After capturing the Northwest Conference championship outright in its third season of competition, women's lacrosse is one of the fastest-rising programs at George Fox University.
The team's encouraging trajectory was put in doubt, at least temporarily, when coach Natalie Harrington resigned this summer.
But with the hiring of former University of Mary Washington All-American Katie Mastraopolo, the Bruins believe their future is as bright as ever.
"Our desire is to continue our success in the conference and to take a step forward where we are succeeding at the national level," GFU Athletic Director Adam Puckett said. "Katie brings firsthand knowledge of Division III lacrosse and knows what it takes to be nationally competitive. Most importantly, Katie espouses the university's core values and will help build a program that prepares these young women for life."
Harrington, who was hired in 2013 and led George Fox in its first season of play in the spring of 2014, left George Fox to return to California, where she played in college.
She certainly left the program in great shape for Mastropaolo, who played defense at Mary Washington in Fredricksburg, Va., and was named the Virginia State Sports Information Directors Association College Division Women's Lacrosse Player of the Year as senior in 2013.
After graduating with a geography degree, Mastropaolo moved to Oregon for a year to work for Young Life at its Washington Family Ranch in Antelope.
"I fell in love with Oregon," Mastropaolo said. "I knew that I wanted to come back some day."
Mastropaolo returned to her native Virginia the following year to serve as co-head coach at her alma mater, Albermarle High School in Charlottesville, before embarking on an 11-month mission trip that took her to Albania, Romania, Greece, Zambia, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Peru, Ecuador and Chile.
She began coaching while still an active player at Mary Washington and has compiled six years of experience as an instructor at Nike Lacrosse Camps, the Randolph Macon Lacrosse Camp and the Seminole Summer Lacrosse League.
"Katie brings in-depth experience from her time competing in the Capital Athletic Conference and the NCAA tournament," Puckett said. "We are looking forward to her leading George Fox's program forward and bringing national relevancy to our lacrosse team."
While well aware of the east coast's dominance of the sport, Mastropaolo said she feels drawn to the relative frontier of the west because it mirrors her own experience in the sport.
A lifelong basketball player, Mastropaolo didn't take up lacrosse until she was a junior in high school and feels grateful for the potential the coaching staff at Mary Washington saw in her.
"When I look at lacrosse, yes geographically it is more of an east coast sport, but I truly believe there is talent here," Mastropaolo said. "It doesn't mean the athletes are any less talented out here. It's just finding them when they are raw talent."
She was also impressed with work ethic she observed in George Fox's players when she came to campus to interview.
"They're really willing to give everything they have," Mastropaolo said. "I haven't seen them play yet, but I know what they showed on the field is because of what they did in practice. So I'm super excited about that and hopefully we'll continue to see that on the field."
Puckett praised Mastropaolo's relational approach to coaching, which made her a good fit for George Fox.
"One thing as a coach that I'm passionate about is if I have a player, I'm not just partnered with them for four years," she said. "I really see it as a partnership for life and I want to help them be the best individual they can be on and off the field. I'm just starting to build those relationships now as we prepare for the season."
Mastropaolo said she plans to strengthen her relationship with the players and foster team bonding by engaging in service-oriented team activities in the offseason.
"I am excited for the potential and also to get the upperclassmen in here and get their input, what they're excited about, why they love George Fox, why they love Newberg and how we can give back," Mastropaolo said. "I want to have a collaborative effort because they've been here, they know the community, so I'm excited to empower them in that way."