July 29, 2014
By Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - Sara Tisdale was a promising basketball player at Waverly High School in Lansing, Mich., in the late 1990s.
Lacrosse? She'd seen her friends play it, but had never actually picked up a stick herself. Instead, Tisdale satisfied her athletic appetite in the gym, honing her jumper, perfecting her crossover dribble.
Back then, she was a scrappy guard at Waverly and was drawing the attention of college coaches.
As a senior in the fall of 2000, she suffered a knee injury - the dreaded anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear - and there, for all intents and purposes, went her basketball career.
"I had good friends who played lacrosse and I'd go to the games," Tisdale said. "I loved how fast-paced lacrosse was. I loved the element of contact that was involved. You could really see the athletic plays on the field.
"But to play? I was very hesitant and nervous to put that stick in my hands. I had excelled on the basketball court, so it was like `Am I going to be good at this sport?' It was a little nerve-wracking."
She was recruited to lacrosse by Waverly coach Bill Prahler, and it proved to be a major turning point in the then-17-year-old life of Sara Tisdale, who, in her very first year of organized lacrosse, was among the Warriors' top scorers as they won the high school state championship.
On Tuesday, Tisdale was introduced as Central Michigan's first women's lacrosse coach during a media conference as Rose Center.
"I was very impressed with Sara's enthusiasm, her energy level," said Dave Heeke, CMU's Associate Vice President/Athletics Director. "I think those are critical when you start a program.
"When you come into any new head-coaching setting you've got to have that enthusiasm, that passion, and that energy to move things forward.
"I was also impressed with her vision, her long-term vision, of how this program can be competitive, how this program can contend for championships, which is part of our culture here."
The Chippewas will begin play in 2016 as a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference. Tisdale said she has already hit the recruiting trail, spreading the word about her program in the lacrosse community.
Having played club lacrosse at CMU - from which she graduated in 2006 - and coached the women's club team at Michigan State from 2008-10, she is a familiar face and name in lacrosse circles within the state of Michigan.
She also knows what it's like to build from the ground up, having started the women's program at Augustana (Ill.) College. In three years at Augustana, Tisdale's teams finished 51-8, won two league championships, and twice reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division III Tournament.
Not bad for somebody who knew as much about tiddlywinks as she did lacrosse a decade and a half ago.
"I've been fortunate enough to never have really had a losing season, and I sure as heck don't plan to start here with year one of this program," Tisdale said. "I believe that the energy that I bring to a program is what the players will have and I want them to possess just as high energy and be as excited about this as I am.
"I can't really afford a second of being off or not carrying that energy if I expect this program to be that way."
That way, in Tisdale's view, is uptempo and aggressive, which is the way she played both lacrosse and basketball, and the way she coaches.
It's also in that fashion that Tisdale plans to tackle the monumental task of building the program.
It worked at Augustana.
"When I went to Augustana, I didn't have any college lacrosse coaching experience so I was selling a lot," she said. "I was selling myself, I was selling Augustana, I was selling the potential of the lacrosse program. Coming in here I can say I know what it takes to be successful in building a program based on that experience.
"You really have to make people believe, and that includes the student-athletes and their families, and saying `yeah, I really want to be a part of that because they're going to be successful.'"
It takes more than talent, Tisdale said, and that something extra is what she will be looking for in potential Chippewas.
"There's tons of talented lacrosse players out there, but finding that kid who says `I will give you more than I've ever given anybody before,' that's what we're looking for," she said. "We're going to be able to bring in student-athletes who are talented, who are good students, who believe in CMU. We also want that kid who wants to put in that extra time, that kid who doesn't have anything left in the tank but is going to give it that extra anyways."
Tisdale never picked up a lacrosse stick until her senior year of high school, and the only reason she did that was because of the knee injury.
Now, lacrosse is her life. Fate is funny that way.
"I talk to my players about that a lot," Tisdale said. "You can't always write what's supposed to happen, you can't always be in complete control. It's how you handle it that really matters."
Tisdale fully recognizes what the sport of lacrosse did for her, how it helped heal the emotional wounds when she could no longer play basketball at the level to which she was accustomed.
And how the game has gotten her to where she is today, in charge of a budding Division I program.
"That's why I believe in these players who have been playing for only maybe one or two or three years, because I was that player," she said. "Somebody took a chance on me and it worked out, and that's why I don't ever look at a kid and say `Oh they've only played for X number of years' or whatever the case may be. You never judge a book by its cover."
And you never know how the silver lining in every cloud is, eventually, going to surface.
"To have that (knee injury) happen, when I was 17, and I thought then that was the most devastating thing in my young life," Tisdale said. "To have it work out the way it has. ... I think back on that moment often and count my blessings that that's how it all played out."
Someday, those in and around CMU may say exactly the same thing, if they aren't already.