Brenau lacrosse players huddle together before the first Brenau lacrosse match against Georgetown College on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018 in Gainesville, Ga. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)
Brenau lacrosse players huddle together before the first Brenau lacrosse match against Georgetown College on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018 in Gainesville, Ga. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Golden Tigers Lacrosse Team Begins Inaugural Season with Home Opener

Feb. 9, 2018
Kristen Bowman

The Brenau University lacrosse team opened its inaugural season on Friday, Feb. 9, against Georgetown (Kentucky) College in front of an excited crowd at Bobby Gruhn Field at City Park in Gainesville, Georgia.

Though they lost to the Georgetown Tigers, Coach Emily DeJiacomo said she was proud of the Golden Tigers in their first game.

“It’s going to be trying at times because we are building from the ground up,” DeJiacomo said. “I think that’s what’s exciting about it – those ups and downs and experiencing what they can accomplish in their first season. No one is ever fully prepared for the first game, but I am confident in these girls.”

Brenau's Bonnie Lauman, a freshman from Waxhaw, N.C., celebrates after scoring the first goal in Brenau lacrosse history during the first Brenau lacrosse match against Georgetown College on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018 in Gainesville, Ga. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Brenau’s Bonnie Lauman, a freshman from Waxhaw, N.C., celebrates after scoring the first goal in Brenau lacrosse history during the first Brenau lacrosse match against Georgetown College on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018 in Gainesville, Ga. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Bonnie Lauman, a freshman from Waxhaw, North Carolina, scored the first goal in the program’s history Friday.

“It was really exciting, especially to score alongside these girls,” said Lauman, one of DeJiacomo’s first recruits. “We have a really great team.”

DeJiacomo, a Horseheads, New York, native, spent five and a half years as the head coach at NCAA Division III Birmingham-Southern College before coming to Brenau last year. She said she was attracted to the program because she could build it from the ground up.

Although lacrosse is new to Brenau, a version of the sport has long been played in North Georgia. The city of Ball Ground – fewer than 40 miles from Brenau’s Gainesville campus – was named for the fields on which Cherokee people played a similar brand of stick ball.

Brenau head coach Emily De Jiacomo makes notes before the first Brenau lacrosse match against Georgetown College on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018 in Gainesville, Ga. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Brenau head coach Emily De Jiacomo makes notes before the first Brenau lacrosse match against Georgetown College on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018 in Gainesville, Ga. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

For the past two decades, colleges have embraced lacrosse. According to US Lacrosse, the sport’s national governing body, participation reached a record level of more than 825,000 participants in 2016, up from 253,931 in 2001. There was expansion of both professional men’s lacrosse leagues in Georgia in 2016 – the Atlanta Blaze in Major League Lacrosse and the Georgia Swarm in the National Lacrosse League. The year also marked the inaugural season for the United Women’s Lacrosse League, the first women’s professional lacrosse league.

Brenau Athletic Director Mike Lochstampfor said the time was right for the fastest-growing sport in the nation to join the Golden Tigers’ athletic program.

“It’s such a popular sport right now with the momentum it’s gained at the youth level and in high schools,” Lochstampfor said. “Even internally, we had requests from current students to bring the sport to Brenau.”

One of those students was Allie McConnell, a junior from Cumming, Georgia. McConnell began emailing Lochstampfor when she was a junior in high school, asking him to consider bringing lacrosse to Brenau.

Brenau's Allie McConnell, a junior from Cumming, Ga., high fives Georgetown's coach after the first Brenau lacrosse match against Georgetown College on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018 in Gainesville, Ga. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Brenau’s Allie McConnell, a junior from Cumming, Ga., high fives Georgetown’s coach after the first Brenau lacrosse match against Georgetown College on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018 in Gainesville, Ga. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

“I had come on a tour and knew I wanted to come to school here, no questions about it,” she said. “I started emailing him about it then, and once I got here I met with him a few times to discuss the prospects of starting a team. But this is a day I didn’t think would happen. I felt it was wishful thinking that I would have the ability to play collegiate lacrosse and have that team experience again. So it is really so exciting and motivating for me.”

DeJiacomo said if not for McConnell, lacrosse wouldn’t be possible at Brenau. She called McConnell “like her assistant,” helping with recruits and selling Brenau to potential players.

Most of DeJiacomo’s recruits are from the Southeast, a region in which lacrosse is still growing. The Georgia High School Association said that in the 2017-18 season, 215 high school teams are playing lacrosse, and just over half of those teams – 108 to be exact – are girls teams.

Cora Wallace, a freshman who is also from Cumming, said she, like McConnell, “never saw this day coming.”

“I started playing lacrosse my freshman year of high school after always playing softball,” Wallace said. “My sister played lacrosse so I just kind of said, ‘I’ll do this to keep me busy through high school.’ But I grew to love the sport. I’m so excited that I get to continue to play here at Brenau.”

For the inaugural season, the Golden Tigers lacrosse team is scheduled to play against the 10 Appalachian Athletic Conference teams, including Reinhardt University in Waleska, Georgia, which added women’s lacrosse in 2010. The schedule also features some out-of-conference schools such as SCAD Savannah, which is currently ranked No. 1 in the NAIA.

While the Brenau players are all from the South (11 from Georgia, two from Florida, two from Tennessee and one from North Carolina), they represent a variety of studies and majors. Brenau’s excellent academic reputation is one of the best selling points for DeJiacomo when recruiting players to the school.

“I am the type of person to focus on academics, so I didn’t see myself playing collegiately at all,” said Kailey Posea, another freshman from Cumming, who started playing lacrosse in sixth grade. “But after I decided I wanted to attend Brenau I said, ‘and I want to play lacrosse.’”

The Brenau lacrosse program could eventually have a home at Ernest Ledford Grindle Athletics Park about a mile from campus. A home for soccer, lacrosse and other field sports is planned for Phase II of the park, progress of which is dependent upon university financing.

In the meantime, the team will play at City Park, which provides a high-quality, stadium environment suitable for collegiate play.

“We’re blessed to be in an area that’s receptive to our growth,” Lochstampfor said. “Gainesville and Hall County opened their arms to our teams and allow us to form these relationships to use their facilities. That has been a great part of our success.”

General inquiries: info@brenau.edu, +1-770-534-6299 or +1-800-252-5119 | Admissions: admissions@brenau.edu, +1-770-534-6100 or +1-800-252-5119 ext. 6100