Lewis & Clark will be adding two new varsity sports: men’s soccer for the 2022-23 season and women’s lacrosse for the 2023-24 season.
The two additions will bring LC’s total number of varsity sports up to 21. In the Northwest Conference, all other institutions offer men’s soccer, and all but one offer women’s lacrosse. With these additions, the college hopes to become more competitive within the conference. Both programs were added as part of a strategic enrollment initiative to increase interest in LC.
Director of Physical Education and Athletics Mark Pietrok has been at LC for 33 years. In 1991, he saw the women’s and men’s varsity soccer teams dissolve. LC has never had a varsity lacrosse team, though there have been several club iterations of women’s lacrosse in the past.
Pietrok has been involved in the three- to four-year process of adding the new teams.
“Obviously, I’m pretty excited,” Pietrok said. “I think these are programs that will work very well here. We do have many alums from the soccer days that very much want to see the program return. And then, women’s lacrosse is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States right now.”
President Wim Wiewel’s approval was the last step in the process. Director of Soccer James Tursi said he was thankful for the president’s support.
“I think the President, before he leaves, he was really for this,” Tursi said. “I think he basically pushed it over the finish line.”
Adding new varsity sports is an intensive process, and a rare one. In Pietrok’s tenure, he has seen this process only two other times: the reinstatement of the women’s soccer team in 2004 and the crew team changing from club to varsity due to donor stipulations. Since varsity lacrosse will be a completely new addition, the financial investment will be higher.
“I think there has to be pretty significant reasoning why to add a varsity sport, because it’s a financial investment, obviously, and you hope there’s a financial payoff that comes with students that are interested in those programs,” Pietrok said. “It’s no different than why don’t we offer an engineering major here or, or something like that.”
One of the main costs is hiring coaching staff. Tursi, who has served as the women’s soccer coach for 12 years, will also coach the men’s soccer team. At the end of May 2022, the athletics department will officially begin their nationwide search for a women’s lacrosse coach, though they have already begun identifying potential candidates. According to Pietrok, the selection for a coach is especially crucial for teams that are starting from scratch, such as women’s lacrosse.
“We’re also looking for candidates that are going to embrace Lewis & Clark and what we stand for,” Pietrok said. “We’re still academics first, competition would be after that, and (we want) somebody who’s going to embrace a division three philosophy, where students’ priority is their academics.”
Despite soccer being well-established on campus, Tursi is still concerned about the quick turnaround to start the 2022-23 season. However, there already is a pool of men’s soccer players on the club team.
“I’m hoping that we have enough of those guys that want to give it a shot as a varsity sport to give us the foundation to start this program,” Tursi said. “Basically, most recruiting is done for next year’s class already, so we’re behind a little bit. That’s why we’re kind of doing a slow rollout for this program.”
Because of the men’s team addition, the entire varsity soccer program will also be able to hire another female assistant coach, as well as a goalkeeper coach. Both men’s and women’s teams will share coaching staff and will travel together for games, playing back to back in the conference. The teams will spectate each other as well.
Nick Biesterfeld ’23, one of the co-leaders of the men’s club soccer team, is excited about the addition of the varsity team. He has still not decided if he will try out for the varsity team. Because there was a surplus of players for the club team this year, he is not worried about it dissolving.
“Honestly, there’s not much that we’re going to change about our approach to it as the club,” Biesterfeld said. “We’re probably going to lose some of our better players to the program, which is fine because we want the best players to play where they’re challenged.”
According to Sophia Young ’24, the varsity women’s soccer team does not have an established relationship with the men’s club team. However, she hopes the new varsity team will encourage stronger relationships between the larger soccer community at LC.
“Some of us know some of the players just like through classes and stuff,” Young said. “I think it’s gaining a little more traction just because of the fact that we are getting an actual (varsity) men’s soccer team, so I think it’s like really hyping everyone up and I know a lot of people are attending their games.”
While Biesterfeld is excited for the new team and potential for bonding within the soccer team, he also had concerns about equal distribution of varsity resources.
“I just hope that the men’s team doesn’t take away attention or resources from the women’s team, especially since they’re being run by the same coach,” Biesterfeld said.
According to Young, this was a concern many on the women’s soccer team held. However, Tursi soothed many of their worries.
“When we first heard the news, we were a little worried,” Young said. “But our coach reassured us that we’re each going to have our own training windows, and each team will be prioritized as its own. Nothing’s gonna change except for more positive impacts, such as we’re gonna get a bigger coaching staff, which was one of the ideas behind including a men’s soccer team.”