Utah Lacrosse honors pioneering
Thirteen years ago, Jennifer Hadley Mulholland sat in a Salt Lake bar watching a lacrosse game with tears running down her face, because she missed playing the sport so much.
Last week, the tears were flowing once again, but this time it was midfield at the Utah high school girls lacrosse championships at Judge Memorial Catholic High School where as she received an honorary lacrosse stick for starting women’s lacrosse in Utah and marking the 10th anniversary of starting a Judge girls program.
"That was my dream," said Mulholland, who now lives in Park City. "I’ve always motivated by making a big positive difference in the world."
In a "If you build it, they will come," type story, Mulholland came to Utah in 1994 after transferring to the University of Utah from the University of Delaware before her senior year. At Delaware, she had been the captain of the women’s lacrosse squad. Before that, she was a high school All-American and had her jersey retired. Mulholland thought she had hung up the stick for good when she discovered that the Utes didn’t have a lacrosse squad, but when she watched that game in the bar, she knew that a life in Utah without lacrosse was simply not acceptable.
"It’s the best game ever," Mulholland says. "It’s a freedom game. You have the freedom to create, run, move and compete."
In 1996, she created Women’s Wasatch Lacrosse, a non-profit, which not only taught girls the game she loved, but also focused on instilling leadership, teamwork and initiative. The league eventually grew to over 500 participants, with 14 teams and an all-star Team Utah that traveled to the National Tournament. At the same time, she started a girls’ program at Judge.
The Wasatch program eventually merged with the Utah Lacrosse Association, creating the thriving high school club lacrosse program that exists in areas in and around Park City, Salt Lake, Provo and Ogden and threatens to keep growing throughout the state.
"I wasn’t surprised it took off the way it did," Mulholland said. "It was more than growing the sport, it was growing those three values on and off the field."
Those were the three values, leadership, teamwork and initiative that Mulholland realized she missed when she moved to Utah and those were the three that she gave to her original teams. At the award ceremony, many alumni and parents of the original Judge squad told her what a difference those qualities had made in their lives.
"I really wanted to create that and empower them," Mulholland said. "More than just being recognized, is the parents of the girls I coached, who showed up to support me what they had to say about the effect I had on their daughters’ lives was the greatest honor. That really gave me a sense of accomplishment"
At the championship game, Mulholland said she was amazed and impressed at how far the sport in Utah had come in just a decade. She said the level of skill is so high now that girls are earning college scholarships at all different division levels and she expects the sport to eventually become sanctioned in the state. She is also impressed at how good the Park City squad has become. She says she hopes those girls know the sky is the limit with how far they can go in each game, season and in life.
"They should set their sights on an inspiring goal and constantly remind themselves and see that goal every day whether it is winning a game, the championships or college," Mulholland said. "Work hard every day towards that goal."
In recent years, Mulholland has stepped away from the game to have a son, Riley, who is now two and a half, and also works for Sungard, a Fortune 500 consulting firm. Now, she id starting her company, but even through the changes, she says she has never really stepped away from the coaching role.
"I think my love is coaching," Mulholland said. "I’ve always been a coach. What I’m doing now is applying it in my life and business."
In her current position and in her new business, Mulholland says she helps people find their passion and the fullest expression of themselves.
"I aspire to help people achieve their greatest potential," Mulholland said.
These days, Mulholland has found that lacrosse is slowly creeping back into her life. She advertised on the Internet for a nanny and an old Judge player, Molly Claflin, applied and got the job. Claflin bought Riley his first lacrosse stick and Mulholland admits that there is no question what sport will be pushed in her household. At the award ceremony, she was asked to be a part of the senior women’s team that will play an exhibition game against British Columbia at the Park City Lacrosse Ski Town Shootout in two weeks. Since then, Mulholland has been practicing with the team at the Quinn’s Junction Fields and says it’s been great to return to the game.
"It was like riding a bike," Mulholland said, although she admits it will take awhile to get back in lacrosse shape. "I’m a little nervous to see if my body can keep up and play two games a day."
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