Acacia Walker-Weinstein isn’t surprised to see four coaches who played high school lacrosse in the Baltimore area leading teams into the NCAA Division I women’s final four this weekend.
“It’s just a small world and so much happens from that hotbed,” said the Boston College coach who played at Annapolis. “It’s exciting that it’s spreading and there are different schools involved, but when you look at where we all came from, we’re all from home.”
Maryland coach Cathy (Nelson) Reese played at Mount Hebron, North Carolina’s Jenny (Slingluff) Levy at Roland Park and James Madison’s Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe at Loch Raven. All were on championship teams. Levy’s Reds won the Association of Independent Schools title while the others played on state championship teams.
All went on to be All-Americans in college — Reese and Walker-Weinstein at Maryland, Levy at Virginia and Klaes-Bawcombe at James Madison. Reese played on four national championship teams between 1995 and 1998 while Levy led the Cavaliers to the 1991 title.
Levy’s Tar Heels and Klaes-Bawcombe’s Dukes meet in the 5 p.m. national semifinal Friday at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium in Stony Brook, N.Y. Reese’s defending champion Terps face Walker-Weinstein’s Eagles at 7:30.
Despite their love for the game and success in high school, only Walker-Weinstein knew then that she wanted to coach. Reese, Levy and Klaes-Bawcombe didn’t know until college or after, but looking back, there were signs of the coaches they would become because of the way they approached the game.
“I think you grow up just loving the sport and it’s a big part of the fabric of who you are,” Levy said. “I would say that my upbringing definitely put a big chunk of lacrosse in my heart and I always loved to play and always loved to be around the game.”
When Levy played at Virginia from 1988 to 1992, North Carolina didn’t have a women’s lacrosse program. In 1994, she became the first Tar Heels head coach, and built the program into a two-time national champion, most recently in 2016.
One of Levy’s high school coaches, Traci Davis, remembers that Levy was a fiercely competitive player.
“She just loved to play and she was a student of the game,” Davis said. “She wanted to be the best she possibly could and was always trying to figure out little nuances as to how to achieve that. In terms of a career path, I don’t know that I saw that, but in terms of her ability to play and love for the game, she had that.”
Reese, who has led the Terps to four national titles in 11 years and is taking them to the final four for the 10th straight time, thought she might be a teacher. She also liked working the Maryland camps every summer with former coach Cindy Timchal, now the head coach at Navy.
“I always worked Cindy’s camps and I started going to her camps when I was in middle school. I loved teaching. I loved coaching. … I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Reese said. “I was a communications major, but now I’m like, ‘Oh, I can see how you work these camps and enjoy them,’ and then when the opportunity came about it was like, ‘This is awesome.’”
Reese started her career with Timchal before taking her first head coaching job at Denver in 2004. After three years, she returned to take over the Terps when Timchal moved to Navy.
Walker-Weinstein, a 2005 Maryland graduate, credits Timchal and Reese with stoking her desire to coach.
“I was really inspired by the Maryland coaches, so I had really good relationships growing up with Cathy and Cindy. I think I just really admired them and loved what kind of impact they made on younger players. I really loved them as people and I thought that I could see myself doing what they did,” said Walker-Weinstein, who assisted at Northwestern and Massachusetts before taking over the Eagles in 2013.
She guided the Eagles to the final four for the first time last season, where they fell to Maryland 16-13.
Klaes-Bawcombe, whose team is in the final four for the first time in 18 years, dabbled in coaching as early as middle school.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do (while in high school). I knew I wanted to do something in sports, so I knew as early as a sophomore that kinesiology was my major, but not until my junior year of college did I really know I wanted to be a college coach,” she said. “And I actually wanted to be the James Madison coach.”
A 1997 James Madison graduate, she honed her coaching sklls for five years at Hofstra before returning to the Dukes as head coach in 2007.
As player, Klaes-Bawcombe set a program single-season record for assists and that was her forte at Loch Raven too where she played with Women’s Professional Lacrosse League founder Michele DeJuliis, the Baltimore area’s best finisher.
“She [Klaes-Bawcombe] kind of orchestrated what was going on within the offensive movement and was calling the plays, so I think the transition to coaching probably wasn’t all that much different in her thought process in that she was already learning the process of running an offense,” former Raiders coach Wendy Galinn said. “Back then (before the restraining line) everybody played on offense and on defense, so she had that understanding too on the defensive end. In terms of her knowledge, it made sense that she could conceivably be a very good coach.”
Since these coaches played high school lacrosse, the sport has exploded beyond its East Coast hotbeds. While many coaches have roots in Baltimore or at Maryland, more and more are coming from around the country as high school lacrosse spreads.
There are also many more opportunities to make a living as a college coach today.
Just as Reese, Levy, Walker-Weinstein and Klaes-Bawcombe loved the sport and could never let it go, the same thing is happening across the country.