As one of the most accomplished women’s ice hockey coaches of her generation, Digit Murphy is also highly dedicated towards other causes including pay equity and further opportunities for women in sport through the Play It Forward Sport Foundation. Extending her legacy as a Title IX champion, Murphy is bringing her enthusiasm and strong leadership to the exciting sport of lacrosse with the launch of the United Women’s Lacrosse League (UWLX).
Before embarking on this new journey, the first months of 2015 would see Murphy add to a superlative hockey legacy as she led the Boston Blades to their second Clarkson Cup title in three seasons. It would prove to be a victory filled with milestones.
Not only did Blades forward Janine Weber become the first European player to score the Cup-winning goal, the Blades became the first American-based team to win the Cup twice, while Murphy became the first female coach (and American-born coach) to experience a pair of Cup victories.
During 2015’s latter months, Murphy’s new focus with lacrosse was part of an exciting and inspiring journey that brought her to New York to hear Patricia Arquette speak on pay equity, along with the Impact Leadership 21 Summit at the United Nations and a special honor at the Tribeca film festival. With Aronda Kirby, the two were bestowed the honor of the Disruptive Innovator Award.
Culminating with a trip to Naples, Florida for an annual coaching convention, Murphy ran into former associates from Hockey East, and a discussion involved STX, a manufacturer of lacrosse equipment that also sponsors a team of players. Said team involved the likes of prominent women’s players including Alyssa Murray, Taylor D’Amore, Liz Hogan, Sloane Serpe and Katie Webster, among others.
Bringing renewed energy, the result was the introduction of professional women’s lacrosse to four major American markets, including Baltimore, Boston, New York and Philadelphia. In getting UWLX started, Murphy has found lacrosse to be an ideal venue. Not only is she excited at the opportunity to extend so many playing careers past the collegiate level, the enthusiasm and admiration are reciprocated by the lacrosse community,
“What I enjoy most are the people in lacrosse. The outpouring of support, accepting of women’s professional sport in this realm. Everyone really appreciates what we are doing.
I like to think outside the box little bit, try to be a bit more edgy. For me, everyone has been so open and collaborative. Lacrosse is a way more different environment, way more positive.”
Equally important in this newest chapter of women’s professional sport is Aronda Kirby. During the three straight seasons that the Blades appeared in the Clarkson Cup finals (winning in 2013 and 2015), Kirby was the club’s General Manager, also serving as Director of Operations and Game Management.
In collaborating with Murphy, the result was the greatest GM/Coach collaboration that the league had ever seen. During this remarkable run, Murphy not only gained CWHL Coach of the Year honors in 2013, she would be the winning coach for the first-ever CWHL All-Star Game (contested in December 2014).
Of note, Kirby has also extended her contributions to hockey with the RI IXpress, a hockey program in Rhode Island. Bringing strong experience in project management, along with work in community outreach initiatives, Kirby brings solid business acumen, part of a winning combination with Murphy that is poised to bring the same success to UWLX,
“Aronda is the mastermind administrator, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. She has a great business mind, whereas I am more kind of an innovator and creator. She takes all of my creations and translates them into business. She had made amazing contributions to what we are undertaking here.”
Murphy also understands that women’s sports must take on its own approach. Considering the historical impact of men’s sport, with its mythology stretching over a century, one that has been ingrained deeply in the American cultural fabric, women’s sports must avoid duplicating their approach and forge its own path, finding its own footing,
“The traditional male sports model dates back 125 years. You buy the ticket, the merchandise and buy the concessions, it is all part of the revenue stream.
The women’s side is so far behind, to try and undertake a model created by men is a mistake. Sports needs to be by women, for women, with women in charge. Traditional sports have been a man’s creation and we need to think differently and have our opinion valued.”
As the league nears the hiring of its team’s General Managers and head coaches, along with accepting player requests to register for the league’s inaugural draft, a key step in the league’s earliest structure involved the appointment of its commissioner, where the goal was to find solid and credible leadership.
Such a candidate was found in US National Lacrosse Hall of Fame member Michele “DJ” Dejuliis. Hailing from Baltimore, Dejuliis was the captain of the 2009 US national women’s team that earned the gold medal at the FIL World Cup. She would follow up such a sensational playing career (which included four All-America honors at Penn State University) by making the transition to coaching.
In addition to serving as an assistant coach at Princeton University, Dejuliis was on the US national team coaching staff in 2013, capturing gold once again. For the 2015 U19 Women’s World Cup, Dejuliis was also part of the US coaching staff, sharing her expertise with a new generation of promising lacrosse stars. It was the perfect position for her as she has helped develop talent with her own venture, Ultimate Lacrosse.
As Murphy reflects on the selection process that led to Dejuliis, it mirrored the recruiting that she engaged in while accumulating over 300 career wins as head coach of the Brown Bears women’s ice hockey program. With such exceptional structure at the top, it is poised to trickle down in empowering fashion, resulting in an ultimate experience for women’s lacrosse,
“When thinking about the criteria (for the commissioner), we wanted someone who was real, a kind of person with experience but at the national level as a player, coach, and as a leader. It needed to be someone like that, which lacrosse could respond to. With Michelle, she is everything and more.
We definitely wanted someone who was open to ideas, are they passionate? We just talked to a ton of people and her name kept coming up. That was how we approached her, we did our homework.
I have been coaching for 35 years and when I see her, she is a natural born leader, good critical thinker, collaborative. It was like recruiting. We wanted an impact player, someone that other players are looking for.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”