Q & A With Navy Women's Lacrosse Coach Cindy Timchal
Cindy Timchal knows a thing or two about success. As Navy’s fifth-year women’s lacrosse coach, Timchal, who started the Division I program at the school in 2006, has the Midshipmen on course to win their third consecutive Patriot League title and make their third straight NCAA tournament. Before coming to Navy, Timchal guided Maryland to eight national titles, including seven in a row (1995-2001). Before that, she started the program at Northwestern, now a national powerhouse. With 407 career victories as of April 12, Timchal, who never played the sport before college, is the all-time career leader in wins in men’s or women’s lacrosse. Writer Gary Lambrecht recently chatted with her.
Q: Have you paused to appreciate the meaning of 400 victories?
A: No. I mean, it’s gratifying. But my first thought is the 105 losses. Having said that, I realize how much loss is a part of growth. Sometimes, we have to show we’re a better team after a loss. What did we learn from that loss?
Q: Is there a loss that still carries a special sting?
A: One that stays with me is losing the national championship game [at Maryland in 1994] at home to Princeton, two years after we’d won it all for the first time. We lost, 10-7. They got the lead, slowed the ball down and we panicked. We’d beaten Loyola in the semifinals 19-4, and we thought we were invincible. You can’t be confused by a false sense of confidence. We were out-coached. We were not prepared.
Q: Was your decision to leave Maryland in 2006 driven more by the challenge of starting a new program, as you did at Northwestern, or was the challenge of staying on top after winning eight NCAA titles not as rewarding?
A: I’ve always admired the Naval Academy. I love the thought of training people who are willing to suffer and sacrifice for their country. I was embracing the excellence they were achieving on the field in other sports like football and women’s soccer. I certainly embraced the whole idea of being the first service academy to start women’s lacrosse. I wanted to be the first.
Q: What career path might you have chosen if not for coaching?
A: Originally, I was looking to study marine biology at the University of Miami, but I ended up at West Chester. I realized the only option was to be a teacher. I taught elementary, middle- and high-school students to get my certification. But when I got out of school, I was offered some teaching jobs in some rough parts of the Philly suburbs. I wasn’t interested. I chose Unionville [High], because they wanted me to coach JV field hockey, basketball and lacrosse. I became a substitute teacher. But I knew coaching was the answer for me.
Q: How do you grow up in a lacrosse hotbed such as Haverford, PA, and not discover the sport until college?
A: I was a tennis player and ran track in high school [in the spring]. When I got to college, all of my friends were playing lacrosse. We had four teams: a freshman A & B team, a junior varsity and a varsity. I was basically the last one in on the fourth team. I played to my strengths. I used my speed as I learned the game. I kept working my way up to ultimately being a starter and a varsity captain my senior year.
Q: Could you tell me about your late parents?
A: They were a huge part of my support system. My dad, Daniel, was an electrician for Gulf Oil. He was an Army-Air Force radioman in the South Pacific in World War II for three years. He got malaria, so one thing we would never do was go camping. But he would do things like ride his bike from Philly to Atlantic City. Dad was 25 when he married Mom [Anna], who was 32. They got married in 1945. Mom worked for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in Philly and gave birth to me when she was 40. I have a storage chest at my house with a whole bunch of love letters from Danny.
Q: Sounds like two interesting people.
A: They came from very different backgrounds. Most of the men on my father’s side of the family were Russian and they were almost all alcoholics. My Mom’s side was all English puritans. In some ways, that probably saved my Dad, because my parents never drank. They went to church every Sunday. Dad developed a lot of health problems—cancer, heart attacks. He died in 2002. Mom had nothing wrong … ever. She never even went to see a doctor until near the end. She was 93 when she died in 2006.
Q: What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned as a coach?
A: Everything comes down to preparation. Expect nothing and be ready for anything. As a coach, you have to learn to let go. If you give players the freedom to take a risk, they’ll play a lot tougher, because they’re not afraid to make a mistake. When you empower your athletes, they will do anything for you.