WATERVILLE — Peri West knows something about building a lacrosse team. She’s been a coach at two NCAA Division III fledgling programs, and now she’ll work to take an established women’s lacrosse team at Thomas College to a new level.

“I’m just interested in grassroots and startups,” West said.

Along with her duties at Thomas, West is untaking the biggest startup job of her career, coaching the Colombian national women’s lacrosse team. With Colombia, West is building a team in a nation whose lacrosse history goes back four years, assembling a team to compete in the women’s lacrosse World Cup next July in England. All while doing it in a second language.

“I’m conducting practices in Spanish, and I’m not fluent. As we progress and try to do strategy, any more than just drills, that’s hard,” West said.

If it was easy, it wouldn’t be nearly as fun.

West got the job when Colombian officials put out feelers with the Intercollegiate Womens Lacrosse Coaches Association, looking for coaches. Her father had worked in Colombia a bit, and she had family friends there.

“I had some connections in Colombia, so I thought it’d be a great opportunity,” West said.

Not only does West face the language barrier (two asssistant coaches, from California and Florida, speak decent Spanish and are a great help communicating with the players, West said), she’s coaching players who are new to the sport. When it comes to lacrosse in Colombia, there’s no institutional memory, no history from which to draw. Four years ago, Colombia started an under-19 program to start the building process. Those are the players West has for her national team.

“We were fortunate in that they’d been practicing a bit, but there’s definitely some beginners. When I got there the goal was to take 25 kids and cut three,” West said. “That was kind of a challenge. Hey, I’m your new coach, but I have to get rid of three of you. They have so much passion and so much drive. They work really, really hard… Because they see the boys lacrosse game and think they should be able to hit and check like that. It’s totally different. That’s the biggest habit we’re breaking. They’ve got the speed. They’ve got the drive.”

Inexperience isn’t the only obstacle. West also is coaching a women’s national team in a country that historically hasn’t put much emphasis on sports for girls and women.

“The opportunity for girls and women is very slim in sports there. Colombia is actually the number one per capita for beauty pagents,” West said. “It’s tough for girls growing up (in Colombia). They don’t have that push to play sports. People have no idea what (lacrosse) is. Everything is soccer.”

West took over the women’s lacrosse program at Thomas in June. With the Terriers, she doesn’t have the ground up building job she faced at Mt. Ida or Hendrix, her last school. Hendrix is in Conway, Arkansas, where lacrosse is almost as new as it is in Colombia. West coached the Warriors to a 7-7 record last spring.

“There’s no lacrosse. No high school, no nothing. Coming from a place where I was the only college team, the only coach in the whole state, this is a good move,” West said.

Thomas won just two games last season, but the Terriers won eight in each of the previous two seasons before that, and won 11 games in 2013. There’s a foundation there. When West talks about growing women’s lacrosse now, she sees a bigger picture. West sees new high school programs at Winslow, Lawrence and Erskine, and sees more growth potential. One of the first things West did when she arrived at Thomas was start a girls lacrosse summer league at the school.

“It’s exciting to know that through my head job here, I can grow the game outside of here, too. I saw that potential. That was important in taking this job,” West said.

West will go back to Colombia in January for the next round of practices. In the meantime, she’ll work on her Spanish. It’s getting better, West said. She’s excited to see her team again.

“They’re huge in representing Colombia. They really want to go to the World Cup and be like, we’re not this drug lord country that you all think we might be,” West said. “They’re really prideful. They want to be there. As a coach you can’t ask for more. They’re so honored. They’re so excited. They’re so passionate.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.