When St. Stephen/St. Agnes Girls Varsity Lacrosse team comes to mind, you just might think of five qualities—brains, brawn, beauty, tradition and camaraderie.
The Saints players are formidable, both on and off the field. Their academic prowess is equal to, or even greater than, their athleticism on the lacrosse field. Known for its rigorous preparation for college. St. Stephens/St. Agnes’ expectations are high. Nine of the seniors are going to top Division I schools; four are going to Ivy League schools, including Princeton, Dartmouth, UVA, and Boston College, Columbia, Cornell, Bucknell, William and Mary, and Stanford.
This No. 1 nationally ranked girls high school lacrosse team holds a record of 19-0 as it advances to the playoffs. Some might say they’ve already surpassed the “unparalleled season” of last year’s Saints, who brought home the ISL Championship (for the 12th year running), added a State Championship, and achieved the No. 2 ranking nationally.
According to Coach Kathy Jenkins, “We don’t really ever talk about being No. 1. We prepare for each game the same way. We are really into strong basic skills, and we take each game as it is. We don’t think, ‘We beat the team by xx much.’ We don’t want to over beat a school. We don’t play against other teams to crush, but we do have to be ready to play.”
Jenkins’ coaching philosophy is to focus on good, strong, basic team work and stick skills. She instills a team mentality and avoids focusing on two or three stars. Jenkins continues, “I want the girls to work hard to be the best they can be; to have fun; to go out and play with heart. They already put a lot of pressure on themselves. We don’t want to put extra pressure on them.”
One of the memorable moments this year was when St. Stephens/St. Agnes played McDonough and won 8 to 7. “The girls did great on attack. That game meant so much to them because they were losing and they came back.”
Tradition at St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes seems to be spelled “Jenkins”. Now in her 32nd year at the school, Coach Jenkins says she is loving every minute. “I’ve been here forever. I teach 5th and middle school and work with 7th and 8th grade lacrosse teams. Most girls on our lacrosse varsity have gone through all the grades in the school. Last year the mothers of two girls on the team had been coached by Jenkins years back.
St. Stephens/St. Agnes gets students involved early on in athletics. “In the 5th grade we do a month of every sport and in 6th too. In middle school we work on three sports a year. High school coaches teach the younger girls, so they hear from high school coaches what they are looking for. The girls know what’s expected of them; they understand the work ethic that’s been built within them from older sisters. We all practice together. Lacrosse is something they’ve been brought up knowing.
For the past 30 years Kathy Jenkins has teamed with Alice Spellow, who is now 75 years old. “Alice is a believer in wooden sticks. She’s from Ireland and over the years we put the lacrosse program together. We don’t really know how this level of success has happened. We have just continued to do the things we have done for 30 years. We still use wooden sticks. We are the only school that uses them. Wooden sticks are very beneficial for players who need to work on the catch or the throw. Wooden sticks are a little more giving when teaching. People who watch say we have beautiful stick skills and I believe it is from the wooden stick.
“We get our wood sticks from England, and we order them specifically for St. Stephens/St. Agnes. “If we are teaching a whole class of 36 fifth graders, when we teach skills, we want all the girls to be successful. Wood sticks can help young players catch and throw. With plastic many don’t feel success during the early years and they get discouraged. We want just the opposite. When using a wooden stick, it’s a little bit easier to catch a throw.”
Jenkins enjoys coaching the girls. Her favorite time is in the afternoon, going out with the team...talking about their day, watching the girls. She also enjoys watching how they succeed in college. “I love every team, and every team is different. It is sad when one group of girls graduates, but then the next team comes along.”
Teenagers and sports for girls have definitely changed over the years and Jenkins has taken note. “Now there’s much more emphasis about getting into shape. They are lifting, running, playing at sports clubs in addition to practice. Kathy Jenkins’ daughter, who now attends Dartmouth, recently watched St. Stephens/St. Agnes team and remarked, “I don’t think I’d be able to make the team now!” When Jenkins’ daughter played, girls didn’t have extra clubs to stay in top form. Today’s emphasis of being in top competitive form definitely puts more pressure on the girls.”
Another change is the switch from being a three-sport to a two-sport athlete. Now, everyone is a two-sport athlete, which means the time you have to put into the sport is much greater. The level of play has also changed. I’d rather we make the game safer, but the focus is on designing more protective equipment. The impact of playing at the college level is another pressure. By excelling in a high school sport, these athletes can increase their chances of getting into great academic college.
“If I could change something, it would be to reduce the pressure on everyone today,” Jenkins said. “Parents put great pressures on themselves. There’s also the pressure of recruiting in high school sports today. There’s definitely pressure and stress from being a top team. We have to keep working at it; we can’t let down and I don’t like talking about it. I tell myself, these are just high school girls. I wish the girls could have more of a life. We work hard to keep the pressure off them. We want to be a top team. We need intensity and dedication. I just wish it was a little less rigorous on the girls.”
Some alumni’s children now attend St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes. Their parents are hoping Coach Jenkins will stay at the school to be there for their kids. As far as Kathy Jenkins is concerned, she says “I’m in a good situation here. I’ll be here until it comes time to move on…when I’m ready to give it up.” She’s not thinking about that now…that’s for sure.”