By Inyoung Choi
No. 20 women’s lacrosse team begins the first season of the decade with high expectations. The Cardinal head to Denver, Colorado, to play against No. 10 University of Denver Pioneers to kick off the regular season.
Last season was disappointing for the Cardinal, who failed to advance from the first round of the NCAA tournament after a 9-15 loss against Notre Dame. It was Stanford’s third consecutive trip to the post-season tournament. In 2019, Stanford also missed a chance to compete for the Pac-12 Championship, following a 9-16 defeat to Colorado, despite winning the inaugural title the season before.
The Denver game will be Danielle Spencer’s head-coaching debut. She brings new leadership to the team after a successful coaching career at Dartmouth, where she was named the Ivy League Coach of the Year two of the three seasons she coached the Big Green.
After graduating from the Northwestern women’s lacrosse team — where she was a two-time All-American, three-time all-conference player and part of three national championships — Spencer began her coaching career as an assistant coach at Stanford for the 2012 season. Since then, she has spent four seasons as an assistant coach at Northwestern, followed by her three-year term in Hanover. Now, Spencer will return to the Farm with assistant coaches Nicole Flores and Megan Whittle, both of whom worked with Spencer at Dartmouth.
“I want to be a head coach for my career. I’m very ambitious, and I want to be the best,” Spencer said. “Stanford [has] all these sports that [win] national championships at the top of their field. There’s just a little curiosity in me that’s like, Well, why can’t women’s lacrosse do that?”
Spencer succeeded former head coach Amy Bokker, whom Spencer credits as a mentor. As a new coach, Spencer’s goal is to build on Bokker’s era while bringing her own coaching style and culture to the team environment. Following 11 seasons with Stanford, Bokker now is the head coach at Ohio State.
“I like to build connections with my players … I spend a lot of time talking with them outside of lacrosse and getting to know them,” Spencer said. “I definitely give tough love, but I preface the tough love with building actual love, respect and relationships. It definitely isn’t a militaristic style.”
Despite the coaching change, the team will look to build off the 2019 season. Junior attacker Ali Baiocco received Preseason All-America Honorable Mention in January, and last season, Baiocco made the All-Pac-12 First Team. She ended the season with a shots on goal percentage of .833, an improvement from her first season’s .760.
“Baiocco’s phenomenal. She’s one of our best attackers,” Spencer said. “She can score goals by having the ball and running past you, and she can score goals by cutting and having people feed to her. Typically attackers usually have one style of play, but she’s a multi-dimensional player.”
Spencer emphasized that the team’s senior leadership is very strong this year — expressing excitement for her senior midfielders Jacie Lemos, Mikaela Watson and Hannah Dudley, along with senior midfielder Daniella McMahon. This core group of upperclassmen will help stabilize the transition between coaches.
Freshman Jay Browne will receive her first start this Saturday.
“She’s a really gifted lacrosse player,” Spencer said. “What makes her fun for fans to watch is that her stick skills are really exciting. She’s gonna score some pretty cool goals.”
Stanford’s season will start quickly with a highly ranked opponent in the team’s first match, and in March, Pac-12 play will begin. In April, Stanford will host the Pac-12 Championship, in which the Cardinal seek to compete.
“We’re hosting, let’s win,” Spencer said. “We know we can. We won it two years ago.”
Women’s lacrosse will open the season at Denver at 12 p.m. PT on Saturday.
Contact Inyoung Choi at ichoi ‘at’ stanford.edu.