Three months after graduating from the University of Central Florida, Bianca Diaz stood in front of prospective student-athletes and their parents for Western High School’s girls’ lacrosse introductory meeting.
Diaz, who was brought onboard to teach the game while Nion Pinto handles the paperwork, created a 14-slide power point that organized her guidelines, expectations and philosophy.
“I fully stand by playing to understand the game rather than just score goals and win,” Diaz said. “I want the girls to go out on the field and really think about what their next step is and to know strategy. I take pride in this game. Now that I have put eight-plus years into playing, it has become a lifestyle for me, and I love it.”
With such a close age gap between her and her players, Diaz, 22, was initially worried it would be difficult to toe the line between friend and coach.
It helped that returning members of the team had already met her. During winter break of her senior year, Diaz stopped by to guest instruct practices.
Instead of being a challenge, her age and gender have proven advantageous.
The girls find it easier to come to Diaz for one-on-one questions. She can relate to what they’re going through, having experienced it a few years earlier. Her positive attitude provides a foundation of trust.
Junior captain Kaitlyn Carmona called Diaz’s coaching style a somewhat laid-back approach. Diaz feeds information in a way that sticks in the players’ heads, aiding their “Lacrosse IQ.”
“She always tells us to hustle hard and play to the best of our ability and have fun and play with our heart because she knows when she played that’s what kept her going and she loved the sport,” Carmona said.
Diaz took up lacrosse her freshman year at Cypress Bay when a girl in Spanish class mentioned that the club sport would play its inaugural season.
Tired of soccer, Diaz immediately enjoyed the intensity and quickness of lacrosse, so much so she played year-round. In college, she joined the UCF team as a freshman and eventually became captain.
Last year, the Knights won their division by beating the University of Florida club lacrosse team in the Southeastern Women’s Lacrosse League conference championship, advancing to the national Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Associates championship in Colorado Springs, Colo. Diaz earned MVP honors as a midfielder.
Pine Crest’s Eileen Pliske coached Diaz for Team South Florida in national tournaments, which groups girls from the Sunshine State, Georgia and Tennessee.
Pliske, who was on the practice squad for two years at Loyola University in Maryland and has been a coach in South Florida for 13 seasons, joked that it made her feel old to know Diaz was on the sidelines.
“She was a great kid,” Pliske said. “She was very coachable and she wanted to learn. She did everything. She was hungry for everything possible to learn about the sport. I think that’s going to help her tremendously in her teaching of the sport not knowing everything and wanting to learn and applying what she’s learned.”
Under Diaz’s tutelage, Western has gone 12-1 in its first year as an FHSAA-sanctioned program. The lone loss came March 11 in an 8-7 triple-overtime game against South Plantation. One regular-season game remains before next week’s district tournament.
Freshman Madison Woodall, who is part of the first wave of girls learning the sport in middle school, as well as a core group of juniors, provide a versatile group for the Wildcats.
Senior captain Taylor Ouellette has witnessed lacrosse’s transformation since her first year. Aside from Western, other Broward County public schools now field lacrosse teams and compete in the state series.
Instead of a club sport — hoping to reserve a spot on the field to practice or raise enough funds for equipment — the school now treats it like the other varsity teams. The fan base has grown. Friends don’t wonder what lacrosse is anymore.
“She said a couple of times she wants to throw on her jersey, go in and play and show us certain things during games,” Ouellette said of Diaz. “I think she’s taking it all in and molding it so that it will work for us. I think she has the potential to be amazing.”