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- Coach, Recruit Have High Hopes For New Women's Lacrosse Program
Presented with the excitement and challenge of building a new women’s lacrosse program from the ground up at Dominican University of California, Joseph Manna felt a solid foundation was in place for him to be its head coach.
“They really value lacrosse here. I’ve been at bigger NCAA Institutions, but you don’t feel like you’re as valued there as a lacrosse program. Here it’s all about the student-athlete experience. I was really sold on that,” says Manna, who joined Dominican Athletics from the University of Detroit Mercy. “It is the perfect place for women’s lacrosse between the academics, the Dominican advantage, and just the campus life.”
That has been Manna’s calling card as he started the process of recruiting student-athletes to join a brand new women’s lacrosse program that did not begin organized practices until this past fall and played and won its first match in the Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association on January 28. Nevertheless, as of March 2022, Manna already had 18 student-athletes who had committed to enroll at Dominican and play women’s lacrosse for the Penguins.
“We have really committed student-athletes,” Manna says. “We're really lucky. We couldn't be happier for a first-year program with the class that's coming.”
Not only is the Penguins' women's lacrosse coach impressed with the quantity of the recruits headed to campus, but also by the quality of athletes who are attracted to play at Dominican.
“A lot of it has to do with the school,” Manna says. “It’s all right here. It’s a school that has competitive lacrosse. It has high academics. And it’s close to home. It’s great that we’ve hit the ground running!
“But I can’t necessarily take all the credit. It doesn’t feel completely like my project or my vision. It feels more like our project and our vision. The leadership at Dominican has put me in a position to succeed. Athletic Director Amy Henkelman, Men's Lacrosse Coach Sammy Vogel-Seidenberg, and Associate A.D. Kayla Smith have really given me the freedom and creativity to thrive.”
Which is why Maddy Frank in 2021 was already on campus and taking classes in anticipation for the inaugural season of women’s lacrosse at Dominican. The Novato High School graduate was starting for the Regis University women’s lacrosse team as a freshman, yet came home during the pandemic. That’s when she heard that Dominican was launching its own women’s lacrosse program.
“I was initially very excited to hear this news because I was looking for a school to transfer to that offered both a lacrosse program and nursing program, which is very rare to find,” says Maddy, who longs to be a Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse and eventually a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NP).
“Playing lacrosse and pursuing nursing has always been my dream, and I liked that I had the opportunity to do both in my own hometown. Being in my hometown and becoming a nurse in California is very important to me. Coming home from Denver due to COVID made me realize that I wanted to pursue these dreams here.”
For Manna, the timing – and talent – was perfect. Dominican men’s lacrosse coach Sammy Vogel-Seidenberg had tipped off Manna about Maddy.
“We got incredibly lucky, incredibly fortunate with her,” Manna says. “I was interviewing for the position and Sammy said, `Hey look at this recruit. This is our first.’ Just watching her film, I knew this team was going to be competitive right away.
“Coach Vogel-Seidenberg has been a great mentor for me here; he’s really shown me the ins and outs of the institution, making the whole process a lot easier to navigate.”
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Manna has been all over the country recruiting other student-athletes to come to Dominican. Early in his coaching career with the Penguins, he attended showcase tournaments in Colorado Springs, Salt Lake City, Portland and San Diego and returned from Florida where he was an assistant coach on the gold medal-winning team, Iroquois Nation team, at the Pan-American Lacrosse Association's Sixes Cup. He was moving so fast that, in pursuit of recruiting one particular goalkeeper, he went to extraordinary lengths to see and potentially sign her. On a Thursday, Manna was contacted by the recruit’s club coach who said his goalie would be playing in a tournament the coming weekend. Manna, who had never seen the recruit play in person, flew out of state the next day to see her play on Saturday and Sunday then got her to sign to commit to Dominican on Monday.
“This first class is unique in that we are looking for leaders. We are looking for women who want to step into that role and embrace being the first group of student-athletes on campus for that sport,” Manna says. “Obviously we are looking for high character and high academics is a must. It makes everything a lot easier.”
Manna knows how hard it is to succeed at lacrosse. A native of Long Island, NY, he played collegiately at SUNY Delhi where he was named Preseason All-NJCAA honors by Inside Lacrosse in 2015. That year he went on to re-write his school's record books. After graduating from SUNY Delhi, Manna played defense and took faceoffs for the Allegany Arrows of the CAN-AM Lacrosse League from 2016-2018. He began his coaching career in 2016, returning to SUNY Delhi to serve his former team as an assistant coach. Then, in 2018, Manna was named head coach of the East Carolina men’s lacrosse club. In 2019, he was named to the coaching staff at Furman University and also has spent time in the international circuit working with the Israel, Colombia, and Bulgarian lacrosse programs, growing the sport on a youth, collegiate and national level.
“I just love the game of lacrosse. I can’t really picture myself doing anything else,” he says.
Manna graduated with a Liberal Arts degree from SUNY Delhi in 2015 and is currently pursuing his master's in psychology while creating a women’s college lacrosse team from scratch.
“I’ve always wanted to build my own program,” Manna says. “A lot of advice I’ve gotten from older coaches is that building a team is actually a lot easier than rebuilding a team because we pick out the team culture. We are really looking for right fits at this moment. We are looking for the individuals that fit our academic makeup and the culture of the school and that helps a lot.”
Maddy Frank is happy Manna found her and she found Dominican.
“Coach Manna told me he wants to coach a high level, competitive team, which drew me into the program,” says Maddy who is minoring in Global Public Health. “I think both of our competitive natures will help make the lacrosse program grow and be successful. Coach Manna also expressed to me that I would be a key contributor to building the program, given I have previous experience playing in college and aspirations to build Dominican’s new program. I was very excited when I learned I could help build the lacrosse program alongside Coach Manna.”
As an upperclassman, Maddy looks forward to being a team leader and wants a team culture that is positive, hardworking and fun.
“I envision an environment on the team where we build each other up, support each other on and off the field, and work hard while doing what we love. I also would like our team to come together as one to focus on common goals/visions to be successful as a program,” Maddy says. “Being a new program, there is going to be a significant learning curve. I want to embrace the change that comes with a new program so we can always continue to improve and grow together, both on and off the field.”
The new program is in place and the team is prepared to play a schedule against college teams from Sonoma State to UCLA.
“What keeps me going is thinking about that first day on campus when we have all of our young women together – whether it on the field or at a team meeting – and we get to see all these players we recruited from all over the west coast come together,” Manna says “I can’t wait for that first day. I think that’s when I’ll be able to get some sleep again.”
Photo above of new women's lacrosse coach Joseph Manna and the program's first recruit Maddy Frank.