Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Legacy Of Kristen Holmes-Winn

Kristen Holmes-Winn announced yesterday that she is leaving her position as Princeton's field hockey coach.

Holmes-Winn spent 13 years in charge of Tiger field hockey. To say that she dominated would be underselling it.

Her 13-year run saw her go 164-80 overall, with an astonishing 86-5 Ivy League record. She won 12 Ivy League championships - including each of the last 11 years - and reached the NCAA tournament quarterfinals seven times.

Her best season was the 2012 season, when she led the Tigers to a 21-1 record and the NCAA championship. Princeton outscored its seven Ivy opponents 45-1 that year. That's 45-1.

Kristen will be leaving Princeton to pursue something that has been a passion of hers. She will be heading to work for a company called WHOOP, for whom she will serve as Vice President of Performance Science and Optimization.

So what is her legacy?

What is any coach's legacy? How do you compare apples and oranges and grapes and everything else?

TigerBlog has asked this question before, but who was a better basketball coach, John Wooden or Pete Carril? Yes, John Wooden won 10 NCAA titles at UCLA. Carril won none at Princeton.

But is that a fair comparison? Wooden had every advantage at UCLA. What would Wooden have done at Princeton in the 29 years that Carril coached here? He wouldn't have won a national championship, that's for sure.

And that's just basketball.

How do you compare a field hockey coach to a basketball coach to a soccer coach to a lacrosse coach?

Well, here's the way TigerBlog thinks about it. Have you done something in your sport that nobody else has ever done?

That separates you. And once it's on your resume, it's never taken off.

For Holmes-Winn, it's the NCAA championship. No other Ivy League field hockey coach has ever done that.

The 2011 season was actually a great coaching job for her as well. Princeton played that year without four players who took off to train for the 2012 Olympics - and she still won the Ivy title. And then won its first NCAA game.

The 2012 team played 22 games and scored at least three goals in 18 of them. For that matter, the Tigers scored at least five in 11 of them.

Come NCAA tournament time, Princeton actually had to play in the play-in game. That was 6-0 over Lafayette. Then 5-0 over Drexel. Then 5-2 over Virginia to reach the Final Four, which that year was played in Norfolk.

While there, Princeton ended the ACC's 11-year reign as NCAA champ, and did so the hard way, defeating Maryland and North Carolina, both by 3-2 scores.

And with that, Kristen Holmes-Winn vaulted herself into a league of her own, field hockey-wise.

Where does it rank?

There's no doubt that Kristen Holmes-Winn is one of the very best coaches Princeton Athletics has ever had. She is the best field hockey coach in Ivy history, TigerBlog would say, beating out her predecessor, Beth Bozman, who was a TB favorite.

Kristen gets the nod by having won the NCAA title. When you put that on your resume, the discussion changes forever.

Like TB said, did you do something no one else has ever done? You did? Then you vault to the top.

Because of its success, Princeton field hockey became quite an event to see during Kristen's tenure, especially after the NCAA title and the opening of Bedford Field. Game days drew great, knowledgeable crowds, drawn by a winning team and a great setting.

Beyond all of that, there is Kristen herself. She has long been one of the faces of Princeton Athletics and a leader in the department. And one of the driving forces in helping grow the game in the area - including for a certain Miss TigerBlog, whom Kristen really encouraged from the earliest days she played. 

When TigerBlog first heard that Kristen was leaving, for some reason he wasn't completely shocked. Coaching is a tough business. Probably what's most interesting is that so many coaches actually stay with it as long as they do.

And it's really not that surprising that she's chosen to go into what can be called performance science. She has been very passionate about it for a long time, and it seems like a logical step in her career.

So now she is leaving Princeton.

She came in as a novice coach. This was her first head coaching assignment. She was taking over from Bozman, who was herself one of the most successful female coaches Princeton had ever had to that point.

It's safe to say that she was up to the challenge.

Her record speaks for itself. And if it doesn't, her NCAA title screams it.

Kristen Holmes-Winn. A legacy that is unmatched.


Anonymous said...

I attended the 2012 game at Yale. At halftime, the team and coaches gathered at the side of the field right in front of my seat and I could clearly hear the conversation which ensued. Instead of a typical locker room scene with the coach exhorting his or her charges to greater effort, the ambience was more like an office conference call. A few of the players spoke to the team, discussing things which they had noticed or could be improved. The coaches chimed in from time to time. It had the feel of a marketing team reviewing an advertising campaign in advance of a new product launch. I was so impressed with both the team and coaches. They were so focused and business-like, yet committed to improvement and winning. After leading 3-0 at the break, Princeton won the game 8-0.

What's most amazing about Ms. Holmes-Winn isn't just how much she's won, it's that Gary Walters was willing to hire somebody with no head coaching experience and limited time as an assistant who then immediately hit the ground running and never missed a beat improving an already dominant program. Best of luck to KH-W in the next phase of her career; her Princeton era has been a joy to witness.

Glenn Adams '63 said...

How right TB is about Kristen Holmes-Winn's having left a legacy unmatched. What a great recruiter, player developer, motivator, and game day coach. Not content with merely winning Ivy championships, she always scheduled games against the toughest opponents in the country, ensuring that her Tiger players could compete at least evenly with the highest seeded teams during the NCAA tournament, even when almost all those games were played at away venues and even when our Tiger teams were outmatched at least on paper. No team wanted to play Princeton during Coach Holmes-Winn's tenure, including perennial power Maryland Terrapins.

One of the highlights of my many years as an ardent fan of Princeton athletics was traveling to see Coach Holmes-Winn's team play in the 2012 NCAA games, when despite the Tigers' exceptional regular season record they were obliged to play all their NCAA games away. It was especially thrilling to see Coach H-W's team knock off the best teams in the top field hockey conference in the U.S., first UVA at UVA and then both Md and UNC at Old Dominion University. It was clear to those fans present to see how much her players loved and admired their coach, who motivated her players to believe they could still top the best teams in the U.S. even when some of their best players suffered injuries.

Even before the Final Four and after the Tigers had just defeated UVA soundly, I recall saying to Coach H-W's father, who had followed the team from his Delaware location, that his daughter deserved being named the National Coach of the Year. Even if her team had not managed to defeat both Md and UNC in the semis and finals, it was at least clear to me that she deserved that high honor for having inspired her team to play such outstanding field hockey against the finest teams in the country.

It is a testament to Coach H-W's skills as a coach that three of her former Tiger players, Kathleen Sharkey and Katie and Julia Reinprecht, will probably be on the final roster of 16 for the upcoming Rio Olympics and that her former assistant coach Nate Franks will be there in Rio on the National Team coaching staff. Nothing like a fifth of the Olympic team being comprised of former Tiger players!

Well done, Coach Holmes-Winn! We will surely miss you at Princeton but wish you nothing but the best in your corporate future ahead. Thank you for coaching our Princeton team for so many years and for producing more Ivy titles during your tenure than any other Princeton coach. God Speed! Glenn Adams '63