DURHAM, N.C. - Laura Gentile was a second team All-America and three-time All-ACC selection during her field hockey career. Gentile helped Duke reach its first ever appearance at the NCAA tournament and made it to the final eight, beating Virginia 4-2. Gentile has remained true to her athletic background, as she currently works with ESPN. GoDuke.com had a chance to catch up with the former captain to talk about a new ESPN venture, the CAPE program and the way field hockey has changed since she was on the turf.
GoDuke.com: What is your current role with ESPN?
Lauren Gentile: I've now been at ESPN for about six and a half years. I currently work in this position called the Office of the President, working directly with the President and acting as a chief of staff. I've done this for about three years. Now I'm working with a group on a business idea about attracting more women to ESPN. We are working on a focused strategy targeting women, which we have really never done as a company. We've never had a dedicated strategy or content plan for that audience. We've done some research, worked on the pitch for awhile along with the business plan for over a year. It received approval, and our first work is going to focus on high school female athletes. Our focus on the entire initiative is going to be on the athletic woman, initially starting with high school. Eventually, we want to be involved with college female athletes and athletes 22 and older, women who are still into participating in sports, staying physically fit and grew up with sports. We are just in the beginning stages of content development. It's pretty exciting and new.
GD: It must be extremely exciting for a former field hockey player.
LG: Yeah. I think I understand the audience intimately. Unfortunately, in all the research we've done, the resources that are available for high school and college athletes haven't taken a huge step up in the last 15-20 years. There isn't a central resource to go for information, unless you have a really engaged coach or parent. It is a confusing time for young women athletes. There are issues on how to get recruited, how to train better, or how to balance everything that is going on in your life. Where do you turn for advice? We are hoping to be that resource, and coming from a credible brand like ESPN, we are hoping to get a receptive audience.
GD: How is this brand going to be made available?
LG: It is going to be multi-platform so there is going to be a magazine, a dedicated website, mobile applications and events.
GD: You have an impressive marketing background. Did your interest in marketing develop in college or post-grad?
LG: It certainly started at Duke. My senior year I started taking some dedicated marketing courses and it really struck a chord with me. It was at that time when you really start thinking through... do I go to law school? I was an English and political science major, so it seemed like the LSAT was something I could have done well on. After taking some law and marketing classes, I just felt that business was more in line with my personality. It combined that team orientation you learn as an athlete with creative thinking, discipline and hard work. Right out of Duke I got a couple post-graduate scholarships so I went directly to Boston College and got my MBA. It was a good path. There was an ACC and NCAA post-graduate scholarship available that gave me an extra push to say, you might as well go.[laughs]
GD: I also read about the CAPE program, it sounded very interesting. Why get involved with that? Totally different field, medical, healthcare...
LG: I think it comes down to the girls themselves. Henry Freedman, who founded the program, was looking for people he thought would be good role models. It wasn't necessarily doctors or ex-physicians, but just somebody who understands what it means to get on a career path. It is learning how to transfer the discipline of being a college athlete to your career. He tapped me on the shoulder because I think he saw somebody that maybe the girls could relate to or turn to for advice. Yeah, it is a completely different field but the connectivity is being athletes and being able to relate to that experience.
GD: How do you stay involved with the team now?
LG: You just try to do as much as you can. I actually always feel guilty that I can't do enough. It is just being involved, going down there as much as you can and stay connected with the program whether it's through the alumni game, attending final fours or the ACC tournament and also being a resource for these girls. I just feel such an affinity to the program and I got so much out of my Duke education. When I was there, field hockey was the world to me. I did pretty well in school but I was very focused on field hockey and doing the best I could do. I just feel like it's a formative experience and I love to stay in touch...My husband grew up on the west coast, and had never even see field hockey. I remember taking him to the first game down there, and he really liked it. So, that was another impetus. I don't know if it's the novelty of it, but he's a fan.
GD: Coach Bozman said you are still extremely involved with the team.
LG: I try to be. You know what's funny? When I was being recruited, it came down to Princeton and Duke, and Beth was the coach of Princeton at the time. She recruited me and I went to Duke anyway [laughs] even though she is an amazing coach.
GD: You were on the first Duke field hockey team to make an NCAA appearance in 1992, beating Virginia 4-2 in the first round. What was that experience like?
LG: It was awesome because we were plenty good enough for a couple years prior to when we made it in my junior year. Maybe we lacked the confidence or didn't know how to close out the season. At the time it was only, I think the top 12 teams in the country made the tournament. We were right on the cusp there for a couple years. Everything came together that year. We really believed in each other, we had a close-knit team. I was captain with Pattie Stein, who I actually went to high-school with. We're life-long friends and I think we were a good yin and yang. Pattie can be a stern, in your face type of person you don't want to cross. I was maybe more accessible, easier to chat with. We had a good thing going and the team reached our potential that year. We finished seventh in the country, which was a big accomplishment for us. I feel like it was a turning point for the program, where it then became expected to the make the tournament every year. Now I think [head coach Beth Bozman] took it to another level, where the expectations are to be in the Final Four every year. I think [former head coach] Jacki Silar and our teams hopefully laid the foundation and really cared about Duke field hockey. We had tailgates after games and engaged parents. It was just a satisfying experience to have that accomplishment. We were striving towards it for a number of years.
GD: You were a great player at Duke, a second team All-America and three-time All-ACC selection. Watching now, how much do you think the game has changed since you were in school?
LG: A lot. [laughs] I recognize that when I play in the alumni games. The rule changes with no offside, no obstruction... it seems like its gone to another level of athleticism, where speed is really paramount for the game. It's changed a lot; I think it's more fluid. There are very few stoppages of play and there is constant motion. The game is even more artistic. The technical skill used and the spin moves you are allowed to do without whistles blowing have only been better for the game.
GD: Is there one moment, impression or memory that really sticks to you to this day from Duke field hockey.
LG: I think it's the level of friendships and connection the team had, especially early in my career. When I was a freshman and sophomore, we had a group of upperclassmen that were really good role models and close friends. There is a group of about ten of us that still get together every summer. We've all been to each other's wedding and get together in August. Kristen [Pierson, a former team captain] gets us all together at her house. I think it's that level of connection where we are still lifelong friends and we all kind of grew up together with field hockey at Duke. We took a lot of pride in trying to get the program to the next level.