By Taylor Viles – Print Sports Editor
When Assistant Athletic Director Cait Connolly told Director of Athletics Kristy Walter she wanted to go from coaching two teams down to one, Walter was torn. She understood coaching two collegiate teams every year for almost 10 years can take a toll on someone. But, she was dealing with a head coach who had a combined record of 217-159 between women’s lacrosse and field hockey over her tenure; a .732 winning percentage.
Replacing someone like that is near impossible, but that’s what Walter was tasked with doing for the women’s lacrosse team during the 2020 season. “It was hard because we lost the consistency,” said Walter, about Connolly.
The replacement Walter found was Kelsey Russell, a former Salem State two-sport athlete who had assistant coached under Connolly for the previous three years. Although she was qualified, Russell had other commitments and couldn’t give the team the effort required from a head coach, according to members of that team. She stepped down from her position before the spring season even started.
Connolly returned as a courtesy to coach the 2020 season but only two games were played due to COVID-19. Walter had ample time to find a proper replacement for the longtime coach.
She chose Al Eaton, a high school lacrosse head coach with two years of college coaching experience as an assistant. When he was hired, Walter said this via the athletics website: “[Eaton] has a passion for the sport and was impressive to our search committee. I’m confident that he will be a valuable asset to our staff…”
Former women’s lacrosse player senior Leticia Farias said the way Kristy described Eaton is how he began the 2021 season as head coach. “I think he started with a really good motto that we were going to learn from each other,” said Farias, who left the team at the season’s conclusion. “I think the first practice he really showed us that. He came in with new techniques and new ways of doing things.”
But Farias said the good times didn’t last long. She explained the team would have meetings to discuss possible issues but Eaton seemed unwilling to listen to their requests. One particular meeting early in the season made an impression on Farias. “I just remember it ending really poorly with [Coach Eaton] trying to defend his own coaching and the girls feeling like they were not heard,” she remembered. “From that point on, the dynamic changed.”
The main issue addressed with him was his lack of attention during practices. According to current senior captain Sydney Brady, Eaton would have the team start a drill, then he’d receive a phone call and turn his back to talk on the phone while the team was performing the same drill over and over for a half-hour.
Farias and Brady think the team wasn’t Eaton’s top priority. “It didn’t feel like he was all there,” said Brady. “I think we did well as a team, but we could have been a lot better had we had the right coaching.”
The team went 6-2 during the season and made it to the semifinals in the playoffs, but much of this was due to existing talent and seniority. Jordan McComb, Morgan Choquet, and Chloe Shugrue were all in their graduate year giving the team the leadership lacked with Eaton.
According to Walter, the athletic department had addressed similar concerns as the team with Eaton following the season and the department was expecting improvements for 2022. But in a surprise move over winter break, Eaton resigned from his position leaving Walter looking for her third coach in three seasons.
“We didn’t really get much of an explanation,” said Brady about Eaton’s resignation. With the spring season right around the corner, the team was stuck in a position of “what’s next?”
The answer to that question was Britney Wuorio (‘14). Wuorio played all four season’s under Connolly’s team leadership and it was Connolly who reached out to her network of former students and lacrosse connections, eventually finding her former student-athlete.
During her playing career, Wuorio was among the most prolific scorers in Laser history. She ranks number one in all-time points (420), assists (152), and shots attempted (453) while ranking second in goals (268) and games played (73).
Following graduation, she began her first coaching opportunity at Newton South High School, a job she held through last season.
When Walter came calling in late December, Wuorio was excited, “How can I let down an opportunity to coach for the college that I played for?” she remembers thinking.
With Wuorio’s hiring, she becomes the fourth head coach in just three season’s. She said she knows how important her tenure will be for the women’s lacrosse team in determining their future. It may not be up to her though. Wuorio hopes to become the next full-time head coach, but as of now, her title is “Interim Head Coach.”
She quit her regular job as a first-grade teacher to fully commit to her new team and their recruiting needs. “I’ve had more time to be able to do the recruiting which has been really helpful,” she said. “I’m talking to probably three recruits a day.”
Brady says the team operates better under female leadership and feels Wuorio has been a “great fit” early into the season. “I feel like there’s a lot of positivity on the team and we do have a lot of skilled players,” said Brady. “As long as we keep working together like we are now…I think it could be another great season.”
Walter acknowledges the team’s numbers are smaller than usual but thinks the team is still in position to be competitive.
Wuorio may have the most realistic view of her new team. In her interview with the 1851 Chronicle, she used the term “rebuilding.” Although she didn’t explicitly say the team wasn’t going to have a successful season, she said the goal is to build this team for the future.
The women’s lacrosse team hasn’t experienced a down year in over a decade. The last time they missed the playoffs was the year before Connolly took over in 2010. There’s no way to know if this is the year when the team returns from their reign of excellence, but given the circumstances, it wouldn’t be a surprise.
Walter can only hope the third coach she has picked to replace Connolly turns out to be the right one. “I think that she’ll be a different presence for that team,” said the long-time athletic director. “So I think it’s what they need.”