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Sunday, May 27 News

Rams girls lacrosse coach named one of best in state

NEW CANAAN — Kristin Woods remembers when she was in high school, there were only about 20 girls lacrosse teams in the state of Connecticut. Now there are nearly 80.

“It’s quadrupled really in the matter of 20 years,” Woods said recently from the girls’ coaches office in the New Canaan High School athletic wing.

The sport has grown quickly in popularity, especially in Fairfield County, which boasts some of the state’s top talent. Woods has been in the sport almost since the beginning and has observed these changes. She’s also developed proven ability to stay a few steps ahead of the competition and build a lacrosse juggernaut in New Canaan.

As head coach of New Canaan High School girls lacrosse for the last 11 years, she’s racked up a 199-55 record. Her teams have won five state championships and 19 of her players have earned All-American honors. Another 12 players have earned Academic All-American honors. Twenty-eight of her players have gone on the play at the collegiate level and by the end of the 2012 season, she had coached the team to an national ranking of 18. Last week, Woods was named a Connecticut Outstanding Coach of the Year for girls lacrosse.

“The kids buy into our program and all the stuff we believe in. We always talk about being confident in yourself, being focused and working hard. Those are our three big things we stress year in, year out. If you have those three things you’re going to be successful in anything you do,” said Woods, who is also a physical education teacher at New Canaan High School.

Raised in Wilton, Woods played basketball, soccer and swimming and diving. There was no girls youth lacrosse program when she was a child. Her first opportunity to play the sport came during her freshman year of high school.

“It was a new sport that i was excited to try. I was one of those kids that loved running around and being busy and i was an aggressive athlete,” Woods said.

She joined Wilton’s team and, because of her experience playing basketball and soccer, which share certain things in common with lacrosse, learned the new sport quickly.

As a midfielder she excelled. After graduation, she went on to Penn State University, where she played midfield and defense for four years on what was, at one point during her tenure, the 10th ranked team in the nation.

She stayed on for one year after graduation to serve as an Undergraduate Assistant Coach for the Nittany Lions, then coached freshman girls lacrosse at Wilton for a year, before landing the job in New Canaan.

“When I took over they were sort of in the middle of the pack. I think 3 years before i took over they were 4-8. They definitely had talent but they just hadn’t gotten as high up as they could have,” Woods said.

She credited a first group of seniors and co-captains that included Katrina Nietsch, who went on to play at the U.S. Naval Academy, Katie Boland and Kaitlin Purdy.

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“That group of seniors really set the tone,” Woods said.

In her second year in the FCIAC semifinals, Woods’ team took down a powerhouse Darien High School girls lacrosse team that had beaten New Canaan handily during the regular season. The win helped to establish what is now consistently one of the state’s best programs.

“The kids’ excitement got better and better and more and more kids started playing. I used to only have three or four kids playing club and now all of them play. The more the kids get sticks in their hands the better they’re going to be,” Woods said.

Woods and New Canaan girls lacrosse are continuing to ride the wave of that excitement. In 2008 and 2012, Woods was named Girls Lacrosse Connecticut Coach of the Year, and in 2009 and 2012 she was named FCIAC Coach of the Year.

This year, the Rams are 10-4 (as of May 14), and are looking to make a deep run in both FCIAC and State playoffs.

“We a game against Fox Lane on Saturday and it was the first time where the kids came out and really played the full 50 minutes. They really came into their own and hopefully we’re peaking at the right time,” Woods said.

justin.papp@scni.com; @justinjpapp1; 203-842-2586

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