COLLEGE PARK — Minutes after Janine Tucker’s near three-decade run heading the Johns Hopkins women’s lacrosse program came to a close, Duke coach Kerstin Kimel sought to express her respect and affection for Tucker during their postgame meeting. But Tucker wouldn’t allow it.
“I was trying to get my words out, and she was trying to say some nice things to me, and that’s how Janine is,” said Kimel, who soldiered on and embraced Tucker twice. “She’s just the ultimate giver. I felt like I kind of needed to linger to make sure I got my words out that I wanted to share in that moment.
Tucker had a pragmatic answer for her interaction with Kimel, saying, “I just don’t like when people are sad. So I try to take that away.”
Tucker, who announced Aug. 27 her retirement as head coach of the Blue Jays at the conclusion of her 29th year, took part in her final game Friday afternoon as Johns Hopkins fell to Duke, 17-12, in an NCAA Tournament first-round game before an announced 388 at the Field Hockey & Lacrosse Complex.
The Blue Jays (10-9) were hoping to extend their coach’s farewell tour for at least another game, but instead lost in the postseason’s opening round for the fourth season in a row.
“Whether or not we were acknowledging it during the game, there was a bigger purpose,” said sophomore midfielder Abbey Hurlbrink, a Towson resident and Bryn Mawr graduate who scored three goals. “We’re always thinking about CT on the field. Whether it was the first time I stepped on Homewood Field or this game, it was an amazing opportunity to play for her. I think we were all harnessing that energy.”
Already the program’s all-time winningest coach courtesy of a 313-179 record, Tucker — who turns 55 next month — guided Johns Hopkins from Division III to Division I, including a 237-156 mark at the Division I level, 23 seasons of double-digit victories, 10 Division I tournament appearances and four Division III tournament berths.
Despite the end of her coaching career, Tucker could be heard telling Duke players, “You played an awesome game” during the traditional postgame high-five line. She was hugged by several Blue Devils players, including senior attackers Maddie Jenner (McDonogh) and Anna Callahan (Glenelg).
During a team huddle, Tucker expressed her pride and appreciation for her players, some of whom wept as she spoke. But she also encouraged them to replace any sadness with joy — one of her favorite words.
“It’s a choice,” she said of her mentality. “I tell my team, ‘It’s OK to be sad, it’s OK to be disappointed, but we’re not going to live in that space.’ What we’re going to choose to do is really enjoy each other to the very bitter end. We can still have those emotions because they are competitors and they are fighters. But they also understand that they’re going to give each other the kind of energy to lift each other up versus this incredible despair or sadness and bring each other down.”
That energy was on display when Johns Hopkins rallied from a 4-0 deficit by embarking on a 4-2 spurt spanning the first and second quarters to draw within 7-5 with 11:52 remaining. The run was capped by goals from junior attacker Maeve Barker and Hurlbrink within a 10-second stretch.
But the Blue Devils answered with three consecutive goals over a 5:40 span to push the lead back up to five at 10-5 with 4:23 left in the second quarter. When Barker scored her second goal of the game with 3:09 remaining, that was the Blue Jays’ first goal in 8:43.
After two-minute penalties were assessed to Johns Hopkins junior midfielder Bailey Cheetham (slashing at the 2:05 mark) and junior defender and Westminster resident and graduate Haleigh Moore (cross checking at 1:20), Duke scored three goals in the final 25.7 seconds of the first half.
Jenner, an Annapolis resident, converted a pass from senior attacker Eva Greco with 25.7 seconds left. Junior midfielder Olivia Carner corralled the ensuing draw and scored with 13.3 seconds remaining. And then Jenner canned a feed from sophomore midfielder Katie Keller with seven-tenths of a seconds left.
The Blue Jays outscored Duke 6-4 in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to complete a comeback. Still, graduate student defender Jeanne Kachris said she and her teammates were proud of their mettle.
“We were just going to tell ourselves that we weren’t going to go away,” she said. “We would continue to persist and be a problem for them.”
In addition to Hurlbrink, junior midfielder Madison McPherson, a Baltimore resident, scored three goals for Johns Hopkins, and graduate student midfielder Shelby Harrison, a St. Mary’s graduate, compiled three points on two goals and one assist.
Sophomore defender Cameron Levine, a Pikesville resident and Roland Park graduate, caused a game-high three turnovers and scooped up three ground balls. Senior goalkeeper Kaitlyn Pham replaced graduate student Kathleen Garvey at the start of the second half and made three saves while allowing only four goals.
Tucker admitted that she might review the game and wonder if she could have done anything differently to put her players in a better position to succeed. But she insisted that would be temporary thanks to some wisdom passed down from her mother Sharan “Lovey” Kormanik, who died due to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“What my mom taught me is, it’s what you choose to focus on,” she said. “So I’m choosing to focus on everything that I got to do and the incredible moments I got to have in my life versus, ‘Oh, my coaching career, it’s coming to an end.’ OK, it’s a new chapter.”
Friday’s game was also the last for Kachris, who said, “We’re sharing this moment together. This is both of our last games. So it’s bittersweet, but I’m so thankful and grateful and blessed to have had this moment in life. She’s not just a coach. She’s a mentor, mom.”
The Blue Devils (16-3) won their 13th consecutive first-round game and advanced to meet No. 2 seed Maryland (17-1) in Sunday’s second round at 2:30 p.m. at the Field Hockey & Lacrosse Complex.
Keller led all players with a game-high six points on three goals and three assists. Two more Duke players in sophomore attacker Katie DeSimone and Carner notched hat tricks with four goals each.
Landry and graduate student midfielder Catriona Barry each finished with four points on one goal and three assists each. Senior goalkeeper Sophia LeRose turned aside a game-high 17 shots, while Jenner controlled 10 draws.
NCAA Tournament second round
Sunday, 2:30 p.m.