Last week, Cornell women’s lacrosse beat out Binghamton to maintain its perfect record against the Bearcats. While remaining undefeated against a single opponent is a noteworthy achievement of its own, the win also marked an important milestone in head coach Jenny Graap’s 21-year tenure — her 200th win at the helm of the Cornell program.
Graap, who graduated from Cornell with a degree from the College of Human Ecology in 1986, returned to her alma mater in 1997 to lead the team she once played for.
In her undergraduate time at Cornell, Graap was the captain of both the field hockey and lacrosse teams during her junior and senior years. She excelled in both sports — earning varsity letters in all eight seasons she played.
Upon graduation, Graap accepted a job at Bloomingdale’s and while taking classes in sports administration at NYU, realized the void that the absence of athletics created in her life.
So she decided to obtain her master’s degree in exercise and sports science from Penn State, while simultaneously assistant coaching for Nittany Lions women’s lacrosse.
She then continued to coach at George Mason, where she was hired as the school’s first ever varsity women’s lacrosse coach.
“I was building [George Mason] up from scratch,” Graap said. “I had a lot of pride in that.”
However, when an open position for head coach of the Cornell women’s program popped up in 1997, Graap made the tough decision to relocate back to Ithaca to succeed Cheryl Wolf, who was her coach in both field hockey and lacrosse while she played for the Red.
“It was a very emotional decision for me,” Graap said. “The idea of coming back to my alma mater played a big part in my decision to apply for the job.”
Building The ‘Bricks’ Of Cornell Women’s Lacrosse
In the 21 years since she began coaching the Red, Graap has led the team with a unique, yet simple, coaching style.
“Graap’s coaching style is steady and consistent,” said assistant coach Bill Olin, a member of the Cornell program since 2016.
Her consistency in coaching style has translated to consistency on the field, as well. Since Graap has been head coach, Cornell has been mostly a winning team, with an overall record of 200-133.
“The program has gone through growth stages,” Graap said. “Certainly the program itself now is much more stable from a standpoint of development. We’ve put in a lot of ground work to establish tradition and precedent for the program.”
One of the reasons that the program has been successful is the foundation that Graap has laid — both literally and metaphorically — by conceptualizing the concepts of “hard work,” “positive attitude” and “team first” as the “bricks” for the team.
“Her decisions are rooted in these three ‘bricks’ of Cornell women’s lacrosse,” Olin said. “She uses these core values to lay the foundation to guide and educate the young women in our program.”
There is even an award in the form of a brick, aptly named the BRICK Award, which is given each season to the player who best embodies the character traits of each of the three bricks.
“For women’s lacrosse, we’ve used the red brick as our symbol of hard work,” Graap said, “And every year we talk about it and renew our investment in what we want to be and who we are as a team.”
Building A Legacy Beyond The Field
Graap’s impact on the team, though very evident in the competitive sphere, extends far past the lacrosse field, as she strives to help each individual on her team find their strengths in other areas of their lives.
“There are two things distinguish Coach Graap from her peers,” Olin said. “Her ability to stay composed and in the moment during the heat of the game is something that is truly unique.
“Secondly, and more importantly, she is committed to helping our student-athletes reach their potential both lacrosse players and young women. She is steadfast in her goals to help them find their strengths as individuals and provide them with the tools they need to be successful after their time at Cornell.”
Her commitment to fostering the growth of strong, independent young women is evidenced by her favorite memory of her time as head coach. Although she has herself garnered numerous coach of the year awards and has coached All-Americans, won Ivy tournaments, upset countless nationally ranked teams and earned multiple NCAA Tournament berths, Graap still cites her interactions with athletes as her most important memory.
“Certainly winning Ivy titles and moments like that I’ll always cherish,” Graap said. “But for me in 21 years in every season whether it’s a winning season or not, every season what I remember is the individual players — those moments where people step up in a way that is so magnificent and so inspiring from strong women.
“Leading strong women, being around strong women to have a venue or a lacrosse game where they can demonstrate that core strength — that theme runs throughout all these years. For me it’s about the people and the relationships — those are the memories that mean the most to me.”
200 wins is an impressive feat for any coach, but the milestone is clearly born from a legacy Graap has created that extends far beyond wins and losses.