Things will look a little different this season in college women's lacrosse - from the inside and out.
For the first time, protective eyewear will be required for the NCAA tournament. It won't be required during the regular season until 2005, partly because such a demand might be difficult for the four or five manufacturers to meet, said Erin Millon, US Lacrosse women's division director.
Still, all of the local Division I teams have been wearing the eyewear, which comes in styles from those resembling plastic ski goggles to those that use a wire cage to protect the eyes.
"If you feel you have a shot at the championship, you don't want to not be wearing them all year and then have to wear them," said Maryland coach Cindy Timchal.
Wearing the goggles took some adjustment on the players' part.
"It was really hard at first," said UMBC senior Jen Dragoni, whose team uses a wire style that is open in front of the eyes, although the gap is small enough to keep the ball out.
"The first pair of goggles that we got, I felt like I couldn't see, but after a couple weeks I really couldn't even tell they were on my face anymore," Dragoni said. "I guess it's like any other thing - you get used to it."
All of the local Division I coaches said their players, like Dragoni, adjusted to wearing the goggles within a week or two. Some made the adjustment during fall ball.
"In the beginning, the girls hated to wear it because it doesn't look nice. It gives them tan lines," said Mount St. Mary's coach Courtney Martinez Connor.
"But if that's what they say is going to help cut down the amount of eye injuries, we want our girls to wear it. Better to be safe than sorry."
Timchal, who has opposed introducing eyewear to the women's game, said she anticipates that some problems may surface during the season, such as headaches, fogging of the plastic ones during bad weather and glare from lights during night games.
"We still don't know whether, when two teams are matched up that are tough opponents in a highly contested match, are these eyewear going to play a role," said Timchal.
However, she noted that these are the first models and that they likely will evolve once they are in widespread use.
Dragoni said she once had a black eye from being hit by a ball, and she often had bruises on her face.
"Now, I have no problems because of the goggles. They actually work. Whenever we get checked in the face, there aren't any injuries - they just hit the mask."
New coach in town
Not that these Tigers are making room in their trophy case just yet, but to Holmes, an assistant at Princeton for three years, the basic foundation - good athletes with open minds - is already in place at Towson.
"There are really dedicated athletes here, so it's not a matter of establishing a work ethic, because they have it. That's been a blessing," said Holmes, an Annapolis native who played at St. Mary's and at Maryland.
To fill out her staff, Holmes, 28, has brought in two coaches from Loyola - Tom Ryan, the former Greyhounds assistant, and Suzanne Eyler, an All-America attacker last season - to join Chris Mitzel.
Holmes expects Ryan and Eyler to foster the key element she sees as lacking in the Tigers' drive to become a national power.
"This coaching staff has a great past experience of being successful in Division I, and with that comes a certain mentality and the challenge of instilling that mentality in the players," Holmes said.
"Your physical play gets so much better when you're ready to compete mentally."