Maryland alum and former U.S. National Team member Michele Uhlfelder enters her seventh season at the helm of the Stanford women's lacrosse program. The transition that has taken place since her arrival on The Farm in 2000 has been an impressive one. In her first season as head coach, her team of virtual unknowns became the first west coast program to crack the top-20. Since then, she has gone on to recruit some of the best players and assistant coaches in the country, consistently build schedules of top competition and put Stanford on the map of women's lacrosse powerhouses. Her players have become the first in the west to be selected to All-Region teams, All-American teams and the U.S. National Team program. In 2006, Uhlfelder and her Cardinal made history, becoming the first program from west of the Mississippi to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
After her inaugural 2001 team tasted national recognition, the string of national honors began. In 2003, the team finished the season at No. 15, marking the first time that a west coast program finished in the top 20 and was considered by the NCAA selection committee.. In 2004, the team popped into the preseason poll at No. 14 and, in 2005, the team finished the season at No. 18. In 2006, Stanford topped a top-10 team for the first time in school history, produced its first two All-Americans, earned a No. 15 national ranking and became the first west coast team to break into the NCAA Tournament field. In 2007, the team won eight out of their last eleven games and capture the MPSF Championship with their 12-11 victory over Denver. The Cardinal played five teams ranked in the Top 25 and beat #2 Oregon 8-2 on the MPSF Semi-final game.
Most notably, Uhlfelder is credited with exponentially increasing the program's strength of schedule, one of the key components used in NCAA tournament selection.
"Before I was hired, I believed Stanford was a program that could go deep in the NCAA Tournament," stated Uhlfelder. "Building the strength of schedule is crucial to preparing the team for the tournament, and beating the top teams is what gets you the invitation."
Each year since 2002 the Cardinal has played a schedule in which at least half of their non-conference opponents have gone on to earn an NCAA bid. In 2006, the Cardinal faced seven teams ranked in the preseason top-25, and three of the NCAA Final Four participants. In 2007 the Cardinal continued this trend by playing five teams ranked in the top 25 and three ranked within the top five.
Uhlfelder's team has won 44 of its last 48 conference games (.917) and captured six league titles. In 2005 and 2006, her team took home a pair of conference championships and produced 10 All-Conference athletes. Uhlfelder was honored as the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) Coach of the Year in 2004 and 2005, the only coach to earn back-to-back honors since the league's inception. In 2007, Uhlfelder's team won the MPSF title after knocking off #2 Oregon and #16 Denver in the MPSF Tournament. The team also produced an All-American and twelve student-athletes earned All-Academic honors. Entering the 2007 campaign, Uhlfelder boasts a 81-44 (.648) career coaching record.
Uhlfelder's vision has been instrumental in helping the conference grow from its roots in the Western Women's Lacrosse League, into the Mountain Pacific Lacrosse League, and finally into the NCAA-recognized MPSF Conference. During that time, the league has grown in size and strength.
"Conference teams' strength of schedule has significantly increased over the last few years," stated Uhlfelder. "Oregon added, and while we are in line to be the next conference granted an automatic bid to the tournament, our schedules have to be tough, in order to get there as independents. As a result, our conference is power-ranked higher than quite a few conferences already receiving automatic tournament bids. This is great for the future of our league."
INSIDE STANFORD LACROSSE
When Uhlfelder was hired, the program shifted goals from being the best in the west, to competing for the national spotlight.
"From the beginning, I have felt like we hit the pavement running," said Uhlfelder. "We have always had our eyes set on being a tournament team. We have wanted to play the toughest schedule possible, to recruit globally, promote the growth of lacrosse regionally, and provide the best possible academic and athletic environment."
Uhlfelder is passionate about the Stanford experience and eager to share it with prospects.
"Words that describe our program are ambitious, committed, visionary, pioneering, bi-coastal," she said. "The opportunities here at Stanford are becoming well-understood. First, Stanford's location is one of its major strengths. If you miss looking at the opportunity to live and grow in this environment for four years, you've missed a big chunk of Stanford. Secondly, the opportunity to balance a big-time athletic environment with a worldwide academic reputation makes Stanford the best undergraduate experience in America."
For Uhlfelder, her staff, and players the opportunity to come west embodies a pioneer spirit that shines through in recruiting and scheduling.
"Right away, we were going head-to-head in recruiting with some of the most established and successful teams in the country. Also, we were attracting attention from our opponents because of the school and program's growing reputation. This has led us into some match-ups with big-name opponents, which is great for the game."
It didn't take her or others long to realize that Stanford has a very special package to offer.
"Our players have the opportunity to build a nationally-prominent program and a chance to have an early leadership role, at one of the most visible, academically challenging, beautiful, and athletically dominant universities in the country. With this package comes the opportunity to impact the growth of the sport and by teaching, marketing and promoting the game here," commented Uhlfelder.
In hiring Uhlfelder, Stanford got an ambassador of the sport as well as a national caliber player. Her involvement with the national governing body for lacrosse began in the early 90's. She was one of the last members to serve in the capacity of Vice President of the United States Women's Lacrosse Association (USWLA), before the USWLA merged with U.S. Lacrosse to form a unified national governing body. When she arrived on the Farm, she was one of a select few individuals who represented U.S. Lacrosse as both a board member and a member of its U.S. National Team.
"At Stanford, I have the opportunity to weave together three important things to me: how much I care about our sport's growth, how much I desire to raise the bar and how much I want people to have the opportunity to see and play lacrosse," Uhlfelder said.
PLAYING AND COACHING CAREER
Uhlfelder came to the Stanford program in 2000 as a USA National Team player and a two-time member of the US World Cup Team. Since making the U.S. Squad in 1990 as a junior at the University of Maryland, Uhlfelder's playing career at the national level has spanned 15 years. In the 2001 World Cup, she was the third-highest scorer on the gold medal winning American team, ranking sixth among all scorers at the World Cup, and contributing two goals in the 14-8 win over Australia in the title game. Her first World Cup appearance came in 1997 (Tokyo, Japan) when the U.S. won the gold and she earned Player-of-the-Match honors versus Canada. Other international competition includes her selection to the 1996 and 2000 "A" Tours to Great Britain and Australia, respectively.
Prior to 2001 World Cup and coming to Stanford, Uhlfelder's coaching experience was earned as an assistant coach in Division I for seven years. She was a first assistant at Duke University from 1998-2000, and at Old Dominion University from 1994-1998. During her time at Duke, she coached six All-Americans and made a Final Four appearance. During her time at Old Dominion, she coached under national team coach, Sue Stahl, when the program won its first Colonial Athletic Conference (CAA) championship.
Uhlfelder's college playing days were with the Terps, were she was a starter from 1987-1991 at the University of Maryland. She helped lead Maryland to National Runner-up finishes in 1990 and 1991 and was selected to the NCAA All-Tournament Team twice. She served as a captain her senior year, and in the same year was chosen as the 1991 National Offensive Player of the Year and First Team All-America.
"I have been extremely fortunate in my opportunities. To have been a player and a coach concurrently at the highest levels fosters a unique involvement with the game," said Uhlfelder. "I have always tried to keep my eyes wide open and learn from the many opportunities that I've been in as a player and coach. I've played with incredibly talented teammates, and coached with people who have been considered the top in our field. Each opportunity has given me the experience necessary to lead a staff, a team, and a program with very ambitious goals."
OUTSIDE EVENTS AND COMMUNITY
Uhlfelder has been responsible for promoting the growth of women's lacrosse nationally throughout her career. Her camps have quadrupled in attendance since her arrival on the Farm, and she was responsible for launching the Cardinal Elite club team. Both of these programs are outlets for her desire to teach lacrosse skills, strategy and technique, as well as raise the athleticism and level of player in the country.
Uhlfelder started the deBeer East/West Challenge in 2001 as a promotional event to showcase the game and bring in top opponents. Each year the goal has been to break attendance records with 1,000 fans. Beside the East/West Challenge, Uhlfelder has committed the programs resources to hosting the Sling It! Western States Tournament, where 50 teams come to Stanford to compete in April.
In 2002, Uhlfelder was responsible for bringing the Cardinal's equipment sponsor, deBeer, on board, in an effort to provide the team with some of the most innovative equipment on the market, as well as promote the company's desire to expand westward.
"deBeer came along at the right time, and presented us with a package that provided support for our goals and initiatives, and a belief in our program. There are many similarities between our program and their company- basically they came out of nowhere and became a prominent leader in the market. We share those ambitious goals," said Uhlfelder.
Uhlfelder's involvement with the game outside of Stanford includes membership on the Tewaaraton Trophy selection committee, presentations at the US Lacrosse Convention and coaching at Division I Lacrosse Camp. She has worked numerous camps and clinics throughout the world, and has enjoyed involvement in the Positive Coaching Alliance during the height of its growth. She has extended herself to the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coach's Association (IWLCA) first as a South Regional Advisory Committee, and now simultaneously as a member of the South's All-American Committee and the IWLCA Rules committee. In the summer of 2003, she served as a selector for the U-19 World Cup team.
Uhlfelder's vision and mark on the game, as a coach and player, earned her a pair of prestigious personal accolades following the 2004 season, receiving US Lacrosse's Beth Allen Award and being named as a Distinguished Alumnus of Pikesville High School. Uhlfelder was voted by a group of US coaches and former award winners as the recipient of the Allen Award, which is presented annually to a member of US Lacrosse Women's Division who participates in the National Championship Division A at the National Tournament. Uhlfelder became the award's first recipient from the Pacific Region, and the only winner to represent the West in the history of the award. In November 2004, she was named as the Distinguished Alumnus of the Year at her alma mater in Pikesville, Maryland, becoming the awards' 14th recipient among world-wide political figures, doctors, artists, and athletes including former pro Stanford tennis standout, Elise Bergin.
In addition to the Distinguished Alumni Award, Uhlfelder's hometown of Baltimore, Md. bestowed further honors on her, as she was selected to the eighth class of inductees in the Baltimore Chapter of US Lacrosse's Hall of Fame. The memorable class included two of Uhlfelder's US teammates, Erin Brown and Sue Heether.
Uhlfelder, 38, earned a master's degree in Physical Therapy from Old Dominion University. She currently resides in Menlo Park.