Lax exceeds early expectations under Schwan


Dave DeLuca/The Record

Kelsey Schwan was an assistant for Bengals and was named interim head coach after Meg Stevens left at the end of last season.

Kelsey Schwan took over as interim head coach of the Buffalo State women’s lacrosse team this year and has led the Bengals to a 7-5 record, putting them in position to make a postseason run.

Schwan took over for Meg Stevens, who was head coach of the team from for a decade, leading the Bengals to 109 wins and just 69 losses between 2003 and 2013, and an NCAA Final Four appearance in 2012.

Schwan knew she wanted to coach women’s lacrosse before she even reached high school.

“I knew since like eighth grade that this is what I wanted to do,” Schwan said. “I worked at camps over the summer, I had my own club team my sophomore year of college, and I continued to coach every summer all the way through college.”

Schwan played high school lacrosse at Guilderland High School in the capital district for three years before transferring to a high school without a lacrosse team her senior year.

“I always knew I wanted to coach, but it wasn’t until I lost my ability to play the game that I realized how much I really loved the game,” Schwan said.

She played college volleyball her freshman and sophomore years at Westchester University in Pennsylvania before transferring to Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania to play lacrosse her final two years of college.

Schwan was a two-year captain and started as an attacker her senior year at Bloomsburg.

“I didn’t have a ton of goals or points or anything,” Schwan said. “I was a consistent catch-and-thrower and made good decisions and I think it finally paid off my senior year.”

Schwan had an internship at Cornell University as a strength and conditioning coach to finish up her bachelor’s degree work from Bloomsburg her senior year, and also volunteered as an assistant to Cornell’s women’s lacrosse coach.

Schwan graduated with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Bloomsburg in 2011, and was given a job as an assistant women’s lacrosse coach at Ithaca College in 2012. Schwan was under a one-year non-renewable contract with Ithaca, making it more of a gateway to other opportunities rather than a long-term job.

The opportunity provided by Ithaca led to a spot on Buffalo State’s coaching staff in 2013, as Schwan came to Buffalo State to be an assistant under Stevens after being recommended by Ithaca’s head women’s lacrosse coach, Shannon McHale, who knew Stevens personally.

Schwan said she feels lucky to have had coaches like McHale and Stevens as mentors, and credits their tutelage as part of the reason she has been able to succeed in her first year as a head coach.

“It was a great experience for me,” Schwan said, speaking of her time as an assistant under Stevens. “She allowed me to be very hands-on with a lot of things. I have the lacrosse knowledge I built at Ithaca, and then I got to use it last year, which was nice.

“[Stevens] gave me a lot of free reign with strength and conditioning and stuff in practice like running drills. That gave me a lot of confidence. When I was given this opportunity, I felt pretty comfortable because of the great experience she gave me.”

Schwan is also certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), and is a trainer for Buffalo State’s women’s hockey and volleyball teams in addition to serving as head coach for the lacrosse team.

Once this season is over, Buffalo State’s athletic board will conduct a national search for the head coaching position. Schwan will, of course, be an applicant for the process, and will be considered for a long-term contract based upon this year’s outcome, the board’s assessment of her, and the other options they have.

Schwan said she would like to be the long-term head coach of the team “very, very much.”

“This is where I want to be,” Schwan said. “I have eight recruits coming in next year, and I would love to have the opportunity to coach them, and do something really great here.”

Schwan feels the help she’s received from her assistant coaches is important in what she’s been able to accomplish and how she’s been able to manage the team this season.

“They’re the only reason I’ve gotten through this,” Schwan said, speaking of her assistant coaching staff. “Taryn Burkholder has been an outstanding assistant. As a first year head coach, there’s a lot of behind-the-scene stuff I didn’t realize I’d have to do. To have someone so capable, I mean, I’ve given this girl a to-do list with 25 things on it and she’s gotten it all done and done a great job.

“She was a great player at Niagara [University] and had a year as an assistant coach there,” Schwan said. “Then to have Katie Lyons, who’s an alumna, and (Tricia) Primomo, who played at University at Albany, to help out, I’ve just been very fortunate. I have three very knowledgeable, dedicated coaches to help me out.”

“She’s a great person,” Burkholder said. “We’ve become really good friends.”

Burkholder has great confidence in Schwan’s ability as a coach.

“She’s done a great job bringing a young team together,” Burkholder said. “She’s very organized and a great teacher. She’s passionate about taking this program to the next level. I personally feel she’s a great coach with a long career ahead of her.”

Despite being tough on her players, Schwan is liked and respected by them.

“I think she’s a great coach,” senior Nicole Paulhardt said. “Kelsey’s very, very tough on us. She’s done a really great job so far. She knows lacrosse well and knows what she’s talking about.”

“She’s a good coach,” junior Meghan Farrell said. “She’s very fair. She plays the ones who are working hard; she recognizes those players.”

“She has a lot of good ideas,” senior Becca Martinez said. “She sees the game very differently from how we see it, which is good for us. She’s very personable, and she understands what’s going on with the team on and off the field.”

“She’s very smart,” senior Kelsey Hodge said. “She knows what we need to do to get better. She wants everyone to realize their full potential. She pushes us to get better and believes in us 100 percent.”

We’ve come a long way since the fall. I have four seniors and I couldn’t ask for better leadership from them. I’ve been so impressed with the work ethic and how much they want it, and how they buy into the things that we’re trying to teach.

— Kelsey Schwan, Buffalo State's women's lax interim head coach

A short roster, injuries, and developing chemistry among new and returning players have been the team’s primary obstacles this season.

“The only obstacle we’ve faced so far is not having the depth we want and need,” Martinez said.

“Earlier in the season we were hit with the injury bug,” Burkholder said. “We had a few key players out at one time.”

“One of the biggest obstacles is that there are more new girls than there are returners,” junior Kendra Thomas said. “So it was tough to connect on the field playing with a bunch of new players. We had to build new relationships.”

Schwan feels fortunate to have the group of girls she does in her first year as head coach, and has full faith that they have the leadership and ability necessary to finish the season strong.

“It’s a really great group,” Schwan said. “We’ve come a long way since the fall. I have four seniors and I couldn’t ask for better leadership from them. I’ve been so impressed with the work ethic and how much they want it, and how they buy into the things that we’re trying to teach.

“It’s made the job a lot easier to have such great leadership and to know I can count on them to follow through with what I need to get done. I hope we can turn it around, make the playoffs, and do something special.”