On the unexpected B1G challenge facing Oregon lacrosse
The job Jessica Drummond has is a lot different than the one she accepted this summer.
Just before moving to Eugene to begin her tenure as Oregon’s new women’s lacrosse coach, Jessica Drummond was visiting family in Michigan when she learned that the job she had accepted in June was no longer the same job she held in August.
Oregon was moving to the Big Ten.
Instead of taking over a program that has played in the relative obscurity of the West Coast lacrosse scene, the New Hampshire-native now had a job in the sport’s toughest conference. The Big Ten is home to 14-time national champion Maryland, eight-time national champion Northwestern and two-time national champion Penn State.
Drummond learned of the news as texts flew in from friends.
“That was a bit of a ‘Oh Sh..’ moment,” Drummond said Tuesday, 10 days before the four-year UO letter winner (2009-2012) coaches her first game as a Duck. “It was like, I’m with the big dogs now. I’m with legends. It’s just such an incredible opportunity to be back at my alma mater and have the opportunity to push the program to where it’s never been before.”
To be frank, the Ducks haven’t been close. Since adding the sport in 2004-05, Oregon has never reached the NCAA Tournament, won its conference tournament once and is coming off a five-year stretch under Chelsea Hoffmann where the team went 17-55. When Hoffmann resigned in May and the Ducks went about their coaching search, Drummond certainly made sense as a candidate.
She was a three-time second-team All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation selection at Oregon, led the Ducks to their lone NCAA play-in game appearance in 2012 and has since bolstered her coaching resume with assistant roles at Dartmouth and Vermont. She has a twin sister, Jana, who also played for the Ducks and is now the head coach of UMass-Amherst.
Jana’s Minutewomen are No. 20 in the preseason rankings. Jessica’s Ducks are unranked with few outside expectations — outside their own — to change that in their final season in the Pac-12. And while Drummond views this year as an opportunity to start building the foundation for a new era for the program, she also doesn’t think success has to wait.
Oregon returns multiple starters, including All-Pac-12 Second Team selection Morgan McCarthy, and a pair of Catamounts have followed Drummond from Vermont to Oregon through the transfer portal.
“Why not end winning it?” Drummond said. “Why not go into the Big Ten like, yeah, we just won the Pac-12. That’s our mentality. It goes back to having that alpha pride and discipline to be a winning team, and I think this team has that. Everyday we’re talking about winning the Pac-12. Because why not?”
The Ducks are about to embark upon a final Pac-12 season that, unlike any other sport in the conference, has no national powers. Stanford has been the conference’s most successful program, yet has never advanced past the Sweet 16. USC has six postseason appearances but has only reached the quarterfinals.
Outside of Denver, which reached the Final Four last season as a member of the Big East, no team west of Chicago has posed a national championship threat since the NCAA sanctioned women’s lacrosse as a Division I sport in 1981-82.
So yeah, things will change a bit next year for Drummond and the Ducks. But she also views playing the Goliaths of the sport as an opportunity to get the program where she believes it can be.
You got to start somewhere, right?
“We’re going to be competing with top 10 programs every year and it’s only going to make this program better,” Drummond said. “I get to coach against the best of the best and I just remind myself that they were all in my shoes at one point. I think that’s such a grounding place to be, like, I can’t just expect us to win us a national championship next year just because we’re in the Big Ten. I’m always reminding myself that it’s going to take time to build something legendary like they’ve done at these places.”
Drummond’s project gets underway next Friday against Youngstown State.
“These are all a bunch of first for me, too, back at a place where I was a player, and I feel passionate and proud to be in a position to make alumni proud, to make the program proud and to make the department super excited,” she said. “I feel like there’s this great sense of pressure, but I love pressure and I thrive under pressure and I’m feeling it.”
— Tyson Alger, The I-5 Corridor