At the girls lacrosse camp in Colorado, none of the college coaches wanted to work with the Utah team.
None besides Fresno State’s Jessica Giglio.
“As I’ve told you before, one of the biggest reasons I took this job is because I wanted to grow the sport out West,” Giglio says from behind the desk in her office, the one stocked with dill pickles, coconut water, beef jerky and other essential foodstuffs that her players enter freely to grab.
“So I worked the Utah team and saw these amazing athletic kids that I just thought could really flourish.”
Giglio showed her discoveries a few pointers and was astonished at their learning rate. The following weekend, two made the 14-hour drive to Fresno for a recruiting trip and committed on the spot.
Giglio showed her discoveries a few pointers and was astonished at their learning rate. The following weekend, two of the most promising ones made the 14-hour drive to Fresno for a recruiting trip and committed on the spot.
Women’s lacrosse at Fresno State hasn’t been the same.
Remember the bastard child of Bulldogs sports, the program a previous AD created out of thin air in 2009 (no club team, no local high schools, open tryouts), threw to the wolves (first win came in Year 4) and subjected to all manner of heckling and scorn?
The one that has finished every season with at least twice as many L’s as W’s?
That’s right. Eight-and-four, baby.
“My freshman year we only won two games, so it’s really rewarding to be where we’re at,” senior Caroline Dineen-Carlson says. “I knew coming in here that we were trying to build a program. We’re building, and we’re not even to the top yet.”
I feel like you have to learn how to win, and over the years we’ve started to do that.
Jessica Giglio, Fresno State women’s lacrosse coach
Things are definitely building. Fresno State starts six freshmen (including Tiffiny Wallace and Marina Mayo, Giglio’s two Utah finds) and three sophomores, leaving room for only one junior and two seniors.
Sophomore Sarah Bloise (47 points) and Wallace (44) are the team’s leading scorers, followed by Mayo (29) and fellow freshman Kayla Galet (28). Starting goalkeeper Laurel Maunder is a freshman, too.
“We had a lot of stellar freshmen that came in, and it’s really showing on the field how we’ve learned to play together and become a more dynamic team,” Bloise says.
With four games remaining, the Bulldogs are one win shy of clinching their first winning season and probably two from sealing a berth in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament. The next opportunity, one of two remaining home games, comes at 5 p.m. Saturday against UC Davis.
“Someone pointed out to me on Monday that there’s no way for us to finish (below) .500,” Giglio says. “I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s awesome. But I want to be better than that.’
“I’m greedy on the wins,” she adds while laughing. “But that’s our whole team’s mentality.”
Monday was a big day for Giglio’s program. The Bulldogs knocked off San Diego State for the first time in school history, and besides an overtime loss last year none of the previous five meetings were particularly close.
That was a really big win for us. Being from down there, it was personal for me.
Caroline Dineen-Carlson, on beating San Diego State for the first time
Even more illustrative than the 17-12 final score is what happened afterward in the team huddle.
When someone pointed out that this was Fresno State’s first win over the Aztecs, one of the freshmen (Mayo, as it happens) interjected with, “I’ve never lost to San Diego State.”
“You get excited when you hear stuff like that from a freshman,” Giglio says. “It’s just an awesome mentality to have. They’re coming in. They don’t care who’s who. They just want to win. And that’s a great spark for us.”
Sometimes it helps not to know what you’re getting yourself into.
That was Wallace’s approach.
The freshman from Sandy, Utah, chose Fresno State over programs in Colorado and Illinois without doing any research. She just liked the campus, liked the coaches and had family in California.
“I came in kind of with a blank slate,” Wallace says. “I didn’t want to see what their stats were. I didn’t want to see how many games they’d won and lost. Because I wanted to come out not expecting anything.”
Ignorance is bliss, I guess.
In a short time Bloise and Wallace have become a formidable 1-2 punch, the first players to surpass 40 points in a season in program history. Both should easily reach 50.
Bloise handles the draw controls (lacrosse’s version of the faceoff) and directs the offense from behind the net, where many of her passes end up in Wallace’s deft stick as she cuts down the right crease.
Of Wallace’s team-leading 34 goals, “quite a few” have come on a signature move her teammates call “The Tiff.”
“I bait them to come out right, fake left and then I tuck underneath,” she says with a grin.
“Works every time,” Dineen-Carlson adds. “Tiffiny’s just a good player. She’s fresh, and she has good moves.”
Besides its stellar freshmen, the program also has benefited from high-profile parental support. At every home game, the most recognizable face belongs to retired NFL linebacker Bill Romanowski, whose daughter Alex is a sophomore defender.
It’s such an athletic sport. To watch these gals run up and down the field with all the action is really exciting. They’re phenomenal athletes.
Bill Romanowski, retired NFL linebacker and lacrosse dad
Last year, Bill and wife Julie organized a dinner and live auction that raised $52,000 for the program. (The second one is May 10 at Sunnyside Country Club.) Giglio used some of the money on custom-dyed sticks that say “Bulldog born, Bulldog bred” on the shafts. Some of it she’s saving for an East Coast trip next fall.
Time to leave this program’s bumpy beginnings in the roadside ditch. Fresno State women’s lacrosse has hit the accelerator.
“I would’ve only taken this job if I believed we could do big things here,” the sixth-year coach says. “I really think Fresno State is a place where lacrosse can flourish, and we’re really starting to prove it.”
LACROSSE: FRESNO STATE VS. UC DAVIS
Saturday: 5 p.m. at Fresno State women’s soccer/lacrosse field
Records: Bulldogs 8-4, 1-3 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation; Aggies 5-7, 1-2