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May 14, 2022 — An appreciation: Janine Tucker, head coach, Johns Hopkins University

The circumstances of Janine Tucker’s final game as the head coach of the Johns Hopkins University women’s lacrosse team were replete with irony.

The loss in yesterday’s first-round game was a 17-12 defeat to the same Duke University which ended Hopkins’ deepest-ever run in the NCAA Division I Tournament, a quarterfinal loss in 2007. That 2007 Duke team would go on to squander a 10-goal lead to Virginia in the Final Four in Philadelphia.

The site of yesterday’s swansong was the University of Maryland. The irony there is that Hopkins’ best player from last year, Aurora Cordingley, transferred there to take advantage of a grad-school year, and has been nominated for the Tewaaraton Trophy emblematic of the best player in the collegiate game.

Tucker has been through a lot the last 29 years as coach at Johns Hopkins, not the least of which was the move of the entire program from Division III to Division I, to be at an equal level with the legendary men’s team.

This site dropped in on a couple of Hop’s games in the first Division I season in the spring of 1999. What I got from Tucker is the sense of positive reinforcement when it came to her team talks. There was some stern talk when it came to how to improve, but the words were never cutting or cruel. And whatever was said was ended with a smile on her face.

Mind you, this was two decades before Ted Lasso.

“It’s a choice,” she said after the loss to Duke yesterday. “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.”

Janine Tucker was not only known for her coaching, but for her off-field efforts within the lacrosse community. When Loyola coach Diane Geppi-Aikens waged a very public battle with brain cancer between 1995 and 2003, Tucker was the person organizing coaches and others for fundraising runs and other behind-the-scenes needs such as administering her memorial website. She also delivered her former coach’s final words at her funeral.

Immediately after that, Tucker steered Hopkins to its most successful era. Paced by the mercurial attacker Mary Key, the Blue Jays made the NCAA Tournament the next four seasons, and were one game away from making the 2007 Final Four, but were stymied by Duke.

After that were some lean years, but the team has managed to recover. Johns Hopkins, over the last seven seasons, has been a dark-horse contender for NCAA honors. But it must be said that the silverware cabinet is still dwarfed by the men’s team — a men’s team that has been playing for more than 100 years, mind you. Tucker has only won one major trophy for the team: the 2001 ECAC Division I championship.

But you can’t blame her or the Blue Jays for not trying. During her time in Division I, she’s been unfortunate to have to face the likes of Northwestern and Maryland (winners of 15 national titles since 1999) during their membership in the American Lacrosse Conference or in their Big Ten Conference games.

Somehow, I don’t think she’d have it any other way.

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