Feb. 6, 2014
17th season (Trenton State, 1993)
In one day, the Vanderbilt lacrosse team begins the 2014 season on Friday at Kennesaw State. To get ready for the 19th season in program history, vucommodores.com will spotlight all 29 players and coaches Cathy Swezey, Susan Ellis and Julie Gardner. This segment will offer an inside look into the team on and off the field.
Today, head coach Cathy Swezey completes our countdown. Swezey begins her 17th year at Vanderbilt. Swezey is a native of Moorestown, N.J. Swezey was a two-time All-American and won three Division III national championships (three in lacrosse and two in field hockey) at Trenton State in her home state of New Jersey. She was teammates with Vanderbilt associate head coach Susan Ellis in 1994 when the duo helped Trenton State win another national championship. As a graduate assistant from 1994-96, she was on coaching staffs that captured two national championships in lacrosse and one in field hockey.
Three years later, she arrived at Vanderbilt. Since then, she has put the Commodores' lacrosse program on the map. She took over in just the third year of the program's history and in seven years took the team to a NCAA Final Four. Under her direction, the Commodores have been to six NCAA Tournaments and claimed two American Lacrosse Conference championships.
When she's not coaching she is enjoying time with her husband, Scooter, and their three children, Taylor, 3, and McKenna, 7, and Jack, 10.
We sat down with Swezey recently to talk about coaching at Vanderbilt, this year's team and juggling work and family.
You've been here 17 years. When you came to Vanderbilt was this a place you saw being at for a long time?
I don't know if anybody ever sees themselves being a head college coach for 17 years. It is a very time consuming, challenging job. But I find that every time I get on the field with my team that competitive edge is still there. As long as that is still flowing I want to be doing this. I'm really excited about this year's team and that really renews any energy that may have been lacking at any point. I'm just really excited and focused and ready to go.
What is different about this year's team?
When you have a team, you never know if everybody really has a single-minded goal. You always hope so and I think sometimes kids says they do but in the back of their mind they might be ready to graduate and move on into the professional world. And I don't begrudge anybody who is looking forward to their future. But I just feel like everybody is really living in the moment. I think these kids our single-minded and focused on achieving bigger and better things than we have in the last few years.
Is that why you got into coaching - to develop players and help them mature?
Oh yeah. I am a relationship coach. I will tell anybody that I recruit. Obviously I think my team knows that. I really enjoy the process of developing, not only a player but a person and working with them and developing relationships in general. I think there is far more reward in coaching when you have a relationship with your players. Otherwise, you are just in it to win it and sometimes that doesn't happen. I think that is an important part of it.
We've gone through the major development process that happens the first five years of the program. Then we went through some real highs and our program has gone to a Final Four and done big things. Right now I guess some people would say we're in a rebuilding process because we've been down for a couple years. But I would not say we're rebuilding right now. I think we have the potential to do big things this year. I think our rebuilding happened in the fall and now we're built and ready to go.
Do you have a job where it is easy to come into work every day?
When you're walking in literally with 30 girls that are excited to be here and want to be here every day it does not feel like a job. Competition is yet another exciting part of it. Going into the weekend (and the first game against Kennesaw State) I couldn't be more fired up and ready to go and see the team compete against someone in different colors. That is the best part of the job and that is what makes it easy.
Lacrosse was always the big sport for you growing up? Did you start at a young age like most of your team?
Not as young as these girls. When I was coming out, lacrosse didn't start until seventh grade. A lot of these girls had sticks in their hands when they were five. So definitely different. We were learning on wooden sticks back then so I'm definitely aging myself. The game has changed a lot and it has evolved in a way I think is a great way so I'm excited.
Did you know when you were playing that after your career was over you wanted to coach?
Yeah. I was fortunate enough to be invited to coach a camp after my freshman or sophomore year in college. I loved the experience of one week of coaching this high school and middle school girls. It was just so exciting to watch their development and know I could have that type of impact in such a short period of time. That started the nudge in that direction. Upon graduation I had an opportunity to get my master's degree and continue to work in the program I graduated from. That really sealed the deal for me.
And you're really proud of what you've built here at Vanderbilt?
I think we have great tradition. I want to get the program back to that tradition. The last few years has left a little mark on the record of our program and our staff. We all feel like, 'OK, it's time to get this thing back on track and be what everybody expects us to be.'
What it is like to balance raising three children and coaching at the collegiate level?
The kids love it. It is hard. There are times when they're like, 'Please don't go on another trip.' At the same time they have the opportunity to be in a college environment. Jack insists he is going to be coming to Vanderbilt some day. To be in this environment and watch students and athletes always strive to be the best is a great atmosphere for kids to grow up in.