Hatfield’s Lynne-Ann Kokoski brings consistent, positive energy to UMass women's basketball ahead of NCAA Tournament

  • Hatfield native Lynne-Ann Kokoski is in her third year coaching with the UMass women's basketball team. She's making her first NCAA Tournament appearance as a coach after two as a player. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • Hatfield native Lynne-Ann Kokoski is in her third year coaching with the UMass women's basketball team. She's making her first NCAA Tournament appearance as a coach after two as a player. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS—Chris Tucci

  • Hatfield native Lynne-Ann Kokoski poses with the trophy after the UMass women’s basketball team won the Atlantic 10 tournament earlier this month. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • Hatfield native Lynne-Ann Kokoski is in her third year coaching with the UMass women's basketball team. She's making her first NCAA Tournament appearance as a coach after two as a player. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS—Chris Tucci

Staff Writer
Published: 3/16/2022 6:14:38 PM

AMHERST — After the UMass women’s basketball team lost last year’s Atlantic 10 championship game against VCU, Sydney Taylor’s mother Sheri Lewis-Taylor told Lynne-Ann Kokoski, “The first year’s a lesson. The second year’s a blessing.”

That stuck with the Hatfield native and UMass assistant at this year’s conference tournament in Delaware. After the semifinal win over Saint Joe’s, Lewis-Taylor told Kokoski “we’re going to do this.”

Kokoski responded, “You’re right. We’re gonna do this. We woke up and everyone was determined to do it. It was unbelievable and it was surreal.”

“It” was winning the program’s first Atlantic 10 championship and qualifying for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in more than two decades. Both accomplishments were part of the vision UMass coach Tory Verdi sold Kokoski on when he brought her on in 2019. At the time the Minutewomen were coming off a .500 season and hadn’t posted a winning campaign since 2006-07. But Verdi believed he was creating something special in the Pioneer Valley and engendered that belief in Kokoski.

“He said ‘we’re gonna win big’ and I believed him,” Kokoski said. “Coach Verdi told us we’re going to win big, and it’s going to be special. Honestly, this past couple weeks has proven everything. He believed it, and we’ve done it. It’s been an unbelievable journey thus far.”

UMass (26-6) received a 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will face No. 5 Notre Dame at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Norman, Okla. It’s Kokoski’s third trip to the NCAA Tournament but the first as part of her 13-year coaching career. She played four seasons at Bryant, and the Bulldogs qualified for the big dance her freshman (2004) and senior seasons (2008).

“It’s a new experience for everyone, but I’ve been there as a player and you hope that everyone can enjoy the moment,” Kokoski said. “It’s truly special and it’s something that you remember for a lifetime.”

Kokoski, who starred at Smith Academy, is in her third year at UMass after spending the previous three at William & Mary. She also spent time on staffs at Providence and her alma mater Bryant.

Verdi brought her to Amherst in part because she’s a Western Massachusetts native and connected to the area, but mostly for her experience and energy.

“We knew she was going to be super excited about being here and I knew she was going to be invested in our program,” Verdi said. “When I took over this program, the biggest thing was we want people who want to be here at the University of Massachusetts. When I took over a lot of people had one foot in the door and one foot out the door. You can’t win that way.”

Kokoski is UMass’ offensive coordinator and also works with the Minutewomen’s guards. It’s a collaborative staff, and she also spends time with UMass’ other players and is a resource to them off the court, too.

“She always brings positive energy and is very consistent in that way. She’s not afraid to be honest, which I really appreciate,” UMass forward Sam Breen said. “Both basketball and life outside of basketball, she’s been really there for me, she’s been there for all of us, but I know I can go to her office any time. Her door’s always open. Basketball, life, whatever. She’s always going to give honest advice even if it’s maybe not what you want to hear, but what you need to hear.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.
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