Allison Kwolek on Clemson: 'This Job is Meant for Me'


Allison Kwolek’s first visit to Clemson’s campus felt like destiny.

Having seen Memorial Stadium on TV, she was blown away by the university’s football complex in person. The campus on the whole was inviting. The atmosphere felt right.

“It was Clemson,” Kwolek said Tuesday, one day after she was announced as the first women’s lacrosse coach in school history. The team is expected to begin competition in 2023.

“The ACC is the premier conference in lacrosse, and when I heard about them thinking of starting a program, I was just like, ‘This job is meant for me,’” Kwolek said. “Just getting down on campus and seeing the facilities, everything was, ‘Wow.’”

Kwolek has never started a program before, but you can credit her for beginning a winning tradition at Richmond. From 2013-21, Kwolek led the Spiders to a 64-16 record with two Atlantic 10 tournament championships in the past five seasons. Richmond was ranked in the top 10 of the Nike / USA Lacrosse Division I Women’s Top 20 in both 2020 and 2021.

Richmond had just 10 winning seasons since 1983 before Kwolek took over the program.

The former All-CAA midfielder at William & Mary and former U.S. women’s national team defender said leaving Richmond was a difficult decision. There was a team meeting via Zoom in which tears were shed. But a call from Clemson couldn’t be ignored.

“It was hard. I loved my time at Richmond,” Kwolek said. “I’m proud of what we’ve done there. The team is set up for a ton of success. It’s really tough. It’s like leaving your family.”

Kwolek has little time to dwell on leaving Richmond. She and her husband, Mark, along with their daughter, Olivia, already bought a house in the Clemson area on Monday. It’s time to get to work procuring an “all-star team of transfers” while also focusing heavily on the high school class of 2023.

Building Clemson into a winner could take time, but there’s already significant interest in the program. Stephanie Ellison-Johnson, Clemson’s senior associate athletic director and senior woman administrator, said high school prospects from around the country have already reached out to Clemson about playing for their dream school — even before the Kwolek hire was made official.

It’s not surprising that there’s been so much interest. Clemson’s social media is among the best in college sports, and the reach from those platforms alone gets the Tigers’ orange and purple in front of millions of eyes.

“The Clemson brand is incredibly strong,” Kwolek said. “I think Clemson does everything first rate.”

Athletic director Dan Radakovich has big plans for women’s lacrosse, which he hopes will provide another opportunity for female athletes at Clemson. Kwolek said her new boss prides himself on giving every team on campus their own facility, meaning plans are already in the works for women’s lacrosse to get its new home.

Kwolek’s already seen the plans, and she was blown away.

While still basking in the 24 hours after the announcement during which she was flooded with congratulatory messages and people online largely lauded the hire, Kwolek said it was time to get to work. She’ll first need to fill out her coaching staff, and she said she’s looking for people who have the same values and those who are excited about building a program.

Next, it’s on to the recruiting trail and the transfer portal. It should be a busy 12 months, made even busier by Kwolek’s desire to visit other programs on campus to see how practices are run and how the Clemson culture looks from up close.

“I don’t think there are nerves,” she said. “I had a conversation in my mind of what I would say to my players. I’m outside of my comfort zone in terms of everything being new. But that’s exactly what you want for development and growth. I’m leaving a place where I knew how everything worked.”

And a little hard work never hurt anybody. Especially Kwolek, who’s on the precipice of ushering in a new era of lacrosse in the south should Clemson succeed right away.

“It’s going to be hard work, and I’m excited for that work,” she said. “It could be overwhelming thinking about everything, but I just have my eyes set on what’s in front of me.”

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