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McDonogh's Megan Nicotra

McDonogh (Md.) Has New Leader in Megan Nicotra

February 29, 2024
Justin Feil
John Strohsacker

When Megan Nicotra enrolled the oldest of her three young children in pre-K at McDonogh School (Md.) two years ago, she was asked to join the Eagles’ girls’ lacrosse coaching staff.

The two-time World Cup gold medalist from the United States agreed to lend a Baltimore-area high school program her expertise. Now Nicotra begins 2024, her third season with the Eagles, in a new role.

Nicotra is their new head coach, taking over for Taylor Cummings, who stepped down after five seasons and two IAAM championships and just last week gave birth to her first child. The promotion is a big leap from what Nicotra signed up for two years ago.

“It’s definitely not what I expected,” Nicotra said. “But it’s a really good surprise, I think.”

Nicotra takes over a defending IAAM champion that was ranked preseason No. 1 by both USA Lacrosse and Inside Lacrosse. The bulk of the Eagles’ playmakers are back from last year’s 20-1 squad, led by seniors Amanda Lawson (Stanford), Kate Levy (North Carolina), Remi Schaller (Michigan) and junior Mckenzie Brown (Northwestern).

“I think it’s exciting,” Nicotra said. “Having been with the program the past two full seasons, I don’t feel like the new guy. I’m very familiar with who we have and what we’re capable of. That familiarity is really comforting going into the season. Obviously, there’s always pressure when you’re ranked at the top coming into preseason, but I think there’s always that pressure with McDonogh whether we’re No. 1 or not No. 1 coming into a season.”

Cummings stepped down shortly after McDonogh won its first IAAM crown since 2019. She announced her decision to the team, and at the same time reassured the returning Eagles that they were in good hands with Nicotra taking over and Mary Beth Todd remaining as an assistant. Nicotra read the room for their reaction to the bombshell.

“You always want that validation,” Nicotra said. “The first look on their face was shock. I don’t think anybody saw it coming. But I do think there was a genuine sense of relief that there wasn’t going to be a massive change. Between myself and Mary Beth Todd there’d be carry over and continuity and people they could trust taking us into that next move.”

Nicotra brought in Caitlin Prince, the former associate head coach at Oregon, as offensive coordinator. Jane McAvoy is also helping as a part-time assistant after graduating from Notre Dame last year. Todd will help across the field, and Nicotra will keep her focus on the defense and goalies.

McDonogh will face Stone Ridge and Bishop Ireton on Saturday in play day scrimmages. The Eagles open the season March 16 by hosting Georgetown Visitation (D.C.).

“It wasn’t really on my career goal list,” Nicotra said. “I love coaching. I love the relationships. I had really liked the roles I had been in. It wasn’t a box that I needed to check. I look at opportunities all the time and assess where I am in my life and what that would look like for my family. Up until now, there really hasn’t been one that’s been like this.”

Nicotra is no stranger to pressure — and winning under pressure. She won an IAAM championship as a player in 2002 with Maryvale. She was Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association/US Lacrosse Goalie of the Year and helped Duke win its first ACC championship and reach two NCAA tournament semifinals. She won World Cups in 2009 and 2013.

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“I would much rather play under pressure,” Nicotra said. “You feel like you have a little bit more control of what happens when you’re actively playing. As a coach, you just have to believe in the preparation and believe in the players and put the best product out on the field that you can. I think we have a really, really talented group this year and so for all of us — players and coaching staff — it’s going to be managing expectations, putting on blinders to what’s being said and really focusing on the journey and day-to-day preparation.”

Nicotra hopes to be able to use her experiences to help guide the Eagles players. She understands that they, too, will feel pressure.

“When you’re in high school at that age, it’s hard to put that all in perspective,” Nicotra said. “Everything seems huge. My goal is to help these athletes understand that lacrosse should be their most fun part of day. Pressure comes with the territory, but it’s about enjoying the process and having fun.

“It took me a long time to have fun playing. You always want to live up to expectations and you always want to impress people. You have to realize that’s not necessarily the end goal.”

Nicotra has been passing along advice to high school players for almost 15 years. After coaching four years at William & Mary, she returned to Baltimore in 2010. She helped Garrison Forest before coaching at Navy in 2015. She helped St. Paul’s for four years and then started her family. She helped a former Duke teammate at Roland Park before getting connected to McDonogh when her children enrolled.

“That piqued my interest, and obviously having kids in the school and wanting to be a part of the community, I stepped in and initially agreed to part-time,” Nicotra said. “Even during that part-time season, I just fell in love with the program and ended up spending a lot of time with the program. I jumped in with both feet from there.”

Cummings told her that she was stepping down for family and business reasons the day before addressing the entire team. Nicotra, who has run her own camps and clinics with Between the Pipes and Gold Medal Lacrosse & Goalkeeping, was caught off guard.

“I joined this program thinking that Taylor would be here for the long haul,” Nicotra said. “I think Taylor had that plan, and plans change. For me, I’ve always been very happy as an assistant. I really enjoy the coaching aspect of it. As a head coach, there’s a lot more to it, a lot more on the administrative side and various other levels of administrative stuff.”

Nicotra didn’t need much convincing to take over. She liked the culture of the McDonogh program and wanted to keep the fun going for a community that she values.

“Knowing the program, and knowing the culture, and knowing our support, knowing the school and administration, if I was going to be a head coach, this is the right time and the right program,” Nicotra said. “It did take some thought, and at the end of the day, I really believe in this group and what we’re building.”

Nicotra will continue to run camps through her businesses out of season, but her focus this spring will be solely on McDonogh. She steps into a big spot by taking over the No. 1 preseason team. It doesn’t reduce any pressure on her, but she’s equipped to handle it and thrive.

“It doesn’t lessen it,” Nicotra said. “I think in the grand scheme of things and having a little life perspective, as I age, you understand that being able to play this sport is a gift, and you need to enjoy it while you can do it.”