There was a consistent trait among successful NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse teams this season.
It wasn’t a certain stat or specific skill, but rather the presence of the Mass Elite club program’s alumni.
That entire base, from coaches on down to the players, can be traced back to one person: Leslie Frank.
“I don’t think we ever could have imagined where the program has come,” said Meredith Frank McGinnis, Leslie’s daughter and the current head coach of Notre Dame Academy in Hingham, Massachusetts. “I know when my mom started Mass Elite, it was just an opportunity to get girls from this region playing more competitive. To see the growth our sport has had and especially in this region in such a short amount of time, it’s just inspiring.”
Frank took over the varsity program at Westwood High School in 1999, when Massachusetts wasn’t quite a hotbed for girls’ or women’s lacrosse. Especially compared to traditional areas like the Mid-Atlantic or Long Island, the New England schools seldom stood out in the landscape.
That has changed a lot in the past two decades, and Frank is, if not the reason, a big reason. Mass Elite, the club program she founded while coaching at Westwood in her early years, made an immediate impact. Northwestern head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller was among the first to take advantage of the sudden player pool.
“Kelly was instrumental in that growth,” said Frank McGinnis, a 2009 Northwestern graduate who was a three-time All-American for the Wildcats. “When she started at Northwestern and recruiting players, she really looked at this area, not just our club but the whole region. To establish that relationship and see players go on to play for her, it’s incredibly exciting.”
In 2021, the impact can still be felt. Six members of NCAA champion Boston College played for Mass Elite. On the other side of the national bracket, Northwestern’s Izzy Scane was just shy of tying the NCAA single-season goals record.
If it were not for Mass Elite, Scane may not have made it this far. A Michigan native, Scane played boys’ lacrosse growing up before joining Detroit Lacrosse Club. Soon, though, the future U.S. U19 star had made her way to Boston with Mass Elite, where she became a top recruit for her dream school.
Still, Scane is just one of Frank’s alums who have succeeded at the college level, and in an even more exclusive group of those who have competed with Team USA. Headed by Amonte Hiller, the world championship-winning 2019 U.S. U19 team included three Mass Elite products on the 18-player roster in Scane, Sophia DiCenso (Richmond) and Elle Hansen (Northwestern). Madison Ahern (Notre Dame) was an alternate.
“I can’t express how much it made me who I am today,” Scane said of her Mass Elite experience. “Obviously, I was close to getting there, doing a lot of stuff in Michigan. But being able to go out there with amazing coaches and players, and playing against good players, it helped me prepare for college and become a better player than if I’d just stayed in Michigan.”
Amonte Hiller was one of the first college coaches to tap into the pipeline in her home state, bringing Westwood graduate and Mass Elite product Kristen Kjellman Marshall to Northwestern, where she was a two-time Tewaaraton Award winner and led the Wildcats to the first three of seven consecutive NCAA titles.
Kjellman Marshall and Kristin Igoe Guarino (Boston College) were members of the gold medal-winning 2009 and 2013 U.S. World Cup teams, respectively.
Frank McGinnis was the assistant general manager of the 2019 U.S. U19 team that took home gold, and her mark is all over the roster.
“When players started back in the early 2000s, they were still looking for places to play,” she said. “When you have a group of players and group of coaches who see that level of lacrosse, you want to keep providing those opportunities. It aids in the growth and accelerates that growth.”
Leslie Frank’s younger daughter, Dartmouth head coach Alex Frank, also has had a direct hand in the growth of the sport. She is an assistant coach on the current U.S. senior team, which is holding tryouts this week at USA Lacrosse headquarters in Sparks, Md.
Ahern, DiCenso and Scane will be among the 62 players looking to make an impression as Team USA sets its sights on the 2022 World Lacrosse Women’s World Championship in Towson, Md., and The World Games 2022 in Birmingham, Ala. Recent Boston College two-sport star Kenzie Kent also has Mass Elite roots.
Kjellman Marshall, now a member of the USA Lacrosse Foundation Board of Directors, is co-hosting a special one-hour live stream from tryouts on Lax Sports Network on Thursday, June 10 at 6 p.m.
The most recent U.S. national team rosters and elite college rosters are littered with Massachusetts-based talent, and that can be tracked to the program Leslie Frank began. Frank retired in 2016, but her vision endures.
“I have been a Mass Elite parent for three years and have been blown away by the professionalism, organization and quality of coaching from the start,” said Sol Kumin, the chair of the USA Lacrosse Foundation board whose daughter, Corey, plays for Mass Elite. “Leslie and Meredith know every girl in their program from the third-graders to the seniors in high school and spend the time coaching and supporting all of them. It’s clear they have a winning formula and process for developing players, and it’s absolutely incredible to think about all the talent that has worn that uniform since they started.”
This year offered perhaps the most prominent example at the college level of the hotbed in Massachusetts that was created just 20 years ago.
“What we’ve seen in the last 10 years is going from a somewhat non-traditional area to at least we are in the conversation,” Frank McGinnis said. “We might not be the Mid-Atlantic or Long Island, but we are right there and we want to be thought of as having those players who can compete in the same breath.”