STONINGTON — Jeff Medeiros’ ascension to state championship coach for the Stonington High girls’ lacrosse team started in 2001 with humble beginnings.
Stonington prepared to enter its first season as a varsity program, playing a limited schedule against junior varsity and varsity teams. The Bears, however, were in limbo as the coach who guided the school’s club team in 2000 decided not to return.
The team only had 14 players signed up. Without a coach, the program’s varsity launch was in jeopardy of being delayed. Medeiros, who was an assistant boys’ track coach for the Bears, including state championship teams in 1998 and 1999, stepped forward and expressed an interest to coach girls’ lacrosse. The season went on as scheduled.
“My sister was on the team and I didn’t want her season to be scrapped because they didn’t have a coach,” Medeiros said. “Now keep in mind we only had 14 girls. Plus, Stonington didn’t have lacrosse in the late ’80s when I was in school. I never played the game and did not know a thing about it.”
Medeiros took a crash course on girls’ lacrosse, attending clinics, watching film and picking the brains of experienced lacrosse minds. He learned on the job.
It’s not an uncommon trek for many Connecticut coaches who attended school before lacrosse was a CIAC sport. Boys’ lacrosse began at some Fairfield County schools in the mid-’80s, upstate after that and in eastern Connecticut around 2000. Girls’ lacrosse came even later, as the CIAC only started state championships in 2004.
Medeiros, who finished third in the Class M pole vault as a Stonington track senior in 1989, never allowed the fact he didn’t play lacrosse slow him down. The state’s most decorated lacrosse coach, Darien boys’ coach Jeff Bramier, attended school in the ’70s before lacrosse was offered.
“At first the girls and I learned together,” Medeiros said. “Pretty quickly I understood the game and felt I could coach it. There are many cases in sports of successful coaches who were not superb athletes in their sport.”
And now in his 14th season, Medeiros is a CIAC Class S state title coach thanks to the Bears’ 13-10 victory over Granby in the championship game Saturday. He joins a select and elite group of recent Stonington High coaches who have won CIAC state titles.
Paulla Solar, Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, won her second state title with the 2006 girls’ basketball team. George Crouse, a National Scholastic Girls’ Tennis Coach of the Year finalist, won a Class S girls’ tennis state title in 2013. Jenna Tucchio, the 2013 Class S Coach of the Year, won a field hockey state title in the fall.
Now Medeiros completes the Stonington championship Mt. Rushmore.
His rise from lacrosse novice to championship coach is a testament to his drive, will to win and love for this job. A personal trainer who has run local fitness clubs, Medeiros sacrificed time from his business to coach the team. And he wasn’t even drawing a high school coaching stipend. He was a volunteer coach for his first five seasons at Stonington and first got paid in 2006.
“I did it because I loved coaching and loved seeing the girls’ progress and the program develop,” Medeiros said. “Stonington offers a lot of spring sports and the athletic budget didn’t allow for money for me early on. I had to direct a lot of fund-raising in the early years and even after that. We finally got money for an assistant coach a few years ago, and this is actually the first year that girls’ lacrosse was fully funded.”
Stonington posted records of 5-5, 3-12, and 3-13 in Medeiros’ first three seasons before embarking on three straight state tourney berths (8-9-1 in 2004, 11-8 in 2005 and 11-8 in 2006).
The Mystic-Stonington youth feeder program started to develop more players with stick skills and scoring ability. In 2007, Tina Canavan, the current assistant coach, was an All-State player on Stonington’s 15-4 squad in 2007 that reached the Class S semifinals.
Additional All-State talent came into the program in recent seasons after a three-year stretch hovering around the .500 mark (2008 to 2010).
Throughout his tenure, Medeiros has worn his emotions on his sleeve and at times has not taken losing gracefully. He has mellowed a bit with age and fatherhood, but his players know he is not one to sugar-coat his feelings and most appreciate his communication skills.
“Jeff is very encouraging and at the same time he is blatantly honest about how you are playing,” Stonington All-State attacker Emily Cassata said.
“He tells you like it is and is a great motivator. You have to respect him because he stuck around during tough times and built up this program.”
Dan Rahl, former Stonington lacrosse assistant and current Wheeler head coach, agrees.
“Jeff wants to win — every game,” Rahl said. “No matter if his team is over-matched or under-matched. He’s a straight-shooter and is brutally hones,t which is respectable because it’s all for the betterment of the team.”
Rahl said Medeiros handled this talented group of Bears beautifully, building up their confidence early and setting high goals. Though Stonington (21-1) overpowered most ECC competition, Medeiros did his best coaching in the Class S tournament, employing defensive matchups to limit the high scorers from Immaculate in the quarterfinals, Old Lyme in the semifinals and Granby in the finals.
“He scouts. He strategizes,” Rahl said. “He plays match-ups and really prepares his team well for each game. He’s been pushing all the right buttons this year and has been getting the most out of each player.”
Medeiros goes the extra mile on many fronts. He optionally compiles complete statistics for each player on MaxPreps.com and writes a Player of the Game tribute for each game. It’s not part of his job description, but he believes it adds a special touch.
“Jeff is very proud of the program and rightfully so because it’s his program and he sacrifices a lot year after year for the team,” Rahl said. “He’s gone from being the big brother just supervising his sister’s new lacrosse club 14 years ago to coaching in and winning the state championship game.”