PEABODY — The search for a new varsity girls lacrosse coach at Bishop Fenwick ended last week when athletic director Dave Woods chose Joel McKenna to guide the Crusaders.
“Joel came very highly recommended,” Woods said. “The timing was right. He’s the head wrestling coach at Wilmington. He was the head girls lacrosse coach at Tewksbury and took some time off. He held a team meeting last week and it was a long meeting. They asked a lot of questions, which is a good sign.”
McKenna’s excited to take over the program.
“Fenwick’s a place that has a first-class reputation,” McKenna said. “I’m talking academically, with great academic achievements. I talked to my wife about getting back into coaching lacrosse and we both agreed it was a good time. I reached out to Coach Woods about the opening and we had a chance to talk about it.
“It’s really, really exciting. The leadership qualities, the family atmosphere at Fenwick, those are things that have been very important for me. It seems like it’s going to be a great fit for me and for the people that are always supporting me as well.”
McKenna, who resides in Billerica and teaches at Saugus Middle School, played baseball and wrestled at Wilmington High. He attended UMass Amherst, where he was introduced to lacrosse by a group of friends who played on the school’s club team. It didn’t take him long to find a love for the sport.
“That’s how I got introduced to the sport,” McKenna said. “My roommates were from the New York area. They asked me to come out and play with them and that’s how I got my first exposure to the sport.”
McKenna coached the girls lacrosse team at Tewksbury High from 2006-2015. Under his guidance, Tewksbury qualified for the state tournament in seven seasons.
“The biggest highlight for me was having the chance to build something from the ground up,” McKenna said. “We had record numbers of young ladies joining the program at different points. Those were some of the big highlights. We had many young ladies who were Merrimack Valley Conference MVPs’, MVC Players of the Year. We had young ladies who went on to play at the Division II and Division III levels. We had a lot of individual success stories as well.”
McKenna’s currently the head wrestling coach at Wilmington. He becomes the fourth girls lacrosse coach at Fenwick in as many years.
Karen Guillemette took over the program when it started in 2007 and stepped down after the 2016 season. Guillemette compiled a 137-47 record in her 10 seasons at the helm of the Crusaders.
“One of the first things I did after Coach Woods offered me the position was I took the chance to reach out to Karen,” McKenna said. “I got to pick her brain about what some of the keys to her success at Fenwick were.”
Bridget Dullea coached the team in 2017 and Lindsey Congdon held the role in 2018. The Crusaders were 7-11 last season.
“It’s tough for the kids and the program,” Woods said. “Karen was here for 10 years. With 10 years we had one coach and in the last four we’ve had four coaches. The consistency is huge for the girls, just to know what to expect year in and year out. We’ve had success in the past. Last year we struggled a little bit at 7-11. I think Joel will restore some consistency and it’s always nice to have consistency with your coaches.”
McKenna said building stability is one of his priorities.
“To my understanding they’ve gone through a few different coaches in the recent past,” McKenna said. “Me and Coach Woods talked about building stability there, that’s important.”
As for his coaching style, hard work’s at the forefront of what McKenna expects from his players. He’s also hoping to build camaraderie through a family-vibe among the team.
“Hard work comes first, more than anything else,” McKenna said. “It’s at the center of everything you do. Setting high expectations for yourself as an individual and with your teammates. I stress the family-type of atmosphere with a team. I want to create an atmosphere where kids have high expectations for themselves and are driven student-athletes. If you’re working hard and you set high expectations for yourself, I think everything else follows through.”