When the head women's lacrosse coach position opened at Mount St. Mary's last year, assistant coach Katie Schwarzmann knew exactly who should take the job — her sister Lauren, an assistant at Stanford.
"I put the bug in her ear," Katie said. "I knew Lauren wanted to come back to the East Coast. I didn't even know if she would be interested or not, but she's such a homebody and our family is so close that just getting her back on this coast has been amazing."
It's been great for the Mountaineers, too.
Although it took a while to turn things around, the Mountaineers (6-10) won five of their last six games to finish 5-2 in the Northeast Conference and qualify for this weekend's four-team tournament. They polished off the regular season Sunday by rallying from four goals down to beat defending NEC champion Bryant, 9-8 in overtime, on the road.
Inheriting a roster of just 20 players didn't make it easy for Lauren who prefers an up-tempo offense and an aggressive defense, but she and the players have met that challenge and now have a chance to win the NEC title and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Friday night, the third-seeded Mountaineers take on Wagner in the NEC semifinals at top-seeded Bryant. A win would put them in the title game against the Bryant-Robert Morris winner Sunday at 1 p.m.
When Lauren arrived to take over the Mount St. Mary's program, Katie had been there a year and proved a valuable resource in getting to know the program and the players.
The sisters, both All-Metro players at Century, had never coached together. Lauren, who played a Johns Hopkins, is 29 and five years older than Katie, who won two Tewaaraton Awards at Maryland. They did get the chance to play together for three years on the U.S. national team and their close bond as sisters shows through in their coaching relationship.
"Being my first year as a head coach," Lauren said, "you want feedback and she gives it to me whether it's good or bad and I appreciate that more than anything. I want to know what she thinks is good for us on the field, what's good for them off the field and if I have an idea and she thinks it's great, she tells me but if she thinks, 'Lauren, that's completely crazy,' I really respect her opinion and I value it."
Katie said she hesitated to speak her mind at first.
"Obviously we're sisters, but then you have to have that boss kind of respect," Katie said. "But it's just awesome how willing she is to listen to my and [assistant coach Dana Cahill's] opinion and get our feedback on anything and she really welcomes it."
In her second season at the Mount, Cahill, who was a goalie at Mercy and Penn State, fits right in with the sisters and said they have a strong coaching dynamic.
"They get along really well," Cahill said. "Katie's obviously more quiet and Lauren is the first to say what's on her mind, but I think that's why they work so well together. They definitely balance what each other lacks while they do have some similarities."
Katie, who is finishing her MBA at Mount St. Mary's and training for the 2017 World Cup, isn't sure she wants to make a career of coaching, but Lauren, who has retired from the national team, does. She discovered that while coaching with former Johns Hopkins assistant Lellie Swords at Cincinnati.
"She knew I was very academic and wanted to get my Master's, so she lured me out there. She said, 'You can coach with me and get your Master's and while I was doing that, I really felt a love for coaching," said Lauren who went on to be an assistant coach at San Diego State before moving to Stanford.
The sisters' coach while they were at Century, Rose Pentz, saw Lauren's knack for coaching while she was still in high school.
"Lauren was good with the Xs and Os and she had a real knack for getting people to do the things that she was looking for that she knew would be good for the team," Pentz said. "I would call a timeout and she would be the one and only that I would allow to say a few things, because I knew what was coming out of her mouth was exactly what they needed to hear. I relied on her. She was a real natural-born coach."
For Lauren, the main goal this spring has been to change the culture among the Mountaineers, instilling in them a belief that they can win. In mid-April, they won four conference games in a row, something they hadn't done since 2011.
It's a sometimes inconsistent process. The Mountaineers followed the four-game winning streak with a poor effort in a 9-8 loss to Central Connecticut State last Friday before beating Bryant. Still the Schwarzmanns are starting to see the players believing that they can win.
Lauren credited the four seniors on the team — Melissa Cox (John Carroll), Erin Seipp (Notre Dame Prep), Megan Gluck and Hayley Tomlinson — for working with her through the changes and with guiding the younger players.
While it may not always be easy to execute them, Cox said it wasn't hard to understand and accept the changes Lauren made in the game plan.
"She's just so knowledgeable and she really makes every player on the field want to learn from her," Cox said. "There was a lot we had to adjust to, but a lot of the adjustments have made us successful on the field. Having her own accolades and success as a player, obviously she knows what she's talking about and she's such a personable person as well. Just from the type of person she is, it was easy to get to know her and put that trust in her."