'I love the lifestyle'
Middlebury's Foote enjoying hall of fame career
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Missy Foote has built up some credibility in her 36 years at Middlebury in Vermont.
For 32 of those years, she has been the head coach of the women's lacrosse team. Middlebury began an incredible streak of 14 straight trips to the Division III national semifinals, and since 1997, the school has won five national championships. In four of those seasons, the Panthers came away undefeated.
Eight times, her teams have made it to the NCAA title game. Unfortunately for Foote, a ninth trip won't happen this year after Middlebury lost a heartbreaking 8-7 see-saw battle against Salisbury in Saturday's first semifinal matchup.
With a long list of coach-of-the-year credits to her name, Foote was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame last year.
"In a lot of ways, it's really just meant that I have been coaching long enough to put wins in a column," Foote said with a laugh. "For me, it was a gigantic salute to the wonderful women I've coached over the years, who have continued to commit themselves to the pursuit of excellence at Middlebury, both academically and athletically."
The statement isn't just a line from a press release. That's the way things really work at Middlebury. Foote spent most of one day in the week leading into the national championship tournament figuring out how her players could take an exam that Friday.
The exam took place right after practice. What it boils down to is this -- Missy Foote expects the same dedication from her women's lacrosse players in the classroom and on the field.
"We have a saying on our team that you stand on the shoulders of those that came before us," she continued. "That doesn't necessarily mean someone's national championships, but it does mean the ethic of how to work and how to behave as a Middlebury lacrosse player on the field and off the field."
The goal at the start of a season is not necessarily to win a national championship. Instead, the focus for the Panthers is on playing as hard and as well as they can and let the wins come as they may. When that happens, hardware tends to follow.
"If it shakes out that we're headed to the [national semifinals], we know we've met our goal because we played every game to the best of our ability," Foote continued. "Every season is a new season, but we're also building off of what came before us."
At a smaller school like Middlebury, Foote has never been able to focus solely on lacrosse. Until 2001, she was the head coach of the school's field hockey team. Right now, she's the director of physical education; the senior woman administrator; and associate athletic director.
In a very real sense, her additional responsibilities make her lacrosse accomplishments all the more amazing.
"We wear a lot of hats in Division III," she said with another laugh. "If you've been at a school for as long as I have, you're wearing some administrative hats. I think I've got my feet planted firmly in both worlds. It's a time of season when it's a little hard to have my administrative hat on, I have to say.
"I love the fact that in the spring, I get to be out on the field developing a group of individuals into a group of high-functioning lacrosse players. Then in the fall and winter and summer, I like that I'm putting on my administrative hat and solving problems for the good of our department, as well as for the good of the women on our team. I like that combination of both."
People who reach the level of success that Foote has tend to get plenty of offers to go elsewhere, and that's been the case with her. She could have moved on to bigger things, but better?
Only she could determine that. She's a hiker, a skier, a runner, a gardener, a parent. Vermont - and building a career at a DIII school - has offered her the opportunity to do all of that and more.
"I have had the chance to go to other schools, and I have never even been slightly interested," she said. "I love Vermont. I love the area around Middlebury. I can be up the mountain and cross-country skiing in 20 minutes from my office. So if it's snowing, up there I go. I love the lifestyle of being a Division III coach.
"I also love the lifestyle of a Division III athlete. I just love that we expect them to be strong academically and athletically. We expect them to have other interests. Those are the kind of people that I want to help develop into high-functioning adults."