Building a program isn't a new project for Courtney Martinez Connor, but as the first women's lacrosse coach in Arizona State history, the Baltimore native faces a unique challenge.
Martinez Connor was hired Nov. 5 to construct the new Sun Devils program -- which begins play in the spring of 2018 -- and she will draw on her experiences at Mount St. Mary's and UMBC to get Arizona State on the fast track.
"It was a fairly fast process," Martinez Connor said, "and I think that shows ASU's commitment to wanting to start things off in the right direction. … I was lucky that they reached out to me, because I always envisioned getting back into coaching. But if I was going to get back into coaching … it had to be at the right place."
Martinez Connor and the Sun Devils appear to be quite the match, as the five-time national champion player at Maryland from 1997-2001 brings a wealth of success and knowledge from the country's lacrosse hotbed.
The 37-year-old presided over the Mount from 2001-05, immediately after her standout collegiate career for the Terps, and led the school to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances during her final two seasons. She parlayed her run as Mount St. Mary's all-time winningest coach into a four-year stint with the Golden Retrievers, during which she led the program to its first America East conference title in 2006.
"To see what it was like winning at a place like Mount St. Mary's, then going to UMBC and seeing how things were done a little bit different, I think each college had their positives and negatives," Martinez Connor said. "So I think both of those stops really helped prepare me for the position I am in now."
Martinez Connor compiled a 73-67 combined mark during her time at Mount St. Mary's and UMBC. After UMBC did not renew her contract in 2010, however, Martinez Connor took a hiatus from coaching and spent several years working as an analyst for Big Ten Network, ESPN and Inside Lacrosse.
It wasn't until Martinez Connor mentored the St. Paul's School for Girls' varsity program in 2014 that she realized just how much she missed coaching. From that point, she knew a return to the collegiate ranks was inevitable.
"Even working with those girls, it kind of started to give me that little itch of what I do miss about the team environment," Martinez Connor said. "When you broadcast the sport, you talk with a bunch of people, from coaches to players, but it is just different. You're kind of walking the rode alone, and you miss that camaraderie, the game tactics and coming up with the game plan for what you would for one team versus another."
But Martinez Connor isn't getting ahead of herself.
With 2.5 years before the Sun Devils play their first match, Martinez Connor is already hitting the recruiting trail hard and working to sway future commits her way. Martinez Connor said she will sell the obvious -- year-round sunshine -- to recruits, but that there are more important factors at play.
"I want to make sure that we have the right mix of lacrosse players on the field and the right student-athletes to succeed in the classroom," Martinez Connor said. "While ASU is a very fun school to hang out at, it is very studious and rigorous, especially the Barrett Honors College -- it rivals with any Ivy League school. I want to make sure that everyone we bring in … realizes … the experiences they have here will take them far in the real world."
An Atlantic Coast Conference and Maryland Scholar Athlete, Martinez Connor said having the opportunity to teach at Arizona State's prestigious Walter Cronkite School of Journalism was something she found appealing.
"ASU likes to do things different and unique, and that is why it is the most innovative school," Martinez Connor said. "They said, 'Hey, if you want to teach in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, then we want you to feel empowered to do that.'
"They want their coaches, their teachers and their administrators to feel like they are not hampered, but to feel like they can branch out and use as many resources as possible. So that's what kind of pulled me in and makes it a truly special place."
Martinez Connor, meanwhile, also plans to fill out her coaching staff by next summer and outlined some of the traits she expects her assistants to possess. She noted the importance of bringing in at least one assistant with an extensive background in luring top-level recruits and a younger assistant who played at the Division I level within the last several years.
"I don't want to rush," Martinez Connor said. "I think that when you put a staff together, you want to have hard-working, very smart students of the game who know the Xs and Os very well and who also know how to recruit. You will certainly a mixture of that from the staff I put together, because I want to have enthusiastic coaches who want to help make this program good as fast as can be."
Although Martinez Connor knows there's a lot of work to be done, she is taking things on head-on.
"This is certainly a leap of faith," Martinez Connor said. "I believe in the mission that [Arizona State] has set here. While it may be scary or bittersweet -- as I call it -- it's for an opportunity that doesn't come around very often in a lifetime."