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Nov. 19, 2006 — It’s a young woman’s game

If there was one parallel between the four teams that contested the inaugural New Jersey Tournament of Champions, I found it interesting that none of the coaches in the tournament were over the age of 35, and none had reached the 200-win plateau coming into the 2006 season.

But that’s not because any of these four coaches are callow, wide-eyed, or lucky. Nope, all four have had the necessary experiences to drive their teams towards this first-in-the-nation playoff.

  • Ali Good was a player for Group I champion Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.) when the team won New Jersey Independent Schools Athletic Association titles in the 1990s. In 1998, she took on the role of assistant coach before ascending to head coach for the 2005 season.
  • Like Good, Meredith Elwell coaches at her alma mater — only in her case, it’s at Group III champion Moorestown (N.J.). A former two-sport athlete for the Quakers and at the University of Virginia, Elwell is continuing the path set forth by legendary head coach Joan Lewis, who coached the team to more than 400 wins and 15 state championships.
  • Like Elwell, Danyle Heilig is a graduate of Moorestown, but coaches at Group IV titlist Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), which is about 12 miles away. Heilig’s willingness to teach her players international-caliber tactics and skills has paid off handsomely in eight years at Eastern following one season at nearby Haddon Heights.
  • Jill Cosse, head coach at Group II champ North Caldwell West Essex (N.J.), is actually the oldest of the four coaches, having graduated from Trenton State College in 1993. After a couple of seasons at Kean University, she took the West Essex job after the retirement of legendary Linda Alimi and won a state title her first year out in a thrilling 2-2 draw with Allentown (N.J.). She has also coached her lacrosse team to several New Jersey Group B (small-school) championships.

I found it very interesting the way these four coaches were able to not only get their teams to get past the “tipping point” of the group finals, but to get high-school students to focus on a particular task and work collectively towards a purpose, all the while bearing the burden of history. None of these four coaches had ever handled a team in this situation before, and it could not have been easy for any of them.

It makes me wonder what’s going to happen when the more experienced coaches like Nancy Williams, Trish LeFever, and Carole Schoen make it into the Tournament of Champions. Will they handle situations with the same grace and aplomb as the four coaches in the 2006 tourney?

Should be fun to see what happens next year.

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