Three weeks ago, Maddie Martin became the youngest head coach in NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse.
At age 23, she may be the youngest head coach in any sport in Division I.
The 2017 Fauquier High graduate never anticipated a string of events over the summer and fall that’s put her in charge of Gardner-Webb University (N.C.) Runnin’ Bulldogs program as interim coach.
“I am grateful to her for stepping up to lead this team,” said Gardner-Webb athletic director Andrew Goodrich. “Coach Martin demonstrated incredible leadership ability and character during her playing and coaching career, most especially during this fall semester while she led our lacrosse program.”
Martin’s ascension to the program’s top slot -- announced on Oct. 28– followed a convoluted path. One year after her decorated Gardner-Webb career ended last spring, she is stepping up after a slew of coaching departures left her as the school’s most logical choice.
Martin completed her five-year career as an all-Big South Conference defender last season and expected to serve as a graduate assistant coach while pursuing her master’s degree in public administration at the school in Boiling Springs, N.C.
She played in 52 games and started 28 and finished as Gardner-Webb’s all-time leader in draw controls (268) and fourth in career ground balls (106) and caused turnovers (52).
She had another year of eligibility remaining due to the NCAA’s COVID-19 waiver permitting an extra season of competition granted for athletes competing at that time. Martin decided her body had absorbed enough of a beating and was content to continue her studies.
Jessie Aguglia, head coach at the time, asked Martin last spring if she would be willing to join the coaching staff to work with the defense in general and specifically draw control. Martin agreed, planning to continue her studies while serving as assistant coach. Aguglia and chief assistant Leigh Anne Olsen would handle the more complex issues of conditioning, practice planning, game preparation and recruiting.
Then came the first salvo, with Aguglia announcing on Aug. 19 she would be departing to take the head position at conference rival Wofford. Ten days later, Olsen said she would be going on maternity leave as her due date approached.
Those decisions left Martin as the lone remaining coach to handle 34 young women, many of whom she had played with just months earlier.
“A mix of emotion,” Martin said of her initial reaction, saying she had a similar experience in 2018 when her then coach left just prior to the start of the semester.
Martin, who was an all-state Falcon field hockey player and first-team all-district lacrosse athlete, had to handle the fall preseason workouts and scrimmages. Then, the final bombshell hit. Olsen told the school she had decided to follow Aguglia to Wofford to leave Martin on an island.
Martin said Aguglia and others advised her to abandon ship “as things were going to get a little messy, and that I don’t have to stay around and clean up.”
Her loyalty to the program and to her former teammates would not allow her to depart.
“I knew I couldn’t leave the team,” Martin said, pointing to her close relationships with her former teammates. “A good group of alums, including myself, had poured their hearts and souls into this program, and I didn’t want that ruined.”
At one of the team’s fall scrimmages, Martin spied fellow 2022 graduate Lauren Deaver, and “a lightbulb went on,” Martin recalled. She approached Deaver if she was willing to join her on the staff, and the team now had an offensive-minded coach on board. Deaver, a Falls Church native, scored 62 goals and handed out 58 assists in her career.
“The two of us complement one another,” Martin said gratefully.
Martin said Sept. 1 was the first time coaches could contact potential Class of 2024 recruits, and all she had was a list of players assembled by the previous staff. “I was left with no help besides a list of names,” Martin lamented. “So I learned through trial and error. I haven’t seen anyone in person, only on film.
“The whole recruiting thing was the hardest to learn, and I’m still learning,” she stressed, adding all the recent Class of 2023 signees had made commitment to the previous staff. Deaver and she were to attend their first off campus recruiting trip last week to a major tournament in Dallas.
“But that is just a walk in the park compared to budget, compliance and all the emails,” Martin said of a head coach’s duties.
While Martin was handling the day-to-day duties, the school’s athletic administration was looking for a new full-time coach for Aguglia. Outgoing athletic director Chuck Burch could not find a coach before he retired at the end of September.
New AD Andrew Goodrich also came up empty because most viable candidates were under contract or had made commitments elsewhere. Goodrich attended some practices to lend support and held multiple meetings with the team’s captains, finding a growing appreciation for Martin’s hard work.
“That was the aha moment,” Goodrich told U.S. Lacrosse magazine, and he offered Martin the job as interim head coach.
To help Martin and Deaver, Goodrich has hired Jane Tucker, the former 28-year veteran coach at John Hopkins as executive coach and consultant to provide input and guidance.
“The girls and myself know this year isn’t going to be easy, but we’ve accepted the challenge and are ready to come out swinging this spring,” Martin said.