Women's star has new goal as a coach

Martinez-Connor puts touch of UM in Mount

April 03, 2002|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

EMMITSBURG - This Frederick County town lies just 70 miles from College Park, but in the realm of women's college lacrosse, the two stand a world apart.

Maryland All-American Courtney Martinez-Connor knew that even before she landed the head coaching job at Mount St. Mary's in the fall.

Playing at Maryland, Martinez-Connor won a national championship every year, helping run the Terrapins' string of titles to seven last year. Her teams won the last 43 games of her college career.

In Emmitsburg, the Mountaineers had won just 45 games in the six-year history of their program. They hadn't had a winning season since 1998, and last year's 5-13 record was their worst ever. A revolving door of coaches only exacerbated the pain.

When Martinez-Connor arrived, she was the third coach in three years. She is the program's first full-time coach.

"The only thing consistent was that they were learning something different each year," said Martinez-Connor, 23. "There was rebuilding to do. They had had a bunch of different coaches in the past few years, and it was just a little chaotic. They didn't really have a set philosophy for anything."

So she set out to guide the program on a steadier course, although she has no illusions about turning the Mountaineers into the Terrapins overnight.

"It was difficult coming in and realizing I'm not at the level where I had just come from," said Martinez-Connor, the Most Valuable Player in last year's national championship game.

"A lot of the girls have the talent and the ability, but they were just never taught, so it was a matter of going all the way back to Step 1 and teaching the basics."

The rookie coach also had to be careful not to overwhelm the Mountaineers, which she acknowledges has happened a few times. But as midseason approaches, they are settling in to their new coach's ways.

"We were excited about her coming in," said senior Lara Steinbraker, "but at first, we were also a little scared, because playing for a new coach is kind of hard, but as it turns out, it's been great.

"She has a lot more confidence in our team as a whole and confidence in each of our players. She always tells us that and it's brought our team together. We've won a lot more so far this year, and I think it's because we have more confidence in ourselves."

The Mountaineers head into today's 3:30 p.m. game at Towson University with a 6-4 record. They rebounded from a pair of tough setbacks with a 24-2 rout of St. Francis (Pa.) on Friday to run their Northeast Conference mark to 2-0.

For the Loch Raven graduate, however, winning is not the primary focus. Playing well and giving 100 percent all of the time are more important - a philosophy straight out of Maryland's formula.

"The other day was our first loss in five games, and we went into that game thinking about the outcome," said Steinbraker. "She told us [afterward] not to ever think about that - just think about your play and concentration. If you go out there and play your hardest, then the wins will come."

The transition to Division I head coach - especially straight out of college - has been a challenge for Martinez-Connor, but she doesn't need to look far for advice.

Her father, former Orioles pitcher Tippy Martinez; her brother, Jacen; and her husband, former Terps All-America defenseman Casey Connor; are quick to assist. Her parents never miss a game, and Connor volunteers to help his wife of eight months coach the team.

Her career path does not surprise her father.

"She always had a passion, because she's a leader and she's always wanted to be a leader," said Tippy Martinez. "She was always an organized type of gal. When she was smaller when we'd go on vacation, she'd diagram where everything was at. She had the tools to handle this kind of task. It was just a matter of having things open up."

Although she said progress sometimes feels like it's coming in slow motion, Martinez-Connor knows it will take a while to build her program and she's committed to sticking around.

She already has six recruits for next season and looks forward to the time when the upperclassmen will be familiar with her system and able to help pass along her evolving coaching philosophy.

Mount St. Mary's athletic director Dr. Harold "Chappy" Menninger sees success on the horizon, but sees even bigger things ahead for Martinez-Connor.

"This will be a great three- or four-year story here at Mount St. Mary's College," said Menninger. "We'll teach Courtney all of the things she needs to know, from administration to X's and O's, and then we will present some other Division I school with a great, young coach. ... And that makes everybody happy."

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