March 9, 2001

Seeking Her Own Path to Success

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Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

He probably didn’t plan it this way, but Emerson’s quote has become the theme for the women’s lacrosse team. That in large part, is because of what head coach Jenny Graap ’86 has done with the program since her arrival in 1997. The first half of the passage describes the decision Graap made when she arrived back on the Cornell campus as a coach. The path that the team was then on was already at the base of the gorge.

“In fact, three of the previous four years prior to me coming there were zero Ivy League wins,” Graap admitted. “It wasn’t like they were a losing program; they were really at rock bottom. So they were losing to everybody.”

Graap, once a regional All-American for Cornell, saw problems with the team: there was no direction, no focus, and no work ethic. She looked back to where she came from to bring those concepts to the Red.

“Coming into the Cornell program, I think I was a bit nervous because there wasn’t a winning tradition established, and I was leaving a Division I program at George Mason University, and I had been there four years,” Graap said. “I was just starting to feel the development of that program, in fact that program was just cutting into the national rankings at that point.

“So the challenge as I saw it was enormous. But because it’s my alma mater, and that I love Cornell University, I really believed in my heart that I could recruit women to come here and play,” she continued.

So the spring of 1998 was Graap’s first Cornell coaching season. The margin of success from the previous year was phenomenal, but these were not easy times for her. She entered the year as a new coach with a losing team.

“I took it on obviously as a challenge,” Graap said. “I think that even in that very first year in ’98 I was able to coach a group of women who I had not recruited. They were the existing Cornell team, who had, gone zero and whatever for three of the previous four years.

“I just took that very same team and trained them hard, instilled some pride, and kind of exposed them to the bigger world of lacrosse, which I think was part of their problem. They just didn’t understand what other teams were doing, how hard they should work, and the dedication.

Some women had not been recruited for that type of environment and some just didn’t fit that mold — they quit, they dropped off. And so we obviously had some work to do to bond the team.

“But the good news was that there was a hard core unit of women who did aspire to being the best they could be in the sport of lacrosse. They became the nucleus of what would eventually be our future. The women that stayed really desired to do well. They did, they all improved. And so we took a team that had a very poor record and we went 7-7, we hit the .500 mark the first year. Now a lot of teams here work for years to even hit the .500 mark and we hit it in that first year. I think that speaks highly of the motivation of those women, who didn’t know me, I didn’t recruit, I just came in and started yelling at them and they responded,” the coach summarized.

Graap not only motivated the team, but she also brought her key sense of a winning tradition to the Red. Throughout her first year, she was also busy recruiting, a difficult task in light of the tough competition in the Ivy League.

Essential to the team’s success, Graap never took that path Emerson was referring to; instead she charted her own way. She has a strong sense of how to improve the entire scope of the program, not just the win-loss record.

“After the [first] season, immediately I made the schedule tougher.

“Then that next year I brought in my first recruiting class. That freshman class is dynamite. That’s the class with Jaimee Reynolds, Ginny Miles, Lori Wohlschlegel, Carrie Giancola, Kari Zarzecki, Sarah Graham, and Katie McCorry. There is a significant bulk of talent in that particular class. So when those women came as freshmen, they stepped right onto the field. They just ploughed right in here, got in the starting line-up as freshman,” Graap explained.

The stellar class of 2002 graduates began the development of the program. They set the standard, and created their own destiny. There was no tradition to follow, no upperclassmen to train them. That group played the kind of lacrosse Graap was looking for, and it paid off.

“With the entry of the first recruiting class, we went 9-6, with a tougher schedule. We improved not only from 7-7, but we beat teams that weren’t even on the schedule when we went 7-7,” she explained.

The 1999 season gave the Red the courage it needed to succeed. Graap again did not stop; she continued to push the team and the program beyond anyone’s hopes or expectations.

“Then comes the year 2000. My third year with the program, I had my second class come in, again more talent and more depth. And those sophomores, they have a whole year under their belt [now] and they are experienced. They again were the core of a lot of the success that happens in 2000,” Graap continued.

Though not wanting to dwell in the past, Graap admits her pride in last year’s success. The team had a phenomenal record of 13-4 and some huge tournament wins, including the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Championship. Capping off the year, the team traveled to Europe this past summer to compete in the Prague Cup. The Red astounded even itself in bringing home a championship trophy. All this was accomplished with only two seniors and one junior on the team.

Graap is following her yearly plan to better the team. Now, with almost a full squad recruited during her tenure, she can give better direction to the team.

“Now I have a junior class that is very seasoned; they played two years and they have had a lot of success,” she said. “So I really believe with that strong junior class we have great potential for this year.”

“The team is a very well-balanced unit. We have an extremely good group of athletes. We had a Red-White, inter-squad scrimmage a few weeks ago, and it was tied nine-all and we played two overtimes, and it was still tied. We honestly had to stop because it was getting so competitive,” Graap said.

“Senior Sarah McGoey is the role model on defense. Our juniors on defense are stepping up and some sophomores are moving up. Junior Carrie Giancola is returning on goal. She is backed up by two young girls, Ashley Sharon, a freshman who has a tremendous amount of potential, and sophomore Amy Sharenko. All of them challenge each other in practice,” Walters scouted.

“[Freshman] Michelle Allen looks to add a lot of scoring punch to our attack, she is so impressive in practice. And Jaimee Reynolds is unbelievable, she’s incredible. She can do everything; she’s a classic midfielder,” Graap lauded.

“[Kari] Zarzecki is really quick, a great defender. Sarah Graham is our primary mark-up defender. Every game she is under pressure, she has to shut someone down,” she continued. “Ginny Miles and Lori Wohlschlegel are huge, they are a great pair. They are a marked entity, and they are going to be scoring off the best defenders.”

The team is stronger than it ever was before. The previous problems of depth and experience are gone for the Red. Now the women can concentrate on the games at hand, and see where their skill can take them. They are set to have a great season. Between the talent and the tutelage of Graap, every team in the nation better watch out.

“One good thing for us is the NCAA tournament increased from 12 to 1
6 teams,” Graap explained. “So that is definitely a goal for us, but we have a lot of lacrosse before then.”

Graap has been the trailblazer for the lacrosse program at Cornell. She has shown her skills as a recruiter, a motivator, and a leader. Her drive and vision have found their way into the hearts of many young women who strive to win and have the desire to succeed. Graap never settles for what has been done at Cornell. She looks around and sees the path, and then turns and forages a new way, leaving in her wake a wide trail of wins, records, and successes.

Archived article by Cammy Kandiko