Women’s lacrosse becomes 20th sport at Pitt
The questions were sure to arise, so Heather Lyke asked them first.
“A lot of people may say, `Why lacrosse? What are you thinking?′ ” Lyke, Pitt’s athletic director, said Thursday when she announced women’s lacrosse will become the university’s 20th sport (11 women, nine men). It marks the first new sport at Pitt since the univesity added softball in 1997-98.
Play will begin in the spring of 2022, and Lyke plans to conduct a national search for a head coach and announce a hire after the NCAA championship game May 26. The sport will be fully funded with a maximum of 12 scholarships.
It’s all part of Lyke’s master plan in her quest for “comprehensive excellence” in all sports, which has been her calling card in her first 20 months on the job.
She said: “You think, `Why do we have the sports that we do have? Can we be successful in the sports that we have? And what else can we be successful in, potentially?′ ”
Women’s lacrosse was not randomly selected as a way to get more student-athletes on campus. The sport is one of the most successful in the ACC, which may attract high-quality players to Pitt. Lyke, who played softball at Michigan, never played lacrosse, but in 2014 when she was director of athletics at Eastern Michigan she became the first woman to chair the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Committee.
“This is really about a strategic decision based on the growth of the sport,” Lyke said, calling it the fastest-growing team sport in the U.S.
“The state of Pennsylvania is an incredible hotbed from a recruiting standpoint, from a development standpoint. There is an awful lot of lacrosse played here.”
“The collection of ACC women’s lacrosse programs is extremely prestigious and we are pleased to have Pitt joining this elite group beginning with the 2021-22 season,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said in a statement. “The sport of women’s lacrosse continues to experience positive growth, which directly creates additional opportunities for prospective student-athletes. This announcement is a win for Pitt, the ACC and our future student-athletes.”
If the ACC isn’t the premier conference for women’s lacrosse in the nation - as Lyke claimed - it surely fields many successful teams.
An ACC team - eight of them compete at the NCAA level - has played in the national championship game in each of the past seven seasons. During the 2018 spring season, five ACC schools appeared in the final Inside Lacrosse Top 20 national rankings and six student-athletes were named first-team All-American.
The addition of women’s lacrosse also gives Pitt another avenue for exposure on the ACC Network, which will begin televising conference sporting events of all sorts in 2019.
A lacrosse stadium will be part of Lyke’s proposed Victory Heights project, an ambitious undertaking that is in the fund-raising stage and will include facilities for eight sports, including gymnastics, track and field, volleyball, wrestling, baseball, softball and soccer. There also are plans for a 3,000-seat arena to replace the 67-year-old Fitzgerald Field House and an indoor track. The first stage is underway, which is the construction of a third floor on the Petersen Sports Complex.
Lyke believes it’s time for comprehensive facility upgrades at Pitt.
“When you think about the quality of the coaching staff and the people we have recruited here,” Lyke said, “we need to match those coaches and their expectations with the quality of facilities we’re competing against and we’re behind. No question.”
Pitt has had a women’s lacrosse program on the club level since 1992, winning a national championship in 2014 and finishing second in 2017. This season, it will be coached by Duquesne University associate professor Kevin Tidgewell, who played the sport for four years at Mercyhurst.