Poetic Justice: Madison Doucette Gets to Rewrite Her Ending With a Familiar Friend
Doucette will finish her career on the same field where she thought it had abruptly ended.
Madison Doucette last played in a college lacrosse game at Homewood Field. It ended historically, with North Carolina rallying from a seven-goal second-half deficit to hand Northwestern a stunning Final Four defeat in 2022.
This fall, Doucette is back at Homewood Field, this time as a member of Johns Hopkins. After taking a gap year in 2023, Doucette joined the Blue Jays this summer. The irony of her new home isn’t lost on her.
“I think there is some poetic justice in being able to play my first game back on the field where I thought I ended my career,” Doucette said.
Initially, Doucette didn’t think her career was over. She was hoping for a fifth year. It wasn’t mutual.
“The way my time at Northwestern ended was very sudden,” Doucette said. “It brought on some strong feelings. I realized I had a chance to re-evaluate and to go into it with a full timeline and to decide for myself and be the best teammate I could be. I needed time.”
Doucette looked at some schools last year, including Johns Hopkins, where Janine Tucker had recently handed the reigns to Tim McCormack, who recruited Doucette to Northwestern and coached her for a year before leaving to become the head coach at Arizona State. But the whole thing felt too rushed.
“The timeline was pretty challenging being that late in the summer,” Doucette said. “I have to walk the walk. I tell girls I coach that they shouldn’t be making a decision to commit within a week or two of September 1, and I wasn’t in a place to do that myself.”
Instead, Doucette entered the workforce as a design engineer at a medical device company in Jacksonville, Fla.
“I did really rewarding work, helping two to three patients per day with their facial surgeries, people recovering from really traumatic things,” Doucette said. “If I was going to be away from the game, that was a rewarding way to do it.”
Still, Doucette learned a few things about herself. For starters, sitting at a desk all day was a lifestyle shift she wasn’t ready for. It did, however, open the door for a change in perspective.
“The first thing was surprisingly how much lacrosse can be a part of your life, but who you are as a person is so much bigger,” Doucette said. “A large portion of my [co-workers] had no idea I played lacrosse, let alone the level. I got to put myself forward as a person rather than as just an athlete, which was amazing.”
While the sport wasn’t — isn’t — everything, it’s still something, especially to Doucette.
“I missed it,” Doucette said. “I watched a lot. That fire was still there. Being able to take a gap year and come back ignited a fire.”
A nonchalant text from McCormack in the spring lit another spark. It was a simple, “How are you doing?” It unfolded from there, bringing another element of poetic justice to Doucette’s decision to attend Hopkins this year: The man who met her at clinics, recruited her and initially planned to develop her into an All-American goalie would get to be her coach for her last hurrah.
“It definitely hurt when he left my freshman year,” Doucette said. “That was definitely a missed [person]. I knew liked what he stood for. … It’s fitting that it ends the way it started.”
But both Doucette and McCormack have grown in the years since their Evanston days.
“I got [to] hear about his journey as a coach since I had only known him in an assistant fashion,” Doucette said. “As a head coach, he learned a lot, and I learned a lot. Those mindsets, the way he thinks about the game and the way I think about the game, line up.”
In Doucette, though, one of the first things McCormack noticed is that some things hadn’t changed at all.
“What I remember from her recruiting process was her confidence,” McCormack said. “She was a young kid. The way she handled herself on those visits [with adults] and moments with her confidence hasn’t wavered. It was as evident in her as a 17-year-old as it was in her as a 23-year-old.”
But now, that confidence is bolstered by two years as Northwestern’s starter in which she helped the Wildcats to a pair of Final Fours.
“She has a lot more experience,” McCormack said. “We’re getting the same person I remember and all the greatest qualities, her leadership, but we’re getting an enhanced version of that because she has been around a competitive program.”
And while Doucette’s primary gig over the last 365 days has been a desk job, she also hasn’t left lacrosse. She played for the U.S. women’s Sixes team at The World Games in Birmingham, Ala., last summer and also attended camp for the first women’s box team. The rust that could’ve accumulated in a 9-5 day job hasn’t materialized through the first weeks of fall ball.
“She’s definitely stayed sharp and has been seeing shots over the last year with some of her international stuff,” McCormack said. “She’s dabbled in box lacrosse. She’s really seeing the ball right now. It's a big difference when you can see that ball in an indoor venue [playing box] with whiteboards and come on a field and see a yellow ball in contrast. She is competing at a high level.”
Still, the starting job isn’t a given. Last year’s starter, Maggie Tydings (11.60 GAA, .383 SV%), returns with a year under her belt. Her backup, Morgan Giardina, who saw action in six games as a freshman, is also back. Heidi Rosely, a freshman out of New Jersey, is also pushing the unit.
“It’s a daily competition,” McCormack said. “The goalie position is similar to the rest of the field in our view. You’ve got to earn your spot every single day.”
The competition is making everyone better.
“We want to be the best group together, all of us,” McCormack said. “We want to compete amongst ourselves, but we also want to support each other and be the best group we can be. There has been a lot of camaraderie amongst the four of them to keep that in perspective.”
And with Doucette, there’s just plain perspective after an unexpected year away from the game.
“There is some power in the knowledge of what it means to enter the collegiate season as a 23-year-old,” Doucette said. “You never know when your last shift is going to be as an athlete. You never know when that is going to come. I didn’t know that year was going to be my last year.”
Now, Doucette knows it wasn’t — and she’s not taking it for granted.
“I get to leave everything on the table,” Doucette said. “I get to have every opportunity with my teammates. I’m excited for 8 a.m. practice. It’s amazing to be in the locker room. It’s the moments and vibes that I missed.”