SPARKS, Md. — The uniforms at sun-splashed Tierney Field may have read Fairfield, Princeton, Villanova and NYAC, but on this Saturday, everyone was a tiger. Or at least, they came to pay tribute to figurative tigers that paved the way for the growth of women’s lacrosse.

Amidst teaching points and player evaluations synonymous with fall lacrosse, US Lacrosse formally dedicated Chris Sailer Trail and honored 11 Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association Trailblazers with ceremonies during the four-team Princeton Invitational here. A plaque paying tribute to the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame coach, who started at Princeton 31 years ago and has led the Tigers to three NCAA championships, now anchors near the Creator’s Game Statue the walking path that surrounds another Princeton namesake. Along the way, plaques now outline the contributions of a generation that fought for opportunities for women in college long before the passage of Title IX.

“Beyond the competitive aspect of the game, what I’ve enjoyed most about coaching is the opportunity to help grow and mentor young women into strong, capable, giving and resilient adults,” Sailer said, before a large, appreciative crowd of teams, former players and fans.

“Seeing my alum[nae] graduate from Princeton, pursue meaningful careers, raise families, impact their communities and stay involved in the game has been incredibly rewarding,” she said. “My life is full because of this great game.”

Sailer, who’s guided the Tigers to 24 NCAA tournament appearances and 13 Ivy League titles, was introduced by Kristen Garlinghouse, a member of the US Lacrosse Board of Directors that played for Sailer in high school and at Princeton.

“I am thrilled that each and every visitor to this facility will have the chance to learn of the enormity of Chris Sailer’s contributions to our sport, as well as her tremendous achievements as a coach and player,” Garlinghouse said during the ceremony.

It was Garlinghouse who called Sailer last year to inform her of the impending honor.

“I was hesitant at first,” Sailer said after filming a tribute to trailblazer Carole Kleinfelder following the Tigers’ game against Villanova. “Why me? There are so many great women that would deserve it. But eventually I came around.

“And then the fact that the trailblazers were going to be honored on the trail, that was the icing on the cake,” Sailer said. “I stand on their shoulders. They’re the ones that created the opportunities for me and for other coaches to follow.”

And follow they did. Laura Field played for Sailer as a goalie at Princeton in the late 1990s; ditto Julie Young (then Shaner) at midfield. In the Finney Tunnel before Fairfield’s first game, assistant coach Anne Murray said it was rare for the Stags to travel overnight for a fall-ball event, and they endured a seven-hour bus trip Friday.

“There’s only so many ways you can show someone how much they mean to you, and showing up at an event like this is one of those ways,” Field, in her third year as Fairfield’s head coach after seven as an assistant, said. “People don’t think of Princeton kids as staying in the game, and she has hoards of Princeton kids that have stayed in the game because of her impact, legacy and example.”

Young, her in eighth year as head coach of the Wildcats, credited Sailer with knowing the environment surrounding her players.

“She was a strong motivator,” Young said. “You’re at Princeton — an Ivy League school with a lot of academic pressure. She knew to make lacrosse fun. The family and culture she built has been special, and you can see it here.”

While those with connections to Sailer represented the majority of the gathering, many came to support the recognition of the IWLCA Trailblazers. IWLCA President and Le Moyne coach Kathy Taylor hosted a ceremony to formally honor those that “literally changed the face of women’s collegiate athletics,” she said.

Once relegated to physical education classes, collegiate women’s lacrosse owes its national status today to a group of women that overcame obstacles to gradually earn varsity status beginning in the 1960s through the 1980s.

IWLCA

“Young men and women will walk Chris Sailer Trail and be reminded, one by one, of the challenges our Trailblazers faced and the enormity of their impact on our sport,” Taylor told the crowd. “Every Trailblazer we honor today stands individually and collectively responsible for advancing the sport of women’s lacrosse and the coaching profession prior to Title IX.”

As the first African American head coach in collegiate women’s lacrosse history, Tina Sloan Green may have faced a taller hill to climb. The former Temple coach relished the afternoon alongside the trailblazers, missing only Gillian Rattray and Kleinfelder.

“It’s a way to leave my legacy as a trailblazer and try to inspire the next generation to pursue their dreams,” Sloan Green said after the ceremony. “This is a great group, and a lot of them were my mentors.”

The IWLCA honored these trailblazers, each with a plaque installed at various points along Chris Sailer Trail:

Pat Genovese (William Smith)
Tina Sloan Green (Temple)
Caroline Haussermann (William & Mary, Penn)
Kathy Heinze (Wilson, Dickinson, Shippensburg)
Carole Kleinfelder (Harvard)
Gillian Rattray (Penn State)
Sue Stahl (Ursinus, Temple, Old Dominion)
Sue Tyler (Cornell, Maryland)
Lanetta Ware (Hollins)
Marge Watson (Ursinus)
Judy Wolstenholme (West Chester)

As mentors ago, a significant group, now permanently entrenched alongside other pioneers and benefactors of the sport at the complex of its national governing body.