Clemson Hopes to 'Find Lightning in a Bottle' With Women's Lacrosse Coaching Hire


The Clemson women's lacrosse team will call historic Riggs Field its home.

The response to Clemson’s decision to add women’s lacrosse was met with a palpable buzz that’s yet to dissipate.

The Tigers, who will join the ACC, are set to begin competition in the 2022-23 academic year. It was June 17 when the big-time athletics powerhouse announced it would add both women’s lacrosse and gymnastics, and the reactions flooded in immediately.

And not just from media or lacrosse fans. Potential coaching candidates have reached out in droves, and prospective players from across the country even sent emails expressing their interest in donning the orange and purple of Clemson.

Stephanie Ellison-Johnson, Clemson’s senior associate athletic director and senior woman administrator, said the decision to add lacrosse was ultimately due to increased interest and the university’s goal to provide opportunities for female athletes.

USA Lacrosse assisted in providing information to Clemson’s athletics department about the benefits of adding women’s lacrosse.

The ACC, arguably the nation’s most competitive conference, will grow by one team next year when Pittsburgh joins the fray. Clemson will follow the year after. In the final Nike / USA Lacrosse Division I Women’s Top 20 of the spring, five ACC teams cracked the top 10.

Recognizing the strength of the ACC, Ellison-Johnson said that Clemson is hoping to bring in a coach that will help Clemson quickly rise the ranks.

“Ultimately, we’re Clemson. We want to win,” she said. “We want to be competitive at the highest level. We understand where ACC women’s lacrosse is on the national stage. We want to go out and find a coach we know can recruit against the coaches in our league and nationally.”

Candidates are currently being vetted, Ellison-Johnson said, and there’s hope that Clemson will name a coach within the next couple of weeks.

“We want to get it right,” Ellison-Johnson said. “There is a sense of urgency, but we’re not willing to rush it.”

It’s not as if Clemson will be short on quality options. Ellison-Johnson said the appeal of coming to a tradition-rich institution like Clemson that combines athletic excellence with academic success carries significant weight.

The goal is to “find lightning in a bottle,” like Clemson did with its softball team — and the timeline of success in softball is almost impossible to believe.

Athletic director Dan Radakovich announced the addition of softball on March 14, 2017. The Tigers played their first game on Feb. 7, 2020, beating St. John’s 6-2. Two days later, Clemson trailed 9-4 in the top of the sixth inning before scoring 15 runs in the final two innings to win.

On Feb. 26, 2020, Clemson earned its first ranked win with a 4-1 victory over then-No. 14 Georgia.

The COVID-19 pandemic ultimately cut what could have been a Cinderella first season short. But Clemson wasn’t a flash in the pan. The Tigers came out firing in 2021, earning a top-25 ranking on March 1. They cracked the NFCA/USA Today coaches’ poll for the first time on March 9.

Ultimately, Clemson earned an NCAA Regional win in its first full season, an incredible accomplishment for a team playing in the ACC.

Can women’s lacrosse capture that same lightning?

“We go into it with a realistic expectation, that we are starting from the ground up,” Ellison-Johnson said. “We want to be sure we’re providing all the resources to make sure the team is successful.”

Clemson will likely lean on a combination of recruits and transfers, though it could potentially look to its women’s club team for reinforcements, too. Ellison-Johnson said those athletes would be permitted to join the Division I team, but that decision would ultimately be up to the coaching staff.

No matter who makes up the coaching staff or the roster, it’s an exciting time for athletics in Clemson.

“One of the things we consistently do here at Clemson is take time to look at the offerings we currently have and what potential there is for other sports to have,” Ellison-Johnson said. “That led us down the path of asking, ‘What’s next for Clemson?’”

Women’s lacrosse is what’s next.

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