While there are a few states in the union she hasn't been to recruiting players in the past 18 months, Colorado lacrosse coach Ann Elliott and her staff have made numerous trips to every region in building a program from scratch.
Elliott and her assistants Colleen Magarity and Hannah Nielsen all have roots at Northwestern, the standard-bearer for excellence in women's college lacrosse. They have won 10 national championships combined and they have poured all that expertise into laying the foundation at CU they believe will ultimately allow the Buffs to one day compete at the highest level, too.
While their journey as coaches began together at CU in late spring and summer of 2012 not long after CU announced it was adding the sport to its athletic department, they only began working with their team of 23 players during the fall semester.
The program will play its inaugural game on Thursday in Florida against Stetson.
"The process of building a team has been really exciting," Elliott said. "I think every day has kind of been its own challenge. We've learned a lot as a staff over the last year-and-a-half that we've been here together.
"I think the last five months or so have been really exciting once our team actually got here. We've been able to take it day-by-day, assess where we're at and be able to figure out what we have to do to get where we want to go. That has been the really fun part."
After the opener against Stetson, the Buffs will remain in Florida and play a second game at Jacksonville at 10 a.m. Saturday. They return to Colorado next week when they play at the University of Denver of Feb. 19 followed by the first home game in the history of the program on Saturday, Feb. 22 at noon.
The first home game will be played in Folsom Field and the team will take the field behind Ralphie V just like the football team does. That is not expected to be a tradition.
CU will play eight home games in its first season. Six of those games will be played on Kittredge Field south of the Coors Events Center and the final home game of the season April 20 will be played at Prentup Field, home to the CU soccer team, because the campus is closed that day. The Mountain-Pacific Sports Federation conference tournament will be in the first week of May, followed by the NCAA Tournament.
Elliott said there has been a new challenge and a surprise just about every day since she decided to leave Northwestern nearly two years ago to come to CU and build a program. She said she expected frequent surprises because she had never been involved in building a program from scratch as a coach.
She said the biggest surprise, the one she probably wasn't prepared for, was seeing former athletic director Mike Bohn part ways with the school last spring a year after he hired her. She said she has built a good relationship over the past six months with athletic director Rick George.
"I think you knew that no matter how prepared you were, you could never be prepared for everything that was going to happen," Elliott said.
Elliott was able to get a good idea of what she has to work with in her 23-player roster during the fall when the Buffs played games against Denver, Harvard, Boston College, Delaware, Drexel, Regis, Colorado College and the Colorado State club team.
Lacrosse coaches are allowed to work with their teams for six weeks in the fall, similar to spring practice in football. They can't put in more than 20 hours a week and they are allowed five competition days, which generally leads teams to play in tournaments in which they play more than once a day. CU played in the Navy tournament on the East Coast.
Elliott has a roster of 21 freshmen and two sophomores. Each lacrosse program is allowed a total of 12 scholarships. In an era when some student-athletes are lobbying to be paid to play, lacrosse players along with many of their fellow student athletes in other minor sports are paying to play.
"We're pretty young but I think it's a good thing for them," Elliott said. "With that comes a lot of energy, a lot of passion. They're really ready to learn every day and that's really what we ask of them."
"Every game we play, they're probably going to be faced with situations that we try to prepare them for, but things change and they're going to have to rise to that occasion."
Elliott said the two sophomores on her roster Katie Carroll, from Arnold, Md., and Sarah Lautman from Reading, Mass., naturally fell into leadership positions because they were the only members of the team with any experience at the college level when the team first assembled in the fall.
The players voted on a leadership group that includes Carroll, Lautman, Marie Moore from Brick, N.J., Maddie DeWinter from Parker, and Molly Rovzar from Newport Beach, Calif.
A normal-sized roster can be anywhere between 28-40 players depending on the style of play a coaching staff prefers. Elliott says she will have a more normal-sized roster at this time next year.
With two players out because of injuries, Elliott has had her assistants occasionally scrimmage with the team to allow full-team work in some practices.
Elliott said she probably won't be able to play the style she ultimately envisions for her program until she adds another recruiting class or two to have better overall depth. Elliott said she would like to play an up-tempo style and take advantage of the altitude on offense and pressure opponents on defense.
"I think defensively, I come from Northwestern, so it's kind of ingrained in my head that you get out and you pressure people and you want to play aggressively," Elliott said. "We're going to build up to that. That's the philosophy we're trying to get our players used to right now is getting a little outside their comfort zone in the defensive end and putting a little pressure on the offense."