April 6, 2006
When the Old Dominion Monarchs rolled into Charlottesville on Wednesday night for a game at Klöckner Field, two of the most illustrious figures in women's lacrosse history stood on opposing sidelines. While rivals for 60 intense minutes, Sue Stahl, the head coach of ODU, and Heather Dow, an assistant coach at UVA, have joined together since the 1989 International Federation of Women's Lacrosse Associations (IFWLA) World Cup to promote women's lacrosse and place the United States at the top of the lacrosse world.
The relationship that has evolved to encompass more than just a love for lacrosse began with Dow providing the defensive backbone in goal for the Stahl-coached '89 US Women's National Team. In the beginning, however, Stahl had some trouble communicating with her soft-spoken goalie.
"She didn't talk much," said Stahl. "I don't think she ever spoke to me until after she made the World Cup team, and the try-out process was probably 6 months. She would just say, `yes ma'am.'"
Despite her soft-spoken nature, Dow possessed many of the intangible attributes that Stahl looked for in a goalie. "She had poise and competitiveness, "Stahl said. "She was very determined, she was very focused, and she wanted to win."
In addition to the intangibles, Dow, who did not start playing lacrosse until her second year at UVA, credits another sport for much of her success as a goalie. "I played tennis in high school," said Dow. "I had a good net game, and the eye hand coordination helped with lacrosse goal keeping. I also had some quickness and liked to challenge myself."
Dow's prowess in goal and Stahl's coaching drove the US women to capture the gold medal at the '89 IFWLA World Cup in an overtime game against England, but the victory didn't come without a little anxiety. "She (Dow) always says that I told her if the ball goes in on the right side of the goal that she was going to get cut," Stahl said. "In the championship game, the tying goal scored by England went through on the right side. We fortunately won in overtime, so she didn't get too much heat for that one."
After the victory over England, the US renamed Stahl as the Head Coach of the National Team for the '93 World Cup. In need of coaches, Stahl asked Dow, who also played as a backup goalie for the US on the silver medalist '86 World Cup Team, to join her staff.
"My biggest thing was to have someone who knew the game," said Stahl, who also played on the US National lacrosse and field hockey teams. "I felt as a goalie she saw the whole field in front, so therefore she was pretty well versed. We had conversed a lot, so I knew she was a good thinker, bright, and smart, and I liked that. Our ideas about the game and what you have to commit to it and commit to the US were both similar."
Dow accepted the position, and in the following years the tandem produced World Cup teams that dominated international play. "We finished up this past World Cup as our last go-round," Dow said. "We coached in `93, `97, `01, and `05, and we had 3 golds and one silver out of that. Sue and I just shared everything as coaches. We didn't really have set responsibilities."
While they may not have had set responsibilities as coaches of the US National Team, Dow and Stahl have taken on plenty of responsibility outside of the coaching arena. They have served on numerous national lacrosse committees through the years, including the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association, the United States Women's Lacrosse Association, and the US Lacrosse Board of Directors.
For their accomplishments as players, coaches, and as ambassadors of the game, Dow and Stahl have received countless individual accolades. Stahl, who played lacrosse, field hockey, basketball, and softball at Ursinus College, was elected into the Bears' Sports Hall of Fame in 1985. She has been named CAA Coach of the Year three times, and in 1997, the International Federation of Women's Lacrosse Association selected her as Coach of the Year. In 2000, USLacrosse called Stahl the Coach of the Century, while awarding Dow Goalie of the Century honors.
The National Lacrosse Hall of Fame enshrined Stahl as a member in 1999 and did the same for Dow three years later. "That was pretty neat," said Dow. "My one big regret there is that my dad wasn't alive. But Sue introduced me, so that was pretty special. And it was definitely an honor. You think of everyone that's played the game, and to be singled out for that type of honor is pretty cool."
And as their awards mount and their run as coaches of the US National Team comes to an end, Heather Dow and Sue Stahl will continue work with young women and impact the game of lacrosse as they have for years--a game to which these two have given so much.