October 18, 2012

30 in 30: How Does a Team Court a Head Coach?

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

New coach Kerry O'Donnell inherits a chock full of talent, including Corrine Coyle, the team's returning leading goal scorer.
© Georgian Court

It was at the end of the interview, long after the administrators were finished, that Georgian Court brought out the big guns. That's when Kerry O'Donnell had her first encounter with six members of the Lions' lacrosse team.

For some, O'Donnell could be their third coach since coming to campus, so they peppered her with questions about who she was and what she could bring to their program. Both sides left impressed.

That final hour with her future players was still with O'Donnell a month later, when the offer came to become the third coach in the six-year history of Georgian Court's NCAA Division II women's lacrosse team. The decision was a no-brainer.

"I was so impressed by their questions," said O'Donnell, who was an All-American and captain, and later an assistant coach, at Division III Rowan. "I was thinking about when I was in college. Could I have conducted myself in such a professional manner? As soon as I met them, there was no hesitation. I knew I had to be there."

Assisting in the hiring process will help the Lions even after their playing days are over. There will be a point in the not so distant future when they'll be on the other end of an interview. That's why the school put them there. The impression they made on their future coach was just a bonus. Still, O'Donnell thought it worked so well that when she interviewed assistants this month, the players were there too.

"They're who this program is about," O'Donnell said.

That was especially true in the early part of the fall. Georgian Court announced O'Donnell's hiring on Sept. 19. Luckily the Lions had been holding twice-weekly practices on their own. The same level of maturity that had players helping in the hiring process has made it easy for their first-time head coach to hit the ground running.

"A lot of other teams could have taken a break," O'Donnell said. "They could have relaxed and said, 'We're not going to have an intense fall ball.' They were out there. They showed that they want it."

Georgian Court will get a full slate of fall practice dates and wrap up in November. There's only one downside to the late start. By this point in the year most other teams are ending their fall seasons. Georgian Court couldn't find an opponent to scrimmage.

There was hope for a round robin tournament last weekend, but it fell through. So O'Donnell proposed the next best thing: A game day practice. The Lions dressed, went through a pre-game warmup, and treated the practice as if they were going up against another team. The opponent never arrived, but the attitude and mindset O'Donnell wants to see on game day did.

"I told them whatever attitude you brought in today, that's the attitude you should have," O'Donnell said.

That attitude should be easier to cultivate at the school, which sits on 156 acres of what was once a railroad tycoon's estate, in Lakewood, N.J., now that it has a local coach. O'Donnell hails from just down the road in Toms River and teaches nine miles away at Jackson Memorial High School.

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And Georgian Court should continue to mine the fertile recruiting ground of the Garden State. O'Donnell inherits a team chock full of local talent like Corrine Coyle (team-high 60 goals, 16 assists in 2012), Olivia Rotunno (42 goals, 36 ground balls), Cat Dee (team-high 37 ground balls), Molly McCourt (44 goals, 15 assists) and Emily Gialanella (11 goals, six assists, 17 ground balls).

The Lions are perennial contenders in the Central Atlantic College Conference, a league that as Division II expands, should serve as the home of its mid-majors. Georgian Court captured the CACC title in 2010 and 2011 and fell to eventual-champion Holy Family in the 2012 semifinals.

There's no reason that a top CACC team like Georgian Court, Holy Family or Philadelphia can't be a future player in an expanded NCAA tournament. Sort of a Division II bracket buster.

"In Division II there's a gap," O'Donnell said. "I mean that honestly because we will be there. It's just a matter of getting there. It's just a matter of bridging that gap."

The first step in bridging the gap came when the players helped to bring in their new coach. As any job seeker knows, the next step in the hiring process falls on the interviewee. There's the postgame routine of thank you notes and follow up e-mails.

O'Donnell didn't send those out to her future players, it's tough and potentially intrusive to track down that many college students on summer break, but she made it a point upon her hiring to let the Lions know of the impression they made.

And O'Donnell has been answering a lot of emails lately. Letting friends know how the new job is going. She soon realized the messages she was sending should be read by another group.

"I'm just very lucky to be a part of this," O'Donnell said. "You'll never work a day in your life if you love what you do. I told that to the team. I hope they understand that. It's not a job. Lacrosse is my passion and I'm fortunate to have such a nice group. I told them, 'The people that need to hear this are you.'"

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