Lacrosse legend Kathy Jenkins eyes 600 wins
Kathy Jenkins isn't spending much time thinking about milestones. Never has.
She stumbled across a couple of T-shirts in a box recently marking the 200th and 500th wins of her coaching careers. Where the others are, she's not sure .
"I don't even remember if we did anything or we just moved on," said Jenkins of her milestone victories.
On the eve of what will likely be her 600th coaching win as the girls lacrosse coach at St. Stephen's and St. Agnes High School in Alexandria, Va. -- a win total that puts her in rarefied space in the women's game -- she said she hasn't even discussed it with her team.
"But I might have to say something about it to them before the game," Jenkins said.
To put Jenkins' win total in perspective, Navy's Cindy Timchal is the NCAA leader with 421 wins.
Jenkins' program, which she founded in 1976, has won more than 24 league titles (including eight undefeated seasons) and sent, by her estimate, "a couple hundred" players into the college ranks, everywhere from Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Cornell, to Virginia, Northwestern, Stanford and Cal.
Jenkins, 61, has ended up someplace quite a bit different than where she started. She was a high school student at a small Catholic school in Erie, Pa., with an interest in sports.
"I wanted to take every lesson in every sport," Jenkins said.
It was 1968 and she and her friends were talking about college, and found out that Marjorie Webster Junior College in Washington, D.C., offered a physical education major.
Jenkins father drove her and a couple of friends there from Erie and they were sold on the school.
"I think there were only 13 P.E. majors in the whole school," Jenkins said. She completed the two-year program by 1971, including working at local summer camps, which represented her student-teaching experience.
After college, Jenkins took a secretarial job in Georgetown. Then, one of her friends called and said there was a teaching position open at St. Agnes, a girls' Episcopal school in Alexandria. She was given the job then and there.
"Never met anyone, never did an interview. I just showed up in September and I was the P.E. teacher," Jenkins said.
Jenkins coached every girls sport at the school and school administrators told her they would pay for her to go back to school at American University and get her bachelor's degree.
One of the requirements for her degree? She would need to start a new varsity sport at the school.
"My husband and his brother played lacrosse," Jenkins said. "It was the first game I ever went to."
Having never played lacrosse, she took what she called a "two-week mini-course," had the booster club buy sticks and gathered a team.
"We did all basketball drills," Jenkins said. "And we ran basketball plays."
Her team played man-to-man defense and ran off-the-ball offensive plays.
Jenkins found her passion in a game she never played.
"I started it because I had to, and then I fell in love with it," she said of the lacrosse team.
Jenkins stands 5 foot 3. Her players say if you didn't know any better, you would mistake her for a mom watching the game.
"She looks like every other mom on the sideline," senior captain Paige Patterson said. "You wouldn't think she's this huge lacrosse guru by walking past. She's got her floral tops on and her pop collars."
She also coaches JV girls' tennis as well as middle school girls' tennis, basketball and lacrosse, and teaches fifth grade P.E.
Margaret Stender was one of Jenkins' basketball players back in 1972. She remembers a teacher who was almost as young as she was. She also remembers that same young coach planting a seed that she could go to college and continue her athletic career.
"She told me, 'You can do this,' and she's been doing that for 40 years." said Stender, now the CEO of the WNBA's Chicago Sky. "She is such a great example of the power of Title IX."
Jenkins has been instrumental in starting girls youth lacrosse programs in Virginia and has become a beacon for coaches around the country.
"They treat her like she's a rock star," Stender said. "She has everybody's respect, everybody's attention. Anybody who gets an athlete of hers knows what they are getting."
Michele Phillips went through Jenkins' youth programs before joining her team as a high school player.
"I always knew I was going to play here for coach Jenkins," said Phillips, who will continue her career at Notre Dame.
St. Stephen's and St. Agnes senior Liz Lavie said Jenkins has coached her, her mother and her sister in high school.
"My mom and her have always kept in touch and I think it's really fun for her to see how my family has grown up," said Lavie, who will play college lacrosse at Cal.
Jenkins said she has built her powerhouse program on "basic skills."
"Throwing, catching, ground balls, defense," Jenkins said. "I think the only thing that has set us apart is our stick skills.
"And once you are successful, it builds more success, but it wasn't anything we were planning."
St. Stephen's and St. Agnes has planned a celebration for Jenkins on May 12.
She said she thought she would have retired by now.
"But I'm not ready, I think I'd really miss it," Jenkins said. "We started out with six games, maybe 10. Now we play a 30-game season and travel all over for good competition or they come to us. I just love what I'm doing."