Longtime Assistant Cook Taking Helm of PU Women’s Lax, Excited to Succeed Mentor and Hall of Famer Sailer
PASSING THE TORCH: Jenn Cook, right, and Chris Sailer are all smiles last Wednesday after Cook was named to succeed Sailer as the head coach of the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team. Cook served for 10 years as an assistant and associate head coach for the Tigers before getting promoted to the top job. Sailer, a Hall of Fame coach who led Princeton to a 433-168 record and three NCAA titles in her 36-year tenure guiding the program, announced last fall that she was retiring after the 2022 campaign. (Photo provided by Princeton Athletics)
By Bill Alden
Princeton University Director of Athletics John Mack didn’t have to go far to find a successor to legendary Tiger women’s lacrosse head coach Chris Sailer.
After conducting a nationwide search for a new head coach upon Hall of Famer Sailer announcing last fall that she was retiring after the 2022 campaign, longtime Princeton assistant and associate head coach Jenn Cook was named last week to take the helm of the program.
In her introductory press conference last Wednesday at Chandler Lounge, Cook vowed to be herself as she fills the big shoes of Sailer, a Hall of Fame coach who led Princeton to a 433-168 record and three NCAA titles in her 36-year tenure guiding the program.
“When I was interviewing for this job, a lot of my friends in the lacrosse world said those are big shoes to fill and I couldn’t agree more,” said Cook, a former University of North Carolina star who coached at her alma mater for four years and one year at Drexel before coming to Princeton in 2013.
“What Chris has taught me is that I have to coach in my own shoes and lead authentically. Chris has always led authentically in her coaching style and I am going to do the same. Those are big shoes and I think that the traditions that she has brought here and the tradition of winning is incredibly important. Those are things that I am going to continue to believe in and do but of course have my own spin on it.”
Cook believes she is more than ready to handle the top job.
“Chris always gave me a voice and ownership within our program to allow me to direct in recruiting, to allow me to direct on field, to allow me to have that voice and really lead and coach in the best version of myself,” said Cook.
“Stepping into this role is a new role but I feel like I have been prepped for a really long time. Chris is definitely a good mentor in that way. She has pushed me to be a part of different committees and do different things that have really stretched my coaching style and have made me a much better leader.”
In taking the helm, Cook plans to do some things differently.
“We have thought about hiring a goalie coach, I think that is an area of the field that we have lacked in terms of attention,” said Cook. “I think it is an area that needed to be a little more dedicated, it’s such a mental part of the sport. That is probably our first task, hiring somebody with that kind of background. Keeping Kerrin Maurer on the staff, that is the plan. I think we are really creative in the way that we coach. We see the game very similarly. We enjoy running different variations, whether offensively and defensively, so we could have a different look next year.”
In Cook’s view, the Tigers have the talent on hand to adapt well to those variations. Princeton is coming off a 15-4 season which saw it advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“We are returning most of our offense next year,” said Cook. “We have some really fantastic defenders, young ones that also had time this year. I think they are going to continue to develop. We are retuning our entire midfield. I think we are going to surprise people. People are going to say you are losing your goalie (Sam Fish), your defensive unit essentially (Marge Donovan, Olivia Pugh, Mary Murphy), and your No. 1 career scorer (Kyla Sears). Those are challenges but we have recruits coming in and a young contingent of really hungry players who are ready to step into that role.”
Having already established strong relationships with the returning players, Cook is expecting a smooth transition.
“The players know my coaching style, my leadership style, they know the expectations,” said Cook. “They know I love hard work, I don’t shy away from it. We are super competitive. We didn’t shy away from the fact that we want to win and we want to win the right way. Our girls know that expectation.”
The players loved hearing that Cook will be their new head coach.
“We had a Zoom earlier today, it was just great to see their reaction,” said Cook. “They all kind of knew my interview timeline. They knew it was happening last week and they said, ‘we just want to let you know we love you, we support you, we are behind you 100 percent.’ To see their reaction today when John made that announcement over Zoom, you can’t help but feel motivated and feel that support and love for this place and the belief in me which I really appreciate.”
While noting that some outstanding candidates emerged through the nationwide search, Mack asserted that choosing Cook was essentially a no-brainer.
“Jenn is a force, her passion jumps right at you first and foremost for the student athletes that she coaches,” said Mack. “You can tell she loves them and cares about them as people separate from who they are as an athlete. When you listen to her talk about the game of lacrosse, both what it has meant to her in her professional journey and the opportunities that it provides to young women who will be a part of Princeton lacrosse, she says all of the things that you would want a Princeton coach to say. She doesn’t just say them, she believes them and that comes across so genuinely and effortlessly. For me who has watched the impact she has had over the last 10 years on the program and the success we have had, it was really clear that she was the choice.”
Although Cook made it clear that she will be doing things her way in succeeding Sailer, she plans to remain close to her mentor.
“Chris and I foundationally have the exact same values but we are very different people,” said Cook. “We push each other to be the best versions of ourselves for this place and for our players and for our alumni. It has been that type of relationship. Once John let me know that I was going to be the next head coach, I knew Chris will be calling me about technology questions. I am sure we will be zooming Chris, if not weekly, every other week to have a good laugh in the office. That is just the type of relationship that we have.”