The James Vick Foundation finalized the arrival of celebrated head coach William Mraz to the Vipers Lacrosse program this week. Coach Mraz, who currently is the women's lacrosse head coach at Nichols College, and also coaches at the international level, will join the Vipers club at a critical point in the programs development.
The esteemed skipper was kind enough to speak with us earlier this week as he, and team general manager Heather Del Cervo begin preparations for training camp slated to open later this month.
JVF: The Vipers are roughly three months old, a brand new club, what are your objectives in terms of development, and the culture?
WM: The first few steps will be to get our name out there and our brand known. We will build on the awareness that began with the Dream League from last summer by growing our social media presence and our involvement in the community. Building a culture is a little tougher. Our first steps will be to define our expectations for inclusion, respect, competitiveness, personal accountability, holding others accountable, and hard work. Once that is stated, culture comes from within, it grows as the team defines who they are and what they stand for. I am really looking forward to see where the girls will take us with that.
JVF: You have a wealth of experience in the sport at all three levels, what's your reaction to women's lacrosse in the age of Covid-19, and how do you plan to approach team activities amid the pandemic?
WM: This past year has certainly made us more aware of resources that are available to us for learning the game and online and virtual media are things that young women today are comfortable with. Coaches will have to become more innovative to keep up with a media savvy player base. Video viewing was often met with groans and “not this again”. Today a video learning is the norm and software and apps have been improved to the point that an interactive video session is now fun. Nothing can replace one-on-one and in-person team relationships and learning.
Athletes thrive on being connected, physically present and being able to look someone in the eye and hearing them say that they have your back. Coaching today might be more exciting that ever as we blend new technology with personal interaction. I am a firm believer in the learning the basics and we definitely will do plenty of skill work. I also like to encourage my team to stretch the limits of what they can do. Practice is the place to try things, make mistakes and grow as a player. Most of all each day needs to be fun. JVF will strive to make each practice and game enjoyable, even during the hard work, for we learn the best when we see the promise in our effort.
JVF: Last month Vipers Co-Captain Alessia Lye committed to Framingham University, becoming the first Vipers player to commit to a college program. As a current college coach yourself at Nichols College, do you have any specific plans to help Vipers that want to play in college gain access to recruiting?
WM: So great to hear Alessia’s success story, a terrific first for JVF lacrosse. The college process is complicated and sometimes daunting for players and parents alike. JVF’s effort will be to help make that process manageable and understandable. Managing expectations and understanding our realities will be key in our guiding our student/athletes towards a good college selection.
There are so many opportunities for someone to play at the college level and DI, DII and DIII each offer their own unique and rewarding experience. Our job will be to understand the uniqueness that lies in each of our players and match that to the best college for them. We plan to offer workshops, bring in guest speakers when Covid-ly feasible, and get all the tools possible to our JVF families while utilizing our network in the lacrosse world to help make those connections work.
JVF: Practice starts in a few weeks, are you excited to meet the team?
WM: I am really looking forward to meeting our team on the field and finding out who we all are and where we all come from. Nothing beats coaching on the field and teaching the game to a group that wants to learn. I think we will all feel a little bit better when we can stretch our legs and get our stick back in our hands again. I’ve heard so much about the great young women who are with us and getting to know them and having them know me will be tremendous fun.
JVF: How do you feel about the concept of a free women's club, what do you think it could do for the sport?
WM: The JVF concept is certainly unique in the club lacrosse world and I am excited to see where it goes. There are so many great club programs out there and they all offer a different kind of value. Accessibility and inclusion seems to be the JVF bonus. In club lacrosse the pyramid gets small at the top very quickly. Young women develop as people and athletes at different times and the JVF model provides an opportunity for “late-bloomers” to discover their true potential while those who developed earlier will learn to hone their game and leadership skills.
Just as our student/athletes and families are closely monitoring college costs as perhaps the biggest factor in their decision process, having high-level instruction, competition and support in a financially accessible model could become the new norm.