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May 7, 2014

Grizzlies’ women’s club lacrosse program heading back to national tournament

By Mark Vest
C & G Sports Writer

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Oakland University women’s lacrosse players and co-captains Hannah Vickery, left, and Lauren Pattah are pictured with the Minnix jug after defeating Michigan State University earlier this season. Oakland is scheduled to make its fifth consecutive appearance at the Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association (WCLA) National Championship.

In recent years, what is perhaps one of the most successful club collegiate programs in the area is one many people may have never even heard of.

Oakland University’s women’s lacrosse program, which competes at the club level in the Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse League (WCLL), has put together some impressive seasons.

The Grizzlies’ list of accomplishments includes eight division titles in a row, six consecutive conference championships and again this season earning a trip to the Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association (WCLA) National Championship for the fifth straight season. The WCLA National Championship is scheduled for May 7-10 in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

“It means the world,” head coach Towbey Kassa said of the program’s accomplishments. “It’s the players — the girls that come in through the program that really work hard and play the game because they love it. I couldn’t have done it without a great coaching staff, great academic staff we have at Oakland. Words can’t really express how I feel. It’s remarkable. To go back and look at it eight years, nine years ago, taking a program that was the laughing stock of women’s lacrosse into a powerhouse. It’s amazing.”

Being a part of Oakland’s lacrosse team has been no small thing to senior goalie Lauren Pattah, a graduate of Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart.

“It’s been amazing,” said Pattah, who is a captain on the team. “It’s the best part of my college career. I can’t even imagine what the last four years would have been like without the Oakland team. It’s really been a big part of my life. It’s been pretty awesome.”

Due to school size and the lack of an NCAA football team, according to Kassa, Oakland competes at the Division 2 level. While there may be a league requirement for a minimum number of games played against Division 2 opponents, Kassa considers the Grizzlies to be a Division 1-caliber program.

Oakland’s schedule consists of games against D-1 teams, and the Grizzlies have proven to be capable of holding their own, as evidenced by victories against programs such as Michigan State University, Indiana University and West Virginia University.

Kassa, who played on Oakland’s men’s lacrosse team, said the players on the team pay almost $2,000 a year for the opportunity to play, despite some support from the school. For as much success as the program has had, his biggest concern moving forward is the cost associated with playing.

Given the popularity of lacrosse, and the success of the program, in Kassa’s opinion, it might be time for Oakland to consider switching women’s lacrosse to an NCAA Division I program, which is the level in which the school’s varsity teams compete.

“This is the time where Oakland, if they were to add a Division I sport, would gain so much national recognition — immediately, right off the bat,” he said. “The reason I say that is you have a lot of Division II and III schools that have women’s lacrosse or men’s lacrosse. The Only Division I schools that have lacrosse here — U of M (Michigan), U of D (the University of Detroit Mercy) and Central Michigan just added one this year. If you have Oakland University in the mix, now you have potential recruits that would go to Michigan and may not fit in there. If they come to Oakland, they say, ‘Wow, look at this campus. It’s great.’

“I think we would bring so many student-athletes to Oakland, nationally. Recruiting would be so easy for a school like Oakland University. It’s a fun, exciting spring sport. It’s spiking everywhere. It’s all over the country. I think it would be great for the school.”

While the direction of the program may be yet to be determined, Kassa offered an optimistic outlook regarding the current and future state of Oakland women’s lacrosse.

“I think we’re set up great,” said Kassa, the coach since 2007. “I think if we had some more funding, at the end of the day, it would make it easier for the girls if they didn’t have to pay so much out-of-pocket. So sometimes that’s a reservation that we have; what state are we going to be in financially to continue to be successful? I think, right now, we’re sitting pretty well.

“I see myself sticking around two or three more seasons at a minimum. I think the kids coming in are great.”

Here’s a look at the other local players on Oakland’s roster: Alexandra Hudas (Warren Regina), Lindsay Barrett (Bloomfield Hills Marian), Andrea Seychel (Troy Athens), Nina Grubba (Rochester Hills Stoney Creek), Claire Johnston (Troy), Michelle Walters (Bloomfield Hills Marian), Melissa Lee (Farmington) and Allison Sobolenski (Berkley).

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mark Vest at mvest@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1112. Twitter Follow Mark on Twitter.