to be the first Division 1 lacrosse program in the state of Arizona,” said Martinez Connor, who arrived as head coach at Arizona State University in early 2016 to create the program from the ground up.
“It’s finding space in the locker room. It’s ‘What are you going to wear?’ You need equipment, a staff, academic coaches, a trainer — everything the other teams already have in place,” she said.
“And then you have to find the players and convince them to come here and then train them to all be on the same page.
“What’s cool is you get to do it your way. But that short timeline is the toughest part.”
Lacrosse was announced as a new varsity women’s sport in 2015 as part of a $32 million donation to Sun Devils Athletics that elevated the men’s ice hockey team from a club sport to NCAA Division 1 level, as well as adding women’s triathlon.
The eastern part of the United States is a hotbed for lacrosse, while no western team has ever won the NCAA Division 1 women’s lacrosse title — or even made it to the finals. Three universities have dominated the last 10 championships: Maryland, North Carolina and Northwestern.
But the sport is making inroads in Arizona. The Arizona Interscholastic Association, the governing body for high school sports, does not sanction lacrosse, but a few dozen high schools in the Valley have club teams that play in independent leagues, drawing hundreds of teenagers.
Martinez Connor will bring a big dose of that lacrosse legacy to ASU. She played at the University of Maryland, where her team won five NCAA championships (1997-2001) and four Atlantic Coast Conference championships (1997, 1999-2001) in her time there. She then coached at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Mount St. Mary’s University before becoming a commentator for ESPN and the Big Ten Network.
When she was broadcasting, Martinez Connor would get offers to return to coaching, but no school was the right fit. When ASU announced it was adding the sport, she decided to visit and talk with Ray Anderson, vice president of university athletics.
“Ray told me, ‘There will never be another opportunity like this.’ And I knew it was true,” she said. “Never in a million years did I think Arizona State would be the place. It’s a desert. But I loved the people I met and I knew this is a place where I could build a national championship-caliber team.”
Once she committed, Martinez Connor said it wasn’t hard to draw talented players to sunny Tempe.
“The rest of the country is playing in snow right now,” she said, adding that Barrett, The Honors College was a major draw for several of the players.
The team members come from Texas, California, Georgia, New York, Colorado, Maryland, Washington, Missouri, Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Minnesota and Canada.