Earlier this summer, Clemson University announced the addition of two new varsity sports. With the addition of women’s lacrosse starting competition in 2023 and gymnastics slated to follow in 2024, Clemson eagerly started looking for a leader of the women’s lacrosse program.
On August 2, 2021 Athletic Director Dan Radakovich announced that Alison Kwolek would be named the program’s first head coach. Before coming to the upstate of South Carolina, Kwolek led the Richmond Spiders for eight years and accumulated a record of 101-52. Before arriving at Richmond in 2013, the Spiders had only 10 winning seasons since 1983.
Kwolek and the Spiders earned two conference tournament championships as well as two regular season conference championships in just the past five years. Richmond was not just a force in the Atlantic 10, but was ranked top ten nationally in each of the past two seasons.
As head coach at Richmond, Kwolek coached five A10 players of the year and qualified for the A10 tournament seven straight times while making the championship game six times.
Before her coaching career even began, Kwolek was making waves in the women’s lacrosse world as a player for William & Mary. She graduated in the Tribe’s top-15 all time in forced turnovers, draws won, and shots taken. For her accomplishments, she was inducted to William and Mary’s Hall of Fame in 2020.
Kwolek has only been in Clemson for a short period of time but already feels the culture and family atmosphere that Clemson is famously known for.
“You can just tell that everybody really does bleed orange, and it’s just been nice and really fun to be in this atmosphere. Clemson is just really unique. I have to pinch myself that I’m really down here.”
Several things drew Kwolek to Tigertown, but none more than Clemson’s immense investment in the student experience. “Being here has been a lot of, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe they do that here’ in all the really good ways,” Kwolek raved. “Seeing the support and resources that are not only important for student-athletes but students in general.”
Kwolek feels that, despite the epicenter of American lacrosse being located up north, Clemson’s beautiful campus and unparalleled culture and student lifestyle will be plenty enough draw for top talent from all over the country.
Clemson may be new to the game of lacrosse but the ACC is a dominant conference for women’s lacrosse and Kwolek can not wait to compete in the conference.
“The ACC is the pinnacle of college lacrosse, and it is a tremendous opportunity to begin a program at a school so committed to the success of the student-athlete. That commitment was everywhere I looked on my visit to campus and I am excited to start building the program immediately.”
Kwolek is excited for the opportunity to build a new program at Clemson and facilitate culture.
“When I look back at when I started coaching, to imagine myself at Clemson building a program just wasn’t on the radar because it wasn’t happening at that point, but I feel really fortunate that I’m in this position and excited to build and get ready for next season.”
Clemson fans who are new to the game of lacrosse can expect a fast and entertaining style of play. What makes lacrosse different from other sports is that the game is never in hand.
“Lacrosse is a fast game with a lot of action and a lot of goals. Even when a team is up by five, six or seven goals, the other team can still win,” she said. “And I think that’s what’s really great about this sport that even when I am watching as a fan or watching other ACC schools, you can never get comfortable with a lead.”
The Tiger faithful have proven their willingness to jump on board with a new sport, as evidenced by the immediate popularity surrounding Clemson’s softball team, which will be starting just its third season this spring. The hope for Kwolek is that she’ll see similar enthusiasm surrounding her squad when they first arrive at Historic Riggs Field in 2023.
As Kwolek herself mentioned, the ACC is the peak of women’s lacrosse. Clemson’s program will be facing top competition in its first season, but the Tigers’ newest leader is no stranger to challenges. During her tenure at Richmond, Kwolek defeated ACC opponent and powerhouse Virginia, ranked No. 6 at the time.
The team’s first coach has wasted no time filling out her staff. The team announced on August 24 the addition of assistant coach and former Penn State standout Madison Carter.
“I am excited to have Madison join me at Clemson,” said Kwolek. “I have known Madison since her recruiting process in high school and the thing that has always stood out about her is how great a person she is. Her energy and passion for the game of lacrosse will serve Clemson well as we look to build our program.”
Kwolek’s enthusiasm for lacrosse is mirrored in this hire, and it is clear that much like at Richmond she is looking to build a program based on not talent alone, but personality and culture.
“Everyone knew that the culture at Richmond was really strong. Bringing in great people and talented student athletes that have the vision of pursuing ACC championships and national championships… is going to be really important.”
She anticipates a wide-ranging recruiting process that encompasses the entire nation. By spring 2023, there is no question that Kwolek will be leading a talented group of Tigers onto Historic Riggs Field for the start of a new era in Clemson.