Johns Hopkins women’s lacrosse coach Tim McCormack applying lessons he learned as a UMass goalie

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 05-11-2023 7:45 PM

Wins and losses barely register when Johns Hopkins women’s lacrosse coach Tim McCormack remembers his time at UMass.

He played goalie for the Minutemen from 2008-2012, captaining the team his final two years. McCormack ranks eighth all-time at UMass with 475 saves and was an honorable mention All-American.

“It’s funny the things you remember 10 years out, and it never comes down to the wins and the losses. It comes back to the camaraderie it comes back to the funny moments you have together in the dining commons or in the dorms just hanging out and being together with your best friends 24/7,” he said. “We had a belief system and a set of values that had been alive and a living and breathing thing since the ’60s. It’s a special place, and not many places can replicate what’s there culturally and being a part of something that you feel really strong and special about.”

That feeling is what he’s tried to create, in his own way, at Johns Hopkins since he arrived in August. The Blue Jays will face his alma mater at 2 p.m. Friday in Syracuse as part of the NCAA Tournament’s opening round. McCormack won’t make the game him vs. UMass, though. He’s focused on his team and the season they’re happy is still going.

“It became more about the joy and excitement of this group than anything else. I was happy we had more opportunities to be on the field together this season. It’s a pretty special group, and we’ve put a lot of time in together. The bottom line is it’s not about me. It’s about the team and what we have done here together,” McCormack said. “It’s fun to play someone familiar and someone I know and have been a part of, but it’s not what it’s all about.”

Most of McCormack’s life has been about lacrosse. He grew up on Long Island in the 1990s and early 2000s attending games at Hofstra up the street from his house.

“I watched some of the best coaches of all time, particularly on the men’s side at that point,” McCormack said. “I saw the greats out there.”

He coached his first team as an eighth grader, leading his younger brothers’ youth squad. McCormack leaned on the dads coaching his own teams, former college players, talking about schemes and technical aspects of the game. 

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When he visited UMass, he found a collection of kindred souls and a leader that got the best out of them.

“It came down to culture. The group of young men I met on my recruiting visit in that locker room felt so similar to me and my background and my story,” McCormack said. “And Coach (Greg) Cannella and his guidance and his leadership and messaging, his consistency and his passion and trust.”

McCormack kept coaching over the summers and offering private goalie lessons. He enjoyed mentoring and the larger picture of coaching.

“It wasn’t just the on field stuff, it was about this journey you’re providing young people with leadership skills and the ability to be successful later in life,” McCormack said.

When Cannella first heard McCormack wanted to pursue coaching professionally, he connected him with one of his UMass teammates from the 1980s, the legendary Scott Hiller, an assistant coach with the Northwestern women’s program and husband of the Wildcats legendary coach Kelly Amonte Hiller.

“I didn’t care men’s, women’s, college, youth, whatever,” McCormack said. “I just wanted to do it, and if I could do it at a high level, that would be awesome. It was an incredible opportunity and I was mentored by some of the best coaches of all time who are still like family to me.”

He’d never been around the women’s game before and needed to adjust to the rules, particularly defensively. Women’s lacrosse players don’t wear pads and are allowed much less contact. 

“One of the early rules for me that I had to wrap my head around as a young defensive coach coming directly from the men’s game was the shooting space rule and you couldn’t slide directly into lanes. I had to really wrap my head around how to get creative. Ultimately, I love the creativity and the extra thinking that came into play,” McCormack said. “You’re basically playing basketball style defense on a 120-whatever yard field.”

He coached six years with the Wildcats before he was presented with his first head coaching opportunity at Arizona State. McCormack bounced that offer off Cannella as well as when he left to take over the Blue Jays.

“The passion for the game, the development in human beings and the care for people was so evident from him each and every day. He took chances on people, he provides you enough leeway to make mistakes and figure out your own pathway. He was about keeping the focus on controlling the things you can control and not getting lost in the things you couldn’t,” McCormack said. “We talk probably twice a year and sometimes more frequently if different things arise. Anything I come face to face with in this world he’s probably one of my first couple calls.”

Canella’s advice was simple: Stay true to you. Don’t forget about who you are and what you stand for, coach from the heart and believe in what you’re doing.

“He’s not trying to impersonate anybody. That’s Tim McCormack,” Cannella said. “It’s pretty cool. To be able to watch them grow as coaches, to see their successes and celebrate their success with them is cool. Mostly it’s great too see them as great human beings and great fathers.”

Cannella won’t have to worry about who he’s rooting for when the Minutewomen and Blue Jays face off in Syracuse.

“I can’t lose,” he said.

Even if Johns Hopkins’ season ends Friday, or Sunday, or whenever it does, McCormack’s job won’t be done. He’s building a program both in his own image and one that reminds him of what he had in Amherst.

“Is it going to be identical? Absolutely not. It can’t be. Otherwise it wouldn’t be authentic,” McCormack said. “That’s coach Cannella’s whole messaging. Be you, be us, and be Hopkins lacrosse, be Blue Jay lacrosse. Be this place and let it come though authentically.

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