It’s been a year of major life transformations for Devon Wills ‘02. In the course of 12 months, the CA alumna has gotten married, had a baby, moved from the West Coast to the East Coast, and taken over as Women’s Lacrosse Head Coach at Harvard University, one of the premier programs in the country.
After graduating from Colorado Academy, Wills, a star goalkeeper, played lacrosse for Dartmouth, where she was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year as a Freshman and led the team to the National Championship game as a Senior. Post college, she continued her pursuit of lacrosse, making it her career, and racking up a remarkable list of achievements as both a player and a coach. These include capturing gold as Captain of the 2017 U.S. National Team and serving as Associate Head Coach for the University of Southern California Trojans.
This past June, while in a California hospital and still groggy from the birth of her daughter Decker, Wills got the email that upended her life—in a good way. An alumna from Harvard pinged her to see if she might be interested in the Head Coach position for its Women’s Lacrosse Team.
Focusing on her newborn, she put the email aside, but she couldn’t ignore this potential dream-job opportunity. A few days later, she followed up with an application, which led to interviews, and, within weeks, she had relocated to Cambridge to take over the program.
“The second I got on campus, the Harvard community was so welcoming,” she says. “It felt great to be back in the Ivy League.”
But the timing was tricky.
“The job was the perfect fit, but it was not the perfect timing. It was a logistical nightmare to move across the country with an infant,” she says. But a few months in and feeling more settled, she raves that Boston is an incredible place to raise a family.
Wills takes over the position from long-time Harvard coach Lisa Miller, who led the Crimson team since 2007. She says she is extremely humbled and honored to be the program’s successor, which has a long, accomplished history.
Now, Wills—together with the administration and athletes—is eager to build on that success while beginning a new chapter focused on team culture.
“We are figuring out what we want to be known for when people talk about Harvard Lacrosse,” she says.
‘A lofty goal’
Not surprisingly, Will’s goals for the team are ambitious.
“The Ivy League is a strong conference, and if you’re a top team in the Ivies, you’re a top team in the country, and you’ll be in the discussion for a national championship. Obviously, that’s a lofty goal, but right now we’re working on getting better every day and competing for an Ivy championship. We’ll see how it ends up from there.”
Moving into the Head Coach position—after serving as Associate Head Coach at USC—brings a different set of responsibilities, mainly around direct accountability to the administration and athletic recruiting. At a school like Harvard, there are even greater expectations around finding student athletes that excel in academics as well as on the field. For Wills, that mix means being intentional about the young women she is recruiting, getting to know them, and focusing on building team chemistry.
“We want to win, but we want to win the right way with the right people. I want to reinforce that it’s a privilege to be part of this team, and we want to make sure we have players that are embracing that role and challenge,” she says. “Winning is great, but at the end of the year, there is only one National Champion, and you’ll remember the relationship with your teammates more than any win or loss.”
This philosophy was one of Wills’s legacies at USC as well, according to Head Coach Lindsey Munday. “Devon’s impact on USC Lacrosse will be everlasting. Not only did she have a tremendous impact on the field, but the relationships she had with our players and alumni will be lifelong. She is an incredible lacrosse coach, but an even better person, that I am fortunate to know. I am so grateful for all of her time at USC, and Harvard is very lucky to have her.”
The qualities that make Wills an incredible coach and player were evident back when she was in Upper School. CA classmate and teammate Molly Miner Nakazono ‘02 regularly witnessed Wills’s leadership on Slater Field. “Being part of a team sport, Devon demands a lot from those around her,” Nakazono says. “What I came to discover is that she never asks something that she hasn’t done herself, and she pushes others to do what they otherwise deemed impossible. While she holds herself to the highest standard, she makes everyone around her better.”
“I love CA,” Wills says. “It’s a great place with great people and a really awesome community.”
And it’s a place Wills believes prepared her well for her academic challenges at Dartmouth, as well as setting the path for her athletic pursuits.
“CA was a great balance of athletics and academics,” she says. “The lacrosse was some of the best in the state at that time, and the coaching was amazing.”
Her lacrosse coach, Cheryl Plummer, was intense, but was gifted at breaking down the game and talking through the finer points, Wills says. Coach Emily Leary’s passion about the sport was contagious. The care and inspiration from her CA coaches fired up Wills to play at the college level.
Friend and classmate Nakazono knew early on that Wills would make an impact on the sport.
“I don’t think anyone ever had a doubt that Devon was going to be a huge success in the lacrosse world,” she says. “Not only is she one of the most athletic people I will ever know, but her dedication and heart make her a really unique individual. Devon was a huge inspiration to me as a teammate and continues to be as we develop in our careers.“
While her bonds through athletics are some of her strongest CA memories, Wills also fondly recalls camping the night before Senior year with friends and then enjoying their last first day together.
Her favorite CA traditions include Giant Relay Day and Interim. “I got to try doing something I had never tried before. Two years in a row, I went mountain biking in Moab. That experience made Moab one of my favorite places ever.”
Women’s Lacrosse today
Wills says that in her CA days, Colorado was a developing area for the sport, but it wasn’t the stronghold it is today. She credits collegiate programs in the state, University of Colorado, University of Denver, and Colorado College in particular, for accelerating the sport.
Despite her long list of accolades, Wills is humble about her contribution to women’s lacrosse. She believes she was in the right place at the right time to participate in the rise of the game. “My teammates during my grad year at CA were some of the early ones to leave and play Division I and be on the U.S. Team.”
The growth of women’s lacrosse has been amazing to watch, Wills says. “The game is changing, and it’s been fun to see how players have adapted to the rules changes. So many players are picking up sticks and doing incredible things.”
“Athletes are so much better—bigger, stronger, and faster. The stickwork and creativity the players show is phenomenal to watch. It’s a really an exciting time for women’s lacrosse.”
Career of Devon Wills ‘02
1999-2002 – CA Varsity Team
2003-2006 Dartmouth Team
2003 – Ivy League Rookie of the Year
2003 – All-Ivy Second Team
2003 – NCAA Quarterfinals
2003-2005 – Ivy League First Team
2004 – NCAA Quarterfinals
2004-2006 – All-America Second Team
2005 – NCAA Semifinals
2006 – NCAA National Championship Game
2006 – Dartmouth Team Captain
2006 – Women’s Lacrosse Award from Sportswomen of Colorado
2007-2008 – Dartmouth Assistant Coach
2007-2017 – U.S. National Team
2009 – FIL World Cup Gold Medal
2009 – MVP Gold Medal Game, Team USA
2009 – MVP UWLX Championship Game
2009 – Women’s Lacrosse Award from Sportswomen of Colorado
2010 – University of Denver Assistant
2012-2018 – USC Coach
2013 – FIL World Cup Gold Medal
2013 – World Cup All-World Team
2016 – Selected as First Pick by Long Island Sound in UWLX
2017 – WPLL Founding body, Head of player relations
2017 – FIL World Cup Gold Medal
2017 – IWGA World Games Gold Medal
2017 – U.S. Team Captain
2018 – Harvard Head Coach