Lindsey Munday - All-World Player, Coach and Mentor
|Lindsey Munday may not say much
about herself, but her colleagues and teammates aren't shy about
her leadership both on the field with Team USA and off as USC head
© Stan Liu
Even as a kid, Lindsey Munday had an eye for strategy. She was 15 years old when she went to see her heroes, the U.S. women's national soccer team, play at Giants Stadium in a run-up to the now-legendary 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup. At the autograph session, she saw the line for superstar Mia Hamm was the longest, so she hopped into that one first, and then made the rounds to the other players and collected all the signatures she wanted.
"I thought I was so smart," Munday joked, remembering her cagey assessment of the situation.
Munday is eternally modest and self-effacing, but it really was a clever approach. Less savvy fans either missed out on Hamm because they didn't get in her line early enough. Others spent so long in the Hamm line that they hardly had any time to meet anyone else.
Meanwhile, Munday still has a jersey covered in the inky names of the most famous female sports team in history. She plans to hang it in her office at the University of Southern California. Munday guided the Trojans through their first NCAA season in 2013, in addition to serving as the team captain for the U.S. national team, which won the 2013 FIL Women's World Cup by a historically wide margin. For her contributions as a coach, player and game ambassador, she is the 2013 Lacrosse Magazine Person of the Year.
"On the field, she's one of the smartest people out there. She's just such an exceptional coach," said Devon Wills, Munday's teammate on the U.S. squad and colleague on the USC staff. "I learn something from her every day."
Munday's great talent, on and off the field, is that she has goals that are enormous in scope, and plans that are meticulously created to realize them.
"It's really stepping back and creating little goals, attainable little goals so you can see the progress of them. You have this thought of what you want to be, and it's such a big goal, and if that's all you're thinking about, it's very hard to be successful and on track and positive. It's just so big," she said. "If you can focus on smaller things and the day-to-day improvement and the day-to-day simple goals, it's really helpful to sit back and realize those little achievements. They're easy to overlook."
Munday was a soccer player first; her lacrosse career didn't start until high school. She planned on playing both sports at the Division III level, but when a friend asked her to come to an Amonte Sports Camp one summer, the trajectory of Munday's life changed. Kelly Amonte Hiller, the Northwestern coach, liked what she saw in in the fast, smart attacker from New Jersey, on and off the field.
"Lindsey came to Northwestern as one of the most highly motivated young lacrosse players I've ever coached. She has all the qualities you look for in a leader, and that aspect of playing and coaching comes naturally to her," Amonte Hiller said.
Munday won two titles as a player and three more as an assistant coach with the Wildcats.
"It's crazy how fate works out. Kelly made me into a smart lacrosse player, to really understand the whys of why you do things. It's great to memorize a play, but it's really important to understand why you're doing something," Munday said.
Munday left Evanston after the 2010 season when she got her first head coaching job at Mount St. Mary's at the age of 26. But she had only been in Emmitsburg for a short six months when the University of Southern California, a school with strong academics and a reputation for competing relentlessly for NCAA championships, came calling.
"The timing of everything was the worst part, because I'd taken a job and was really excited about it," she said. "A school like USC was somewhere I'd always dreamed of being, It's such an incredible university."
Amonte Hiller had recommended Munday for the job.
"I consider Lindsey a great friend and someone that I can bounce ideas off of, knowing that she possesses such a unique perspective and feel for the game and for coaching," Amonte Hiller said.
Munday was hired by USC in January 2011 and the Trojans went 8-10 in their first season in 2013, defeating defending MPSF champ Oregon during the regular season and earned a bid to the conference tournament. As a measuring stick, Northwestern went 5-10 in 2002 (its first season after the team's revival) and 8-8 in 2003 (Munday's first season there as a player). It was a very promising beginning.
"We're doing something pretty special here. This isn't a regular first season," Wills said.
Wills and Munday hardly had a moment to revel in the Trojans' success before they had to throw themselves into the 2013 FIL Women's World Cup in Oshawa, Ontario. Team USA had a title to defend.
Munday had a broken wrist when she was first elected captain of the U.S. national team in advance of the 2012 North American Challenge Cup. It's a testament to how well-respected she is that a team full of All-World players, All-Americans, and Tewaaraton winners selected her to be their captain, even when she couldn't get on the field.
"I can't say enough about Lindsey to be honest with you. Lacrosse wise, she does a lot of the smaller, nuanced things that go unnoticed by the casual observer. She has a great eye for the game. She's one of those players who makes those around her better. Gets them involved, understands their strengths and weaknesses and puts them in situations to be successful," Fried said.
At Champion Challenge in January 2013, the last Team USA event before the final cuts were made, the atmosphere was tense. Munday encouraged everyone to get past the stress of the evaluation and focus on playing.
"She said you have to trust that the coaches are going to do what's best for the team, and your job is to play the best you can," Fried said. "It was stated very simply, with not a lot of emotion, and it was the right way."
Once the final roster of 18 players were in Oshawa, Munday kept the team on an even keel.
"That's what being a captain is all about – small conversations with people at a practice, or after the game, to make sure they're not upset they didn't play well, or just talking lacrosse," Munday said. "Sometimes you do that too much and you're constantly trying to worry about everyone else, and it's finding the balance to makes sure you're doing your job on the field."
The U.S. team found that balance, sweeping the tournament 7-0 and earning the gold medal. The Americans average margin of victory was 13.2 goals, a new FIL record.
Defender Holly Reilly and Munday were both Team USA rookies on the 2009 team. 13 players from that squad returned in 2013; Munday had the task of blending old and new together into something even better.
"Lindsey does an incredible job acting as a liaison between players and coaches. Especially since [the 2009] World Cup to now, we've had a few younger players come in and she's done an incredible job of incorporating them into our offensive system, and making them feel a part of it," Reilly said.
Munday, primarily a feeder, had nine goals and 14 assists in the 2013 tournament. Still, she can go to goal when opportunity strikes. Wills, who trains with Munday and knows her game as well as anyone in the world, still can't tell when Munday's going to shoot.
"Her stick skills are incredible. She doesn't cradle a lot, and as a goalie, you're taught to watch the cradle and when it breaks, the shot's coming," Wills said. "Hers doesn't break."
Even after the FIL tournament was done, Munday's leadership never flagged. At a fall Team USA alumnae game, she pulled all of the participants together and thanked them for what they had done to pave the way for the 2013 squad.
"It was a touching picture of Team USA past and present, and a great example of her ability to see how she and her team fit into the larger picture," U.S. national team manager Nathaniel Badder said.
Coaching in Southern California, a booming lacrosse area, drove home the huge possibilities that exist in Los Angeles, for Munday and for the sport itself.
"The energy, or should I say the electricity, in the air regarding the growth of our sport is unbelievable in Southern California. We are simply exploding with interest, especially at the youth level," said US Lacrosse Greater Los Angeles chapter president Nancy Sheinbein. "The kids simply flock to the game like bees to honey."
Nearly 3,000 fans flocked to Trojans' first Division I game. The USC student section was enthusiastic, if not exactly up on lacrosse lingo. (They chanted, "Air ball!" when opponents' shots missed the cage.)
"People were excited to see college lacrosse," Munday said. "With these developing areas, the thing is to continue to grow the game that's given me so many opportunities as much as I possibly can."
One of her favorite Team USA activities is youth clinics, especially in nontraditional areas, where kids don't always have a lot of access to top-level coaching. Part of the reason Munday chose lacrosse over soccer is that she felt she had a higher ceiling as a player, more of a chance to improve and grow.
"You teach a girl a new stick trick, and her eyes just light up. The energy and excitement and the learning curve, and you see it over a given camp. They do something they couldn't do at the beginning of the day," Munday said. "Sometimes in hotbeds, you don't see the same excitement and the quest for learning."
Munday is not the fame-seeking type, so sometimes it feels odd to find herself on the other side of the table at an autograph session. But she remembers what it's like to be a young athlete, looking for inspiration on how to get better, how to win, how to break records.
"You kinda have to step back, because it's easy for us to think it's funny that these girls want our autographs," Munday said. "But it's really special."