First Posted: 4/29/2014

Emily Foley never got her introduction to lacrosse until college.

The former field hockey and basketball player at Northwest, who took up the sport at Misericordia University, is now busy making sure Wyoming Valley Conference athletes get a chance to learn her college sport at an earlier age.

“It’s nice to give them the opportunity to learn the sport that I love and we all love a little bit earlier than when I was exposed to it,” Foley said. “I wish I had had more time to play.”

Kim Athanas, Jenn Foley, Krista Shenk and Dani Gross all came to Misericordia already familiar with lacrosse. Teammates with Emily Foley in college, they remain in the area and are also part of coaching local girls in lacrosse, the sport that has added the most programs within District 2 of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association in the past two seasons.

The Wyoming Valley Conference is in just its second year conducting lacrosse play with an eight-team girls league and seven-team boys league.

The five former Cougars found themselves on the same field twice this year, including April 25 when Athanas, with help from Jenn Foley and Shenk, guided Dallas against the Pittston Area team coached by Emily Foley, with assistance from Gross.

They gathered for friendly conversation, as recent teammates would be expected to, before and after leading their players through a competitive game in the developing league.

“We know it’s going to be a good game,” Dallas assistant Jenn Foley said. “We know the other team is being coached well. We know where they’re coming from, how they’re coaching and what their style is.

“We know it’s going to be a good fight every time.”

Dallas has roots in the Back Mountain Bandits youth team, which helped lead to a club program for the school’s players, followed by lacrosse becoming a school-sponsored sport with games against opponents from out of the area prior to the launch of the WVC.

Pittston Area parents had organized enough interested participants before Emily Foley was approached to coach the program from its start last year.

The Lady Patriots remained winless in the WVC as of midweek, but have been putting up a good fight, taking 3-0 leads against first-place Delaware Valley and again in the Dallas game before falling, 14-10.

Because of the Bandits, more of the Dallas players arrive with the high school team with some exposure to the sport. That has helped keep the Mountaineers around the .500 mark.

Still, the experience level is generally less for the high school players than when their coaches were coming through the sport. Athanas and Gross were teammates at Valley Central High School in Montgomery, N.Y., Jenn Foley played at Mercy, a prep school in Baltimore, and Shenk played at Conestoga Valley in Lancaster County, all areas where the sport has a longer history.

Four of the Dallas players on this year’s team are completely new to the sport.

“The girls have picked it up fast,” said Athanas, a substitute teacher at the school who took over as head coach this season.

Athanas and her assistants took their team to see a Misericordia game to get a better idea of how the women’s version of the game is played.

“It definitely is growing in this area,” Shenk said. “We got them out to one of the Misericordia games to really get our girls to see the transition and movement and just how the game is played.

“I think it was a good experience for them.”

With differences in rules from the men’s/boys game, Athanas said the players needed that exposure rather than just watching a men’s game on television.

It was not the first time Shenk showed a new player the sport.

As freshmen college friends, it was Shenk who got Emily Foley to practice with her and encouraged her to go out for the team. Emily Foley went on to score 117 goals from 2009-2012, a total that ranked fifth in school history at the start of this season.

Emily Foley credits a dedicated Pittston Area parents club for getting everything set up before she came in as coach.

“Word has spread like wildfire,” she said, explaining a roster that has grown from 18 players on the school’s first team to 28 this season.

As an education major, Athanas figured she would someday get into coaching.

“Coaching came first, which I think is helping prepare me as a teacher,” she said.

Jenn Foley had some interest in coaching, which grew during a time when she was sidelined in college because of a knee injury.

After finishing up their athletic eligibility, Jenn Foley and Shenk are still at Misercordia as part of the physical therapy program.

For now, they remain part of lacrosse with their former teammates.

“I just loved the sport so much that after my four years there, I still wanted to be around the sport,” Shenk said. “It’s so much fun teaching the girls.

“It’s such a rewarding thing, seeing something we’re working on in practice come together in a game.”

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