ASU women's lacrosse head coach Tim McCormack is in his third year building the program and has seen tremendous success already.
The players and assistant coaches attribute his success to his leadership.
The Sun Devils have had winning records in each season of McCormack's tenure, but the wins and losses are not the most important thing for McCormack and his coaching staff. The priority is to create a fun and judgment-free environment.
"This whole thing is about progress, not perfection," McCormack said. "We try to take perfection off the table, there is no such thing."
The 2021 season saw the Sun Devils advance to the Pac-12 semifinals before falling to Stanford in their most successful season to date. McCormack and the Sun Devils are 2-0 in Pac-12 play so far and will look to rely on the culture McCormack has built to advance further in the Pac-12 tournament when they host it in May.
"It's their team"
The opportunity to build a program from the ground up is a unique experience only a select few coaches have. While McCormack had the help of players who had already spent time with the program, there was still a lot left for him to figure out.
"When I first got here, there was no rulebook," McCormack said. "There was no paper slid across the table saying this is who we're going to be."
The culture of Sun Devil lacrosse came about organically. McCormack and his staff saw the uniqueness of the program and knew the culture would be drastically different from any other program in the country.
"It's (the player's) team," McCormack said. "We're here to kind of just guide and listen."
The chance to watch the players create the program they want to see is something McCormack will never take for granted.
"That journey has been unbelievable, to watch a group of young women truly take the ownership and create what we have right now in Sun Devil lacrosse," McCormack said.
"I learn every single day"
Before McCormack found his way to Tempe, he was an assistant coach at Northwestern under head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller. McCormack was fresh out of his college career at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and was filled with confidence.
"At that point in your career, you think you know everything," McCormack said. "I felt like I knew what this whole thing was about."
He quickly realized he still had so much to learn. McCormack saw Amonte Hiller was always open to learning new things about lacrosse, coaching and anything else in life.
"I never want to ever stop learning," McCormack said.
McCormack has incorporated this ideology into his everyday life and is helping others to continue learning as well. Assistant coaches Dorrien van Dyke and Nicole Graziano have learned from McCormack since the day they arrived in Tempe.
"I write down things I learn every single day from that man," Graziano said.
The chance to go head to head with Amonte Hiller and the Northwestern Wildcats on the opening weekend of the 2022 season was another learning experience for McCormack and his staff. The Sun Devils started the season 0-2 against Michigan and No. 5 Northwestern, but they quickly bounced back and won the next three games.
McCormack knew that starting the season with games against nationally-ranked teams would be difficult, but he and the team were able to learn from that experience and rebound in impressive fashion going into Pac-12 play.
ASU plays No. 10 Sanford, the best team in the Pac-12 in Palo Alto on Friday. The match will be a good test for how the team has adjusted since the start of the year.
"He genuinely cares"
McCormack's main goal since his arrival in Tempe has been to create a safe and supportive environment for his players.
Graduate student attacker Taylor Pinzone played under McCormack at Northwestern and transferred to ASU to play her final season under McCormack. Pinzone has always felt nothing but support from McCormack.
"He's always pushed me to the next level but he's also one that you can go to and feel comfortable and get through your frustrations or struggles," Pinzone said.
McCormack and his staff understand growth is impossible without a supportive environment. The culture of Sun Devil lacrosse has always aimed to support each athlete. Coaches and players alike credit McCormack with laying the groundwork for the supportive environment.
"He has made this a safe space for these girls," Van Dyke said.
McCormack's leadership and care for the program have been recognized by ASU and by the Pac-12 when he was named the Pac-12 coach of the year for the 2021 season.
"He's one of the best leaders that I've ever been around, and he genuinely cares for the girls as his daughters," Graziano said.
"We are incredibly lucky"
The opportunity to spend their lives working in the sport they love is something the coaching staff doesn't take lightly. The bond they share makes their jobs incredibly enjoyable every day.
"We have one of the best dynamics in the entire nation," Graziano said. "That might be a little biased, but I do believe that."
The supportive environment the coaches create doesn't just apply to the players, but the coaches themselves.
"We spend so much time together and all love what we're doing," Van Dyke said. "We just love spending time with each other, which isn't the dynamic on most programs in the country."
McCormack counts himself lucky to spend every day with the Sun Devil lacrosse program. The players and coaches alike make being a head coach the best job he could have.
With the bulk of conference play (and some other top-ranked opponents) left on the schedule, McCormack will need to continue to lead and move the program forward.
"We are incredibly lucky to do what we do daily, where we do it, and with who we do it," McCormack said.
Kathryn Field is a full time sports reporter, covering women's basketball and lacrosse for The State Press. She has previously worked for The State Press as a freelancer, covering many different sports.