Women’s lacrosse hires former assistant coach for upcoming season

Women’s Lacrosse team warms-up before lift practice at Jack Kemp Stadium at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. Ava Ciosek/The Occidental

The Occidental women’s lacrosse program reported the departure of head coach Stephanie Mark Aug. 23, 2018. During her five-year term at Occidental, Mark set a school record as the winningest coach in women’s lacrosse history with a combined record of 54–35 in the SCIAC conference, while also taking the team to the SCIAC semifinals four times. Occidental Athletics announced they hired former assistant coach, Hannah Khin, Sept. 18.

In the official press release detailing her departure, Mark stated that after having a child and taking maternity leave since late May 2018, the decision to return to Pittsburgh, PA was motivated by a desire to allot more of her time to being a new mother. According to the team’s goalie, Neah Bois (senior), the squad understands the circumstances that surround Mark’s farewell, but her personal, charismatic nature makes the situation all the more bittersweet.

Neah Bois (senior) speaks on the transition of previous Occidental Women’s Lacrosse Assistant Coach Hannah Khin to Head Coach at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. Ava Ciosek/The Occidental

“She didn’t only care about making us the best lacrosse players we could be, she really cared about making us the best people we could be,” Bois said. “She would always check in with us and ask us how we were doing academically and emotionally.”

This sentiment was corroborated by defender Nicole Litt (senior), who, much like the rest of the team, viewed Marks as a mom-away-from-home type of coach.

According to Interim Athletic Director Rob Flot, the absence of a coach due to Mark’s exit made the athletic department’s search for a suitable replacement far more difficult, as maintaining the same high-achieving standards and team dynamic is paramount to the selection process. Furthermore, Flot, the athletic department and the team’s captains viewed a seamless transition from Mark to the next head coach as integral to their hiring decision, according to Flot.

It was with these clearly-defined intentions that Occidental hired their former coach Khin Sept. 18. After serving as an assistant coach for Occidental women’s lacrosse from 2015–2017 and assistant coach to Southwestern University’s women’s lacrosse during the 2017–2018 season, Khin is returning to a place of familiarity where traditions won’t be altered, according to Bois.

“Hannah emerged as the strongest candidate given her previous tenure at the college, as well as feedback from lacrosse players and athletics staff,” Flot said.

According to Litt, Khin appears to have been groomed for the position — as a former understudy to coach Mark, the same tenacious on-the-field coaching style and deeply intimate off-the-field relationships with players are expected to be maintained. Additionally, the two seniors cited Khin’s familiarity with the team’s SCIAC competitors and out-of-conference rivals as giving her an advantage in creating game-plans against teams such as the University of Redlands and Colorado College.

“When coach Steph left, we didn’t want to lose any of the work ethic, or values or regiment she had in place for us, because we felt it was successful,” Litt said. “Every year we were getting better and coach Hannah [Khin] seems like the most natural replacement to continue that.”

According to Bois, despite Khin’s obvious qualifications, she has tremendously big shoes to fill. During the 2017–2018 season, the women’s lacrosse team finished 8–2 against SCIAC opponents and 12–6 overall, firmly cementing them as the squad with the strongest record of all Occidental teams last year, according to Oxy Athletics. Although this figure stands as one of the pinnacles in the team’s history, it adds additional pressure on Khin to deliver the same consistent results that were obtained under Mark’s leadership, according to Flot.

“I hope that Hannah [Khin] will move in quickly and be effective in maintaining student-athlete satisfaction, success on the field and success on the recruiting front,” Flot said. “With the seasoned group of returning students, there’s no reason to believe that the team won’t go on to meet the same levels of success as last year or recent years.”

Along with the quantity and quality of the returning group of players, Bois believes the undeniable potential of the seven first-years joining the roster will ease Khin’s introduction. According to Bois, the physical and tactical prowess of this year’s recruiting class elevates the quality of the entire team; instead of needing time to adjust to the rigors of a college sports team, the first years are already demonstrating their ability to compete with the starters.

Although the women’s lacrosse team made it to the SCIAC conference semifinals last season, Bois said the group has ambitions of attending the championship game and bringing home a title. According to Litt, if at the bare minimum the team returns to the playoffs again this season, it will reflect well on Khin’s fit as head coach. While a playoff berth is the team’s benchmark for success this season, Litt said. ideally, they hope to go to an NCAA Division III tournament for the first time since 2015.

“[Mark’s departure] doesn’t detract from the fact that we’re still trying to win a SCIAC championship. Our goals are still the same — the spirit of this team, the connection of this team, the fact that we’re a family — that doesn’t change,” Bois said.

While Khin’s adoption of head coaching duties is expected to be a smooth transition according to Litt, Bois and Flot, it has yet to be seen what impact she’ll have on the team whose record last year was the best of Occidental athletics. Despite the challenge before her, Khin’s backing from the team and the athletic administration has given her the tools for propelling Occidental’s women’s lacrosse program to new heights.