Durango School District 9-R district athletic director Ryan Knorr knew he had to act fast. Two and a half weeks ago, he sent a round of emails to athletic directors notifying them that the Durango High School girls lacrosse team season was in jeopardy without a head coach just a month from the start of the season.
He acted fast, and the district jumped back into the search. After a story in The Durango Herald detailed the Demons’ conundrum, four new applicants came forward. On Monday night at the spring sports meeting at DHS, Knorr announced the new head coach of the program, Eric Elliott.
“Eric was absolutely the most fit candidate,” Knorr said. “He’s going to give the girls the most positive experience. He’s no nonsense in terms of setting very clear expectations. He has a competitive edge. He wants to be the best, and he understands the process of working through that and understands the daily steps that it will take to get there.”
Elliott will take over for Natalie Mitchell, who departed at the end of last season after two seasons with a 10-18 record. Elliott, the father of junior Allie Elliott, stepped up with a clear game plan in front of the hiring committee and did well in subsequent interviews.
“Rather than being a complainer, I came up with a plan and pitched it, and they thought it was a great idea,” Elliott said. “We’re going to have three others involved, a parent that is super involved with the rec league program, and two former players. I understand the importance of sport, and you learn from it and you might learn something that maybe wasn’t necessarily related to the sport through it. It provides an outlet for the girls, and the last thing we wanted to do was cancel the season.”
The hiring process for Knorr was different than any coaching vacancy he had previously been a part of. After posting the job to the district website and various lacrosse job boards as early as September, Knorr had just two applicants, and both had failed to meet the requirements. After relaunching the search, he had four more applicants apply, one of which was Elliott.
“It’s made me reflect a lot on the process and kind of realizing that I need to create a larger net,” Knorr said. “I need to start networking more and ahead of time to get ahead of these hires, especially for sports that might have lower numbers. Every day, I’ve been leaving work and am seeing them practice. It’s worth all of the work, the scary realization that there almost wasn’t a season. I think we got a good, quality coach.”
Once he passed the initial interview, Elliott was interviewed two more times, including a one-on-one with Knorr. He had to meet Colorado High School Activities Association requirements, including a course on student mental health.
“I wanted to make sure that we had a solid plan and had people that I wanted to put in place around me to help me get better as a coach,” said Elliott, who played football at Division III Cortland State in New York. “I’ve got my strengths and weaknesses, and I’ve identified people that can help me with those weaknesses as well as strengths. The assistant coaches are younger and are passionate for the sport and the program. I want to bring stability, because it’s more important to have a program rather than just a team. The team is only one part of the entire program.”
With practice starting on Monday, Elliott has been busy with last-minute preseason conditioning and has had anywhere between 15-20 girls come out to workouts. With the first official practice fast approaching Monday, he is still hopeful to have more girls come out that might have been on the fence.
“Now that everybody is aware that there’s a coach and the season is back on, the girls are still recruiting,” Elliott said. “They’re talking to friends who might have been discouraged. It seems like everybody I’ve spoken to, from the parents on Monday to players, everybody is super positive and excited.”
The Demons will continue to work on fundamentals and footwork for much of the early part of the season, and he believes that conditioning is one area where Durango can improve.
“We were in a lot of games last year, and at the end, we’d be super tired,” Elliott said. “It’s drawing on a lot of my past experience as a player. We’re focusing on the basics. I’ve played on plenty of teams where we weren’t the flashiest team in the world, but if you’re solid at the fundamentals, you’re going to have positive results.”
Durango will open the season March 13 with a doubleheader against Roaring Fork and Aspen at Grand Junction High School. For the next two weeks, Elliott will look to lead the Demons from a near-disaster no season to contending for a first playoff appearance in program history.
While he admitted he still has to figure out new offensive and defensive sets to run in season and switch into the coaching mindset, Elliott has been impressed with the girls’ willingness to adapt to change.
“The team camaraderie you get from sports is so hard to beat, and I am really looking forward to witnessing that from a different perspective,” Elliott said. “Even working with the girls on a limited basis so far, it’s really enjoyable watching girls who might not necessarily interact in the hallways, but they come together for the love of the sport and a common purpose.”