clemson women's lacrosse (1)
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Clemson Women’s Lacrosse Program Overview

This is the first fall ball for the Clemson Women’s Lacrosse program. Clemson announced in June 2021 that they were starting a women’s lacrosse program. Allison Kwolek was hired that August and has been working diligently in preparation for this moment.

Kwolek came from Richmond where she had tremendous success. At Richmond, Kwolek won 80% of her games and captured two regular season championships along with two conference championships. I sat down with Coach Kwolek to see what drew her to Clemson and how she has worked to prepare the Tiger’s for their inaugural season. 

You came to Clemson in 2021 from Richmond where you had tremendous success. What was it about Clemson that made you know this was the right fit, even if it meant you had to build the program from the ground up? 

There were a couple of things, first being a part of the ACC and starting a program at a school like Clemson. I never thought I would have that opportunity. Learning more about the school from the administration, the support for student-athletes here is unmatched and the resources that Clemson provides. 

Also knowing that I’d be able to recruit players to the campus that would have the best student-athlete experience in the country. That was really meaningful. Knowing that my players were going to have a lot of support with what they’re doing on the field and also in the classroom.

When you’re on campus here, the students that go here, and the people that work here are just a great group of people. Very much like a family atmosphere here, a community feel, and I love that. The school spirit is significant here obviously with football, but that spreads to all the other sports, and that’s just fun to be a part of.

Let’s talk about one of the things that is really exciting. Clemson is in the process of building a lacrosse complex right now. So that’s just for lacrosse, right? You guys aren’t sharing that with anybody, and that 9000 sqft facility is just for your team?

It is just for us. They’ll break ground in January and then hopefully have it ready by October 2023. It will house the locker rooms, lounge, kitchen, media room, and film room. So it’ll be our own stadium just for Clemson Women’s Lacrosse.

I saw the plans when I came down here and I assumed that’s kind of going to be it. But it’s only developed more and more, and there’s only been more money that they’ve been putting into it. I think that’s where I’m just kind of like, wait, what’s happening now, right? They want to make it the best in the country. 

Clemson wants to make it where the student-athletes are really proud of where they get to play and what their facility looks like. I think that’s just really what sets Clemson apart, is that level of resources that get poured into student-athletes and female student-athletes especially. 

You mentioned the opportunity to play in the ACC. The ACC is one of the most talented conferences in the country. What are the opportunities and challenges for Clemson Women’s Lacrosse as a first-year program?

It’s really exciting. When I was playing, Kerstin (Kimel) started the program at Duke, Jenny (Levy) started the program at UNC, and Julia (Thompson) was at UVA. So it’s just really exciting now to be in the conference with them and coaching against them here.

This is a quick turnaround. Clemson announced in the summer of 21, that they were going to start the program and here we are a year later with a full team on campus. It’s taken one year to bring everybody on board and get going. With the timing with the transfer portal and the two classes having COVID fifth-year opportunities, it would be a lot different if we didn’t have this influx into the portal because of the COVID fifth year.

Having that opportunity to bring in transfers to balance out the class years has been a positive. A first-year program coming into the ACC, you know it’s going to be tough, but the student-athletes that wanted to come to Clemson to compete here wanted to be in that environment of playing the best teams in the country.

We’ve seen a number of programs use the transfer portal in a variety of sports, right. Most of these players are taking advantage of the fifth year of eligibility. How are you balancing that on the Clemson Women’s Lacrosse roster? Are you taking in a lot of fifth years? Or are you looking at some girls that have multiple years left of eligibility?

We brought in eight freshmen, and then I knew that the rest of the team would have to be balanced with transfers. I didn’t know what that was going to look like. Obviously, I think I wanted to balance out the classes but had a feeling that the fifth years were going to be much heavier because there was just going to be so many of them looking for a new home.

We are heavy with the fifth years. So right now, I think we have 10 players on the team that only have one year of eligibility remaining. So they’re all going to graduate right away. We only have one sophomore on the team, not by design, but just kind of how it worked with the transfer portal. 

My hope is that we’re gonna have to rely on the portal again but really starting to balance out those class years. Then as we go through that next cycle, that third year, taking less and less from the portal just to start to balance it out. 

Taking a look at your staff, Bill had good success at Cornell and Madison was very successful at Penn State. What went into putting that staff together?

Madison and I definitely have a history going back to when I tried to recruit her to Richmond. She was one of the top recruits that I was looking at in that recruiting cycle. Take it as a compliment. She was down to us (Richmond) and Penn State. At that point, she had already said no to Boston College and Duke. I thought I had her but little did I know she was really big into college football. So she went to Penn State. However, her best friend came to play for me and I stayed in touch with her.

She was one of the best players in the country, she took Penn State to two Final Fours. I think as a person, she is a real genuine person that is really passionate about the student-athletes and teaching the game. I knew she would come in and fit in really well into the culture that we’re trying to establish.

I got connected to Bill through Kim, who’s the head coach at Davidson. I think anybody and everybody in lacrosse knows Bill. He has a lot of connections. He is super passionate about teaching the game and making sure that student-athletes have a really great experience. 

Our director, Sam Sorrell, went to Clemson. I wanted to make sure that we had a Clemson tie and it wasn’t just all these new people coming into the university. Sam worked in football while he was an undergrad. So right away, he has been able to connect us to football and connect us back to the university. He’s been really the glue for us transitioning to Clemson. 

It’s a really great staff and again, every day I feel super fortunate to have the people around me that I do. I think for our players they hopefully feel that as well. That we truly care about them and that we want to make sure that they know we’re preparing them for the spring and also in the way that they are enjoying being at practice working hard.

You have mentioned the Clemson culture and the impact the football team has on the community. Can you expand upon that?

When I talk to recruits, things are centered around football. The fall is for football weekends but that spreads to all the other sports. When you go to men’s and women’s soccer games, when you go into volleyball games, there are people there. Each sport has their own communities with students who love Clemson sports. You have this natural fan base that’s already in place. 

I think when it comes to lacrosse, South Carolina is not a hotbed. Everybody is really excited for a new sport on campus. There’s going to be a passionate fan base from alums, the community, and students on campus. People are going to be in the stands. It originates from the excitement around football and what Dabo has done here. Our recruiting weekend’s are right around football home games because the environment is insane! From tailgating to just the level of school pride and school spirit itself. It’s so fun to be a part of, but that’s just part of coming to Clemson and being a part of the environment here. It’s just that fun. That really originates with football.