DIVISION III: WASHINGTON & LEE EARNS RESPECT AND THE FINAL FOUR
By Al Mattei
Wendy Orrison remembers the days when she wouldn't have any senior prospects coming to her after games to inquire about Washington & Lee. And she also remembers the days when she would be virtually the only non-Division I head coach at major hockey events such as the National Futures Tournament.
All of that hard work done since she took on head coaching responsibilities in 2001 has given the Generals' program hard-won respect. And it has given the school something even more tangible: the responsibility of hosing the 2005 NCAA Division III Final Four. Traditionally, the event has been given to one of the four quarterfinal winners of the Division III tournament, and arrangements have to be made in sometimes as little as five days.
But since Division III started preselecting its site in the early 21st Century, the job of hosting has gone to schools which are amongst the best in the ranks. Schools such as Springfield (2001-02), and Lebanon Valley (2003) are perennial contenders in the sport.
Those ranks may include Washington & Lee one day. At the very least, however, it has given the program some notoriety. It has gotten to the point where Orrison talked to six senior prospects after the Generals road opener of 2005.
"Getting to host the Final Four has put us on the map," she says. "Two years ago, I didn't have this many recruits coming to speak to me. But I think that's also a function of us being around for only five years. But I also push the fact that we're hosting the Final Four, and I think it's because we have such good facilities."
Washington & Lee, located in the midst of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is definitely a "destination" campus when it comes to field hockey. Look at the roster for the 2005 season, and you find players from nine states.
"If you step on our campus, you sort of feel as though you've stepped back into that old Southern charm and Southern feel," Orrison says. "And we have great academics. What more can one want?"
In addition, the players come from championship-level programs such as Richmond Collegiate (Va.), Virginia Beach Frank W. Cox (Va.), Midlothian James River (Va.), and Englewood Kent Denver (Colo.). There are players from public schools, preparatory schools, and even magnet schools on the team. How does Orrison manages these diverse personalities and interests?
"You know what? It just sort of happens," she says. "When you've been at a school for four or five years, my personality starts being reflected in the girls that I recruit. People that come to meet me either feel a draw towards me, or don't. My teams have always meshed really well together because these are people I seek out; I want to recruit people who share my values, and it gets reflected back to me."
So is Washington & Lee ready to ascend to that proverbial "next level"? Orrison has every reason to think so.
"I hope we can do well this season, and that the Final Four will be an incentive for us," she says. "But in our conference (the Old Dominion Athletic Conference), I think in the last 18 years, only twice has there been an at-large team made the tournament. Because we're a Southern conference, we don't get quite the look. I wouldn't want to get in as a wild card; we'd want to win the conference. And I'd be a lot more proud if we went into the national playoffs winning the conference."
The 2005 season for Washington & Lee includes its long-time ODAC rivals, but also games at championship contenders Johns Hopkins, Christopher Newport, and Mary Washington.
"We're playing many of the top (Division III) teams in the country," Orrison says. "And we're holding our own."