Coyne looks to build young Washington & Jefferson lacrosse team
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Tracy Coyne's lacrosse coaching career has led her all around the world — Australia, Ireland, England, the Czech Republic.
But it has come full circle as she returned to Western Pennsylvania to lead the Washington & Jefferson women's lacrosse team. Coyne — who is one of 11 college women's lacrosse coaches with 250 wins — wrapped up her first season leading the young program in April.
“I met with (athletic director) Bill Dukett and felt it was a good opportunity,” said Coyne, whose 24-year coaching career included a 15-year stop at Notre Dame. “I think we can build the program. It is great to be home.
“No matter where I have been, I always tell people I am from Pittsburgh.”
Lacrosse wasn't always a part of Coyne's life. Basketball was the only girls sport Bishop Canevin offered during her high school career, so her first taste of lacrosse didn't happen until she was a freshman at Ohio University. She roomed on the same floor as a member of the lacrosse team and decided to give it a try.
The decision led to her becoming a letterwinner as she helped lead the Bobcats to an eighth-place finish in the AIAW National Lacrosse Championships.
“The coach (Kim Brown) was very welcoming,” Coyne said. “She took the time to really teach the game and was really encouraging. I wanted to try something new and decided to stick with it.”
Her involvement in the sport took off from there.
After graduating in 1983, she received a master's degree in sports administration from St. Thomas University in Florida.
While serving as an unpaid intern at Pitt, Coyne was looking for a way to make some extra money and eventually took an assistant coaching job at Sewickley Academy. That job led to Coyne getting a position on the staff of New York's William Smith College team. Six months after the Herons reached the Final Four in 1987, she became the coach of Denison University in Ohio. She led the Big Red to a 23-5 record and a pair of North Coast Athletic Conference titles over two years.
Her next coaching stop was Roanoke College in Virginia, where she also coached field hockey from 1990 until 1996. Coyne led the Maroons to a 91-21 mark and the NCAA Division III semifinals twice during her time leading the team. Her .813 winning percentage brought her to the attention of Notre Dame.
The Irish were transitioning their program from a club team to a varsity sport at the time, and Coyne's guidance made sure it was a smooth one.
During her career with Notre Dame, Coyne led the Irish to a Big East title in 2009, an NCAA Final Four appearance in 2006 and NCAA tournament appearances six of her last 10 years in South Bend.
“Women's lacrosse exploded with Title IX compliance,” Coyne said. “Schools like Duke, North Carolina, Stanford and Vanderbilt started adding the sport, and it took off.
“I guided the program through different stages and had a lot of great experiences. I loved the people I worked with.”
It was during her time with Notre Dame that she coached the Canadian women's lacrosse team. During her tenure from 1999 to 2005, she led Canada to fourth-place finishes in the World Cup in 2001 and 2005, creating many memories along the way.
“We played Scotland in one of the quarterfinals in one of the rounds of the World Cup, and they linked arms and sang their anthem with no accompaniment,” Coyne said. “One year we shared a hallway with the Germans. They were in a different pool but were so supportive of our team.”
Her dedication and success in the sport was honored in 2011 as she received the IWLCA's Diane Geppi-Aikens Memorial Award, which honors lifetime achievement in college women's lacrosse.
“It was really unexpected,” Coyne said. “To be supported in that way by my peers is a tremendous honor. I cannot even explain it. It caught me off guard. It is an honor that they thought of me so highly.”
Coyne felt a need to come home in 2011. Her mother was placed in hospice care and died in 2009. Coyne flew in and out of Pittsburgh during that time, which overlapped with the Irish's season.
“It was a crazy schedule,” Coyne said. “It was hard.”
But once her father's health started to decline, she decided it was time to make a full-time return.
Coyne stayed in the coaching game, though, and in 2012 was an assistant coach with the Duquesne.
Her time away from being a head coach didn't last long as she became the Washington & Jefferson coach in 2013. It will be another building process for Coyne as the Presidents' program has only been around since 2008.
Her first task will be to get experienced players on the roster. The 2013 team featured five freshmen and three first-year players from other sports — two from the soccer team and one from the field hockey team.
The Presidents finished 4-8 in 2013. While the final mark wasn't what they had hoped for, the seniors appreciated the guidance of the new coaching staff.
“It was kind of nerve-racking coming in and not knowing the coaches,” Kelsey Kraus said. “But we met them, and it was fine. As the season went on, our chemistry started to build.”
While Coyne has had many experiences during her career, her initial year in W&J was filled with firsts.
“Entering the last week of the season, we had a girl break her ankle,” Coyne said. “Twenty-five years of coaching, and that has never happened (to me) before. We had to play a game with no subs.”
Coyne's influence on the team could be seen that night as the team rallied and defeated St. Vincent, 15-11, in the regular-season finale.
While Washington & Jefferson still has a way to go to match the success of Coyne's previous stops and lacks the facilities and recruiting power of Notre Dame, she isn't getting anxious.
She is just enjoying the ride.
“I love the game,” Coyne said. “I love every aspect of it. I got into coaching because I needed a job, and 25 years later, I am still doing it. It has been an awesome experience.”
Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-388-5813.
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