Ohio State women’s lacrosse coach Alexis Venechanos and Samuel L. Jackson might have a little something in common.
“She reminds me of ‘Coach Carter’ and that’s my favorite movie,” said Gabby Capuzzi, junior midfielder and team captain.
Ken Carter is a tough-love high school basketball coach portrayed by Jackson in the 2005 film.
Mental toughness is something Venechanos focuses on every week in practice, Capuzzi said. Each week there is a new “mental toughness challenge” during practice, and the player who wins the challenge wears a construction worker’s vest the following week during workouts.
Venechanos, 30, is in the middle of her first season at the helm of OSU women’s lacrosse. She is just the second coach in the program’s history, which began in 1996.
Former coach Sue Stimmel led the Buckeyes for 15 seasons and compiled a 122-111 at OSU. Stimmel resigned last May to pursue other professional opportunities.
This season has been about introducing philosophies and getting players dedicated to bringing the program back to prominence, Venechanos said.
“We aim to empower our student athletes to be the best they can be,” she said. “We challenge them every day and look to improve.”
Senior midfielder Maghan Beaudrault said Venechanos’ philosophy blends aspects of men’s and women’s lacrosse, particularly on offense.
“It has been a breath of fresh air,” she said, “something new.”
Before coming to OSU, Venechanos led the Massachusetts women’s team through four seasons, from 2007 to 2010, and was an assistant at Northwestern from 2004 to 2006.
When Venechanos first took over at Massachusetts, the program had not qualified for the NCAA Tournament in more than 20 seasons. By her third season, in 2009, the Minutewomen returned to the postseason, and also appeared for a second consecutive time in 2010.
The Buckeyes have not played in the NCAA Tournament since 2003. However, Venechanos said she envisions a similar turnaround at OSU like the one she conducted at Massachusetts.
“We have a program full of strong people and a strong base,” she said.
The team is 6-4, with a 0-1 record in the American Lacrosse Conference, which Venechanos considers the strongest conference in the nation.
With five games remaining for OSU, four of which are against conference opponents, Venechanos said a return to the NCAA Tournament this year is still possible. A berth in the semifinals or championship during the ALC Tournament should garner consideration for an at-large NCAA berth, she said.
In any event, both Capuzzi and Beaudrault are both excited about the future of the program under Venechanos.
“She is tough and pushes us to reach high potential,” Capuzzi said. “The future is bright for the program.”
Beaudrault said she is happy to have been a part of the beginning of the process and that she will be proud to look back at the program in a couple of years.
“I’m confident the program will be taken to levels we never thought of before,” she said.
The OSU women’s lacrosse team continues ALC play against Vanderbilt on at noon Sunday at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.