Four Seasons

Head Women's Lacrosse Coach Jen Adams leads team with confidence

By Gary Lambrecht  |  Photo by Larry French

She has spent the past four years making her mark at Loyola, guiding the Greyhounds to Big East Conference titles and trips to the NCAA tournament for the last two seasons. Clearly Jen Adams, widely considered the best player ever to set foot on a women’s lacrosse field, has passed her first head coaching test.

And to think Adams originally wanted no part of the job.

That had nothing to do with Loyola, a school Adams always respected for its high academic reputation and strong lacrosse tradition. It had everything to do with the University of Maryland.

In College Park, Adams had fashioned a legendary playing career from 1998 through 2001, after leaving Brighton, South Australia, as a teenager whose talent was largely unknown in America. Adams was committed to the Terrapins as a top assistant in 2008, when Loyola began to pursue her during its search to replace then-Head Coach Kerri Johnson O’Day, ’97, M.Ed. ’01.

“I was flattered to be thrown into the mix, but I was really not interested. I had no desire to be a head coach,” Adams recalled. “I knew I was ready, but I was very happy and comfortable working with [Terrapins Head Coach] Cathy [Reese], who is one of my best friends. We had a good thing going at Maryland.”

But the Greyhounds refused to take “no” for an answer. Joe Boylan, athletic director at the time, and Teddi Willis Burns, ’86, M.Ed. ’90, associate athletic director, kept reaching out to Adams. Reese nudged her former Terps teammate to listen to Loyola, which was building the 6,000-seat Ridley Athletic Complex.

“I had two meetings with Teddi and had breakfast with Joe—probably the most persistent people I’ve ever met,” Adams said. “And I started warming to Loyola.”

With 53 wins behind her since signing on, including 31 victories and two trips to the NCAA tournament quarterfinals in the past two years, Adams has settled in nicely. Her players remain in awe of Adams the player. She will be inducted this fall into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame by U.S. Lacrosse. As for Adams the coach, the Greyhounds players appreciate a leader who is obsessed with making them better, not creating the next Jen Adams.

“She does what we do on the field, only 10 times better. But she never makes us feel inferior. She’s one of us,” said attacker Ashley Cahill, ’12. “Recruits who come in always tell us how our team seems so close. That’s because of [Adams]. She is extremely organized and consistent. She says what needs to be said. And she seriously loves this place.”

Adams, who favors the same up-tempo style she played and coached at Maryland, enjoys teaching the nuts and bolts of the game. For example, to sharpen the Greyhounds’ stick working technique, Adams will run lengthy drills during which her players will work with short “mini” sticks or sticks weighed down with sand. No lacrosse balls needed.

“I want players to look at practice as something they can’t wait to get to, as opposed to it being a chore. I try to keep things interesting and unpredictable,” Adams said. “I want them to use lacrosse to help define their college experience.”

When she mixes it up on the field in practice with the Greyhounds, Adams still dazzles with the quick hands and feet and scoring tricks—such as her effortless, behind-the-back shot—that made her a three-time national player of the year at Maryland and the first-ever winner of the Tewaaraton Trophy in 2001 as the nation’s top female lacrosse student-athlete.

Adams won four NCAA titles and holds the Maryland record for career goals (267) and the NCAA record for career points (445). She continues to play for the Australian national team.
“Guarding [Adams] is hell. She’s still so deceptive and quick. She’s the Michael Jordan of women’s lacrosse,” said Ana Heneberry, ’12, who started on Loyola’s defense for four years. “She’s not condescending like someone with her accolades most likely could be. She’s very humble and shy. Her door is always open. We can talk to her about anything.”

Adams brings an air of confident resolve to Evergreen, evidenced by the way the Greyhounds regrouped after a 4-3 start, despite losing such key players as midfielders Taryn VanThof, ’14, Cassandra Cursaro, ’13, and Molly Hulseman, ’15, and defender Gretchen Mayer, ’14, to injury.

The Greyhounds’ 14-6 season, which was highlighted by a huge, 13-7 win at Syracuse for the Big East title, ended with a 17-11 loss to the University of Maryland in the quarterfinals, during which Loyola’s outstanding first-year attacker Annie Thomas, ’15, went down with a knee injury.

Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J., Loyola president, speaks with Adams at Ridley Athletic Complex.

It’s the same confidence that pushed Adams to leave home, following an invitation from then-Terps assistant Gary Gait to play in College Park. Gait, who is now Syracuse’s head coach, became aware of Adams when she played in the U.S. with Australia’s under-19 team at age 16.

“I remember my Mom waking me up at 6 a.m. telling me that Gary Gait was on the phone. He asked if I wanted to come to Maryland. I said sure, that sounds good,” Adams said. “I didn’t research much. I never got recruited. I felt the opportunity to play lacrosse in America was mind-blowing. I jumped on a plane.”

“Jen was always calm and collected,” recalled Reese, who, as a senior at Maryland, played with Adams as a freshman in 1998, when Maryland began a four-year title run with Adams. “‘Don’t worry, we got it’ is her personality.”

Jen Adams, head coach for Greyhounds women lacrosse, took a young team—including players such as freshman attacker Hannah Schmitt (shown here)—to the team’s second consecutive Big East Conference title this spring.

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