There was not a good answer to the question, but St. Louis University’s field hockey players were asked anyway.
Morgan Crowe was a freshman, joining a team that had one win in each of the two previous seasons. Now her new coach wanted Crowe and all other Billikens to predict how many games they would win in 2014.
So, how do you appear optimistic without seeming foolish?
Crowe went with five wins. SLU finished 2-17.
“As freshmen we were more realistic than the seniors,” she said. “The seniors had us with a winning record and we were surprised as freshmen. We realized we wouldn’t change the program in one year. We wanted a gradual change.”
That’s all anyone has been looking for the last three decades. SLU has fielded a team since 1975 but hasn’t produced a team with a winning record since 1990.
In her second season, Danielle Baumgardner is the latest coach to take a shot. Through five games she can at least say the Billikens are above .500 at 3-2 for the first time since they started 2-1 in 2006.
As a player, Baumgardner won two national championships at Maryland, making for a significant adjustment of her mindset at SLU, where she started as an assistant coach in 2014.
“I believe as a coach, you are in the driver’s seat of the players’ perspective,” she said. “Just because you lost by this many points one game doesn’t mean you have to lose by that many next time. Being from Maryland, where we lost maybe eight in my whole career, that was something I had to learn immediately.”
She inherited a program that had sunk to about its lowest point.
SLU was 19-167 from 2007 to 2016. The Billikens entered this season having lost 62 of the last 63 games in the Atlantic 10, the only win coming against Lock Haven, which plays in the A-10 as an associate member for field hockey. Entering this season, they had been shut out in exactly half of their previous 150 games.
Even through the darkest days — when SLU went 0-20 in 2010 and 1-19 back-to-back in 2012 and ’13 — the sport never was on the chopping block.
“There was never a conversation about dropping. There was a conversation about how we were going to support this team better,” athletics director Chris May said. “If we were going to have a team, we wanted to give them a chance to be successful. Danielle put together a plan and we worked on how to support her.”
The program is on its fifth coach since joining the A-10 in 2006, and some players on the roster are playing for their third coach. The team does not have an on-campus facility and travels to SportPort in Maryland Heights for practices and games.
This weekend the Billikens will open A-10 play at St. Joseph’s on Friday and La Salle on Sunday. They are 5-21-1 against them all time. Crowe has not beat either team.
“It’s frustrating to put this much time in and not get the results you want,” she said. “This year things are starting to come together. I’d love to not be last in the conference this year. I think we can be very competitive.”
There was a time when the program was successful. The Billikens started with eight consecutive winning seasons and 15 out of 16 after debuting in 1975. After coach Kelly O’Connell’s tenure ended with a .579 winning percentage, the tide turned. As she attempts to succeed where many have failed, Baumgardner is not about excuses.
“I have the resources I need to succeed, and I believe that,” she said. “We build with that and every year we ask for more, and we’re getting more. I’m working on maximizing what I am given.”
SLU has a roster that is largely a mix of local, East Coast and international talent. The NCAA allows a maximum of 12 scholarships for field hockey, and although Baumgardner would not say how many SLU can offer, she did say every player on the roster gets some aid. May said the school has been able to increase the scholarship money and has realized benefits.
Although there is nothing Baumgardner can do about the facility situation, she has no complaints with SportPort, which has a state-of-the art field hockey surface.
Ask her about having to drive to Maryland Heights, and Baumgardner will correct you: “We don’t have to go, we get to go.”
And even though SLU has picked up some wins — the first three-game win streak since 2004 — she doesn’t look at them as a breakthrough just yet.
“We have three wins in a row but they haven’t always been wins in my book,” she said. “We got a win against Colgate, but we went back to the drawing board and made some big changes after that. The end result was pretty cool. But that’s irrelevant to our team’s journey and success.”