Hebron's Kesmodel retires after 4th straight state title


After winning a fourth straight state title last month, P.J. Kesmodel quietly retired from coaching Mount Hebron girls lacrosse.

Eight years ago, it was anything but quiet when he started the program.

As soon as the Vikings took the field, many women coaches exploded, predicting that he would ruin the game. And Kesmodel had a lot of critics -- mostly because, in a very traditional game, he had little use for tradition.

His team played in shorts instead of kilts, with plastic sticks instead of wooden, and he used whatever game strategy worked.

"[Criticism of] the superficial stuff, shorts and plastic sticks, was stupid, but more than that, it was a man coming into their sport and being successful," said Kesmodel. "The other thing was our style of play."

Kesmodel was one of the first to introduce elements of the boys game into girls lacrosse.

While the women emphasized a full-field passing game, Kesmodel turned to the running game and the set offense. He said he didn't do it to buck tradition -- just to win.

"If you can't catch and throw, what else are you going to do?" said Kesmodel, who coached the Vikings boys for nine years.

"We had a great goalie in Linda Ohrin then and a great offensive player in Erin Quinn, but most of the other kids didn't have any skills to speak of, so we did what worked for us and running worked for us."

But it didn't work for his opponents, including Centennial coach Gail Purcell, one of Kesmodel's harshest early critics and a former U.S. elite squad player.

"That frustrated us, because it was effective and we didn't know how to stop it," said Purcell.

"I think some of us may have been a bit jealous, because we didn't come from the background to understand what he had taught. We were fighting tooth and nail to hold onto what's going by the wayside, which is the traditional game."

The traditionalists' greatest fear is that Kesmodel's style of play has steered the sport toward such safety-oriented changes as restraining lines and helmets.

But Kesmodel, who was instrumental in starting girls lacrosse in Howard County, does not want major changes either.

He joined the traditionalists last year to fight pending legislation requiring that helmets be worn in all girls lacrosse games played in Baltimore County.

After that, Kesmodel said, many of his critics realized he did not want to turn the girls game into a carbon copy of the boys.

"That's the thing that's kind of gratifying," said Kesmodel. "Some people I'm never going to win over, but the bulk of the people, even the women who weren't happy, at least we get along now. There's not the animosity there was before."

It helped that the Vikings quickly developed into one of the most highly skilled teams in the metro area.

They still run, but they also pass a lot -- although not in the traditional way. The Vikings live by the set offense and pass mostly around the crease.

"P.J.'s improved the skill level of many players, not just kids on his team. He's forced us all to improve the skill level," said Melba Williams, former state tournament director and Dulaney coach.

"In the beginning, I don't think we saw what he was trying to bring to the game, and I don't think he saw it from a safety point of view."

Like it or not, Kesmodel's style has made his team one of the

most successful in the metro area.

He retired with a 114-12 record along with four state, seven county and eight regional titles. In 1992 and 1993, his Vikings were unbeaten and ranked No. 1 while working on a 37-game winning streak. In the past four years, they have lost only three games.

"It's nothing really complicated what he's done," said assistant coach Chris Robinson. "He keeps it simple and understandable and he's very intense in his own way. He's one of the best motivators I've ever seen. He keeps the kids focused on lacrosse all the time."

Kesmodel, who also won a state-regional title with the Vikings boys after coaching highly successful swim teams at Severn and Forest Hill, said the key to his coaching success is devoting a lot of time to it.

From working with the Heroes summer league he started nearly 20 years ago to helping 16 Vikings and countless other players get college scholarships, Kesmodel estimated he put in 40-50 hours a month during the off-season and twice that much during the spring.

While some of his peers still claim he has coached his players in the off-season, which is a violation of state rules, Kesmodel denies it.

"We laugh about that, because we get that stuff all the time," he said. "The reason we get the rap is I go to everything. I'm at a box league game and I spend five minutes with them, that's not illegal. I'm visible and nobody else is, so I'm going to get the rap no matter what."

Despite the criticism, no one can discount Kesmodel's genuine concern for the athletes.

"He's motivated to do the best he can for any young person," said Purcell. "He's helped some of my kids get into school. He gives 110 percent to these kids. Obviously it's his life."

But all that extra work took a toll on Kesmodel just as it had in 1983 when he retired as boys coach.

"I'm burned out," said Kesmodel, who will take some classes and devote more time to being a Mount Hebron guidance counselor.

"I used to be able to juggle all the balls, but I just can't do it any more. Every year, there's more things to do to stay at the level we are."

L The unenviable task of following Kesmodel falls to Robinson.

"If I worried about doing everything he's done, I'd drive myself insane," said Robinson, with a laugh. "I know and everyone on the team knows we're going to have to pick it up a notch to keep the program at the level he's attained."

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