Jessica Wilkinson’s tenure as head of the Women’s Lacrosse program has come to an end.
Wilkinson announced she has walked away from the head coaching job in a press release Tuesday afternoon via Marist Athletics.
“Marist has been an integral part of my life both professionally and personally, and the decision to step away from the lacrosse program is a direct result from feeling what is best for myself and my family currently,” Wilkinson said in the press release.
While the departure is surprising due to Wilkinson’s stay in the program for over a decade, the Red Foxes have been on somewhat of a steady decline in program success over the past three seasons.
The decision comes in the aftermath of a disappointing season, finishing last in the MAAC in the 2023 season with a 2-6 conference record and 4-12 overall record. The team finished its season on three straight losses and missed the playoffs for the second year in a row. Overall, the program hasn’t had a winning record since 2018, which is unfamiliar territory for Marist, who hadn’t finished below fifth in the MAAC with Wilkinson since before 2020.
While she ended her Marist coaching career on a lower note, Wilkinson’s tenure certainly had several highs. She was MAAC coach of the year in 2013, 2014 and 2018, clinching regular season titles in two of those years. Wilkinson has coached several talented players, most notably Hailey Wagner, who was a nominee for NCAA Woman of the Year in 2019.
She also produced the MAAC rookie of the year in 2014, Abigail Witczak, who in 2017 was one of Wilkinson’s two MAAC goalkeepers of the year along with Delaney Galvin in 2018. Allison Gionta was Wilkinson’s first offensive player of the year in 2016.
While Wilkinson has led many of her squads to regular season success, the tallest task was never conquered: winning a MAAC championship, something the coach only saw in 2008 as a player. With her first coach of the year nod in 2013, Wilkinson made her first MAAC finals appearance as head coach after a 7-6 overtime thriller against MAAC lacrosse dynasty Fairfield. Playing against a top-seeded Canisius, her squad fell one goal short of winning the conference outright.
The following year showed that Wilkinson’s squad was still hungry for a title. The Red Foxes entered MAAC play in 2014 on a three-game win streak and won all but their last MAAC game against Monmouth by one goal. Entering as the No. 1 seed, Marist exacted revenge on Monmouth in the semi-finals for a second straight finals appearance – only to lose once again to Canisius on their path to six championships in the decade.
It would also be the last time the Red Foxes would have a chance to play in the championship.
Wilkinson’s last two years at the helm of the program have been a stark difference compared to her team’s in the past decade. After the 2021 shortened season, Marist won just one game in the conference in 2022 and finished the year with a 3-13 record overall. It was the first time Marist missed the playoffs since 2011, Wilkinson’s first year as head coach.
Polled 8th out of 9th in the MAAC preseason Coaches’ poll, Marist showed stagnant improvement in the standings the following 2023 season. With a younger roster in 2022, and First-Team All-MAAC attacker Kerri Gutenberger leading the offense in 2023, Marist only picked up two in-conference wins and finished last in the MAAC standings.
Wilkinson has moved on, but her impact both as a player and coach of the Marist women’s lacrosse program has made a significant mark. She leaves with a 90-114 record overall and a 45-43 record in conference, making her the winningest coach in the program’s history, as well as the longest-tenured. The coach gave the program its best regular season to date and a decade of winning records with opportunities to compete in the MAAC tournament.
Marist now faces considerable uncertainty in the program. While Canisius and Fairfield, by far the two most dominant MAAC teams, continue to trade runs of championships, Marist women’s lacrosse now has to figure out how to get back to a championship. The last team to win a MAAC championship that wasn’t Fairfield or Canisius was Marist in 2010–the year before Wilkinson took over the program.
With a bitter outcome from the last two seasons, Marist now starts fresh with a new head coaching vacancy for the first time since 2010. A national search has already begun to fill the position, Marist Athletics stated in the press release. The program will undergo its most significant transition in thirteen years.
Edited By Luke Sassa
Photo from Marist Athletics