Former Mount Hebron girls lacrosse coach Brooke Kuhl-McClelland has taken over at St. Paul's, aiming to rejuvenate a program that has had five coaches in 10 years and finished 9-9 last season.
Kuhl-McClelland, who had a 152-15 record with the Vikings, guided them to six state championships and five national No. 1 rankings in nine years. She left after last season for a variety of reasons.
"When I left Hebron, it wasn't with the intention to get out of coaching. It was just for a change," said Kuhl-McClelland, who is a dance teacher at Hammond and was the county's Teacher of the Year in 2006-07.
When Kuhl-McClelland heard that Gators coach Monica Yeakel had resigned, she called about the position immediately. She was officially hired last week, bringing along her coaching staff from Mount Hebron -- husband Tommy McClelland and Kelly Murphy.
"It is a whole new world, but it's an exciting one. I loved every minute that I had at Hebron. There were always some challenges there as far as the pressure. That's what people are saying, 'You jumped right out of the frying pan back into the fire.' I didn't want to take a program that was in disarray. We had a few other opportunities and offers ... but I'm not sure at this point in my life, I'm ready to start a new program. I wanted something that was fairly established."
The Gators won A Conference titles in 2004 and 2006, but have been slightly off the pace ever since.
St. Paul's athletic director Jim Stromberg said Kuhl-McClelland and her coaching staff have the background to boost the Gators back toward the top.
"They've already done it and they know how to do it," Stromberg said. "We're really fortunate to have them coming here and I think our kids and our families will figure that out early. One thing about her that we like is she loves a challenge and I don't think you're going to be more challenged than being in this league."
Over the years, the Vikings have played Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference teams, but seeing that kind of competition every day will be a new challenge for Kuhl-McClelland, named the Coach of the Decade earlier this year by TopoftheCircle.com.
"At Mount Hebron we were lucky enough to play two IAAM teams in a season and now you're facing an entire league's worth of that. It is a huge challenge and, of course, I still subscribe to the fact that lacrosse is evolving and getting bigger, faster, stronger girls every single year, so the IAAM is getting better and better. I'm excited about the challenge of getting that kind of competition on a daily basis."
She also will square off for the first time against McDonogh coach Chris Robinson, whose IAAM championship team went undefeated and No. 1 in the spring. Kuhl-MClelland was Robinson's assistant at Mount Hebron and she assumed the head coaching spot in 2002 the year after he left. They made a deal at the time that their teams would never play an official game.
"Facing Chris will be very difficult. We've never really faced off against each other in a real
competition. We've only done it as a scrimmage. In the early years, Mount Hebron would beat McDonogh. In the later years, we could barely stay with McDonogh. It's going to be interesting."
Another draw for McClelland is that the St. Paul's campus is just a seven-minute drive from her home. Chances are she will spend that extra time on lacrosse.