The Butler lacrosse team warms up during a practice on Feb. 8. Photo by Claire Runkel.
SAM CARUS| SPORTS REPORTER | email@example.com
The Butler women’s lacrosse team will begin the 2023 season with a clean slate and an all-new coaching staff, looking to develop a positive culture.
Former Notre Dame star and Lake Forest College head coach Maggie Zentgraf was named the new head coach for the Bulldogs in August of 2022. She is the second coach in program history.
Butler parted ways with head coach Cecil Pilson last season after a 6-9 overall record and 0-5 record in conference play. Pilson tallied a record of 17-68 from 2017-2022 as the first coach in program history.
When looking at the roster, Butler has a lot of experience on the defensive side. Seniors Anna Cate Gately and Emily Doell, junior Savannah Behn and sophomore Avery Waters all saw extended playing time last season. The Bulldogs also added three first-years to the mix in Lauren Buckley, Lucy Hankins and Caroline Ross.
Butler’s 2022 leading goal scorer Campbell Connors is back for her senior season and will look to set the pace for Butler’s attack. Senior Greer Bireley also returns to the attack, after leading Butler with 35 assists in 2022.
The Bulldogs will have strong leadership coming from their midfield and attack. Captains KK Callaghan and Kayla Kielbasa are two of the veteran presences on the team. As a graduate student and second-year captain, Callaghan knows the importance of getting the best out of the team.
“With the addition of the new coaching staff, we really took things into a new perspective, training wise, strength wise, speed wise,” Callaghan said. “Our main focus this past fall was getting faster and getting stronger so that we could compete in the Big East games.”
Callaghan was an effective attacker for Butler last year, tallying eight goals with 12 shots on goal. Kielbasa was a jack of all trades for the Bulldogs in 2022 with seven goals and eight assists in 15 games played. During Kielbasa’s time in the program, she has watched it blossom each year and the team has developed into a better program.
“I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this program grow from something pretty small to something big now that we finally brought in a big-time coach that I think is really going to change not only our outcome on the field, winning and forming, but she’s also changing our culture,” Kielbasa said. “You gotta act in a way that is going to benefit the team. And you work from that, right?”
A new coach tends to enter a program with new ideas and ways they want to operate. Throughout Zentgraf’s first preseason, she has been trying to build what she wants Butler lacrosse’s identity and culture to be.
“Culture is what happens when I’m not looking,” Zentgraf said. “It’s easy to say in front of a coach to do the right thing. It’s what’s happening when I’m not there. So how are we handling ourselves?… and it is a lot of sacrifice to go from a ‘me’ mentality to a ‘we’ mentality.”
Zentgraf is coming to Butler after coaching in Division III. She discussed the adjustments she will have to make with the jump up to Division I.
“I definitely say pace of play and adjusting my eye to what good pace of play looks like.” Zentgraf said, “Higher level skills sets, offensive flow, defensive stuff we like to steal from other Division I teams, just trying to implement that.”
Zentgraf will be joined on her staff by assistant coaches Lindsey Pound, who comes from Division II experience and McKenna Rushford who played at both Jackson State and Cincinnati.
Weeks before the season even began, Zentgraf held team dinners and meetings to go over a handbook she put together. In the handbook are the pillars of what she wants her team’s culture to look like. It is important to Zentgraf that her team represent themselves well on and off the field.
“I can run a room,” Zentgraf said. “But making sure that everyone feels like they’re part of the team. They have a role. They feel like they’re being effective is important to me.”
Practices for the team have been intense since day one. Zentgraf wants everyone on the team to practice as if they are on the traveling roster, which is not the case for everyone. When the part of the team that is traveling is en route to the game, the rest of the team practices in an attempt to stay ready.
“We know how important it is for people who are not traveling to stay in shape. Teams that want to win, do the thing when their team isn’t here to stay in shape, to maintain, to make sure that the next week they’re just as competitive in practice,” Zentgraf said. “And that’s either, you know, pushing them to get a starting spot back or get on the travel roster the next weekend, or you know, just maintaining being an effective practice player.”
The Bulldogs will once again be tested with their non-conference schedule when they take on Cincinnati on the road and host Notre Dame. Last season, the Bulldogs fell to the Bearcats 16-12. Notre Dame finished 9-10 last season and 3-5 in ACC conference play, however, the ACC consistently sees their teams finish in the top 25 of the RPI rankings each year.
In conference play, the Bulldogs will play Xavier, Denver, Villanova, Marquette, UConn and Georgetown. The team’s toughest conference opponent will be Denver, who finished 5-0 in the conference and 18-3 overall. They finished 10th in the RPI rankings last season.
The Bulldogs fell short of a comeback attempt in their first game of the season at Youngstown State, losing 19-18. The Bulldogs will look to rebound in their home opener on Feb. 18 against Kent State. This will be their only home game until Mar. 25.