It's a homecoming, and a new beginning, both for Sara Tisdale and Central Michigan.
Tisdale, a Michigan native and CMU alumna, was named Wednesday as the Chippewas' first women's lacrosse coach.
"Great to be back, great to be home," said Tisdale, a Lansing, Mich., native who graduated from CMU in 2006 with a bachelor of science in education. "I picked Central as an undergrad in 2001, and the opportunity to come back to a place that I love and respect so much, and to do something so great with the wonderful athletic department that's already established here is such an exciting opportunity."
The Chippewas will begin women's varsity lacrosse in spring, 2016, as a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference.
"We are excited to welcome Sara back to our campus community to lead our new lacrosse program," Director of Athletics Dave Heeke said. "It is clear that Sara has a passion and enthusiasm for Central Michigan and wants to build our program the right way.
"We felt it was critically important to select an individual with head coaching experience along with being impressed by Sara's ability to start up the Augustana program in a successful fashion. Sara is an individual who clearly understands our philosophy of creating an outstanding student-athlete experience and will help us continue to build our championship culture."
As the first coach in program history, Tisdale is fully aware of the challenges and opportunities before her. She was in the same position in 2010 when she became the first varsity women's lacrosse coach at NCAA Division III Augustana (Ill.) College.
"I think step one is just setting the tone for what CMU lacrosse is going to be," Tisdale said. "We want state of Michigan, regional and national kids to aspire to play here.
"I think Central, to a certain extent, sells itself. It's got a great reputation academically, excellent community support, and excellent alumni support.
"Giving potential student-athletes an opportunity to come and be the first in CMU lacrosse is something special. I think it's a package that people are going to look at and say, `I want to be that person.'"
Tisdale played club lacrosse at CMU and coached the Michigan State women's club team from 2008-10. During her three-year stint at Augustana, Tisdale led the Vikings to a combined 51-8 mark including a 19-1 slate in 2013, when they won the Midwest Women's Lacrosse Conference regular-season and tournament championships, and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division III Tournament where they bowed to eventual national champion Salisbury (Md.) College.
The league tournament title was Augustana's second consecutive.
Tisdale earned league coach of the year honors and was named Great Lakes Region coach of the year by the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association.
The Vikings outscored their opponents, 355-137, and led all Division III schools in two statistical categories, scoring margin (plus 10.9 per game), and total points (goals plus assists) with 576. The Vikings' winning percentage (.950) was third best in the nation. Division III women's lacrosse comprises 257 schools.
"I think you'll see a big splash in terms of offensive production," Tisdale said. "I played basketball for a long time, and my style is kind of like an uptempo in-your-face basketball team.
"The team's going to take on it's own personality, but always in that intense high-risk, high-reward system, both offensively and defensively."
It's a system that requires healthy bodies and, like any successful collegiate program, a complete commitment, particularly to the long-term view.
"There are a lot of players who can play lacrosse, but I'm looking for that student-athlete who is just as interested in building CMU lacrosse as I am, and that takes commitment," Tisdale said. "It takes that extra willingness to put in the extra work. I'm not necessarily looking for the star, but the one who does what the team needs and makes the plays.
"You've got to have student-athletes who are willing to say `I'm on board, I'm with you.'"
CMU is the third Division I university in the state to sponsor women's varsity lacrosse. Michigan and Detroit Mercy are the others.
Tisdale said she is hoping to capitalize on what she perceives as several advantages CMU offers as she hits the recruiting trail.
"My goal is to have CMU lacrosse be the state of Michigan's program," she said. "I want people to look to us and say, `I want to play there when I graduate from high school; I want to go to their camp.'
"And we want to be a regional leader as well. Lacrosse in the Midwest is growing so fast and to be a leader in that is important."