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‘The sequel to a book’: Jenn Cook to lead the next generation of Princeton women’s lacrosse

Jenn Cook.png
Director of Athletics John Mack ’00 with women’s lacrosse head coach Jenn Cook during her introductory press conference.
Courtesy of @princetonathletics4339/youtube

Last year, Hall of Fame women’s lacrosse coach Chris Sailer retired after a 36-year career. She led the Tigers to 15 Ivy League titles and three national titles, including the program’s first national title, establishing herself as arguably the greatest lacrosse coach in program history. Sailer not only left the next Princeton lacrosse coach with big shoes to fill, but higher expectations and a more demanding crowd than the one that welcomed her 37 years ago. 

Luckily, Sailer’s replacement, Jenn Cook, is no stranger to the high standards of Princeton lacrosse.


Now in her 11th year at Princeton, Cook has spent the majority of her coaching career with the Tigers as an assistant and associate coach, helping lead Princeton to seven Ivy titles, five Ivy tournament wins, and eight NCAA qualifying appearances. 

Though her mentor is retiring, Cook told the Daily Princetonian that because of Sailer’s work at Princeton, the transition to the role of head coach has been seamless.

“If I’m being honest ... Chris did such an incredible job, so I really don’t feel like my role is much different,” Cook said.

However, only attributing her successful transition to Sailer would be doing a disservice to Cook’s own career.

Growing up, Cook’s parents encouraged her to pursue what she loved doing, and for her, that was lacrosse. Her passion for the sport extended beyond just playing. Following her parents — who both worked in education — Cook took an interest in educating others by coaching lacrosse during her senior year of high school.

“For me, I knew I had committed to play Division I lacrosse at University of North Carolina (UNC) [Chapel Hill], so for my senior externship, I chose to [shadow] Julie Weiss [a former lacrosse head coach],” Cook told the ‘Prince’. “I really wanted to know how coaches did practice plans, how they organized their office, and how they did film.”


After high school, Cook joined the Tar Heels, where at the time of college graduation, she had played the highest number of games in program history at 76 games. She won All-American honors on three separate occasions; of the three, she was named National MVP twice, and was also nominated for the Tewaaraton award for the most outstanding women’s lacrosse player twice. Despite her elite defensive talent on the field, it was Cook’s attention to detail and eye for scouting that caught the attention of her head coaches. 

“[During] my senior year, Jenny Levy, my head coach at UNC, pulled me aside in January and said: I really think you should coach ... you’re like having a coach on the field,” Cook remembers        

Cook decided to attend Drexel University to study sports management and coaching. After 10 months, Cook returned to UNC to start her first official coaching gig. 

It didn’t take long for Cook’s career to start flourishing. Players that she coached brought talent to new levels on the field. Players were awarded the 2009 national goalie and defender of the year, and later Tewaaraton finalist in 2010. Working primarily on defensive recruitment at Chapel Hill, Cook quickly made the Tarheels one of the most formidable defensive teams in the country. By the time she had reached her final season at UNC after four years, the Tarheels were ranked third nationally on goals allowed per game. 

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At Princeton, Cook credits her lengthy stay to the values of Princeton athletics.

“I think the difference between our [team], and probably my experience [as a player] is that much more balanced approach,” Cook explained. “That’s probably why I’ve stayed at Princeton for so long, because our players are [going to] go on and do incredible things that are not just lacrosse related.”

But for Cook, there was more to Princeton than its emphasis on education through athletics. Sailer’s trust in her as a coach, from working on admissions and recruiting, to allowing Cook to conduct her own team meetings, made her believe in the collaborative effort of Princeton’s lacrosse program. 

“I think Chris Sailer, in particular, knew in order to keep me around, she had to keep me busy. So she constantly delegated tasks that kept me busy, and I was never bored.”

Sailer’s collaboration gave Cook the leeway to implement her own cultural practices before she was appointed head coach. Now, as head coach, she believes that her time here won’t be too different from Sailer’s.

“It's like the sequel to a book. So there are threads that are definitely the same and traditions that are never going to go away within our program. But, of course, my approach is different than Chris’s foundationally,” Cook explained. “What Chris and I always appreciated about each other in coaching was our ability to collaborate and have different ideas and let each other lead with our strengths.”

Compared to Sailer, Cook has emphasized collaboration between the coaching staff and the players. In practice, for example, Cook frequently asks her players for their thoughts on team drills and splits her team up into smaller groups called Tiger Families, which serve as a support system for every player on the team. Cook strives to prioritize the well-being of her students first before the game of lacrosse. 

“I very much prefer to let the players drive the bus. I think it’s really about them and their experience, and I’m here to help develop them as lacrosse players, and more importantly, as people.”                    

As for her coaching? The defensive-minded coach plans to experiment until she figures out the best system. In the meantime, the goal in the locker room has always been clear: to win championships.

“Our whole staff is super competitive, and our players are equally as competitive. And that’s what’s so fun about it. For us, it really is about being the best version that we can be of ourselves and as a team, so keeping that level of play up is massive.”  

Cook’s goal as head coach is more than just developing the greatest lacrosse players in the country. To her, developing the next generation of leaders is just as important. 

“I think the biggest goal for any coach who really truly is a mentor is having players look back on their experience and knowing that they were supported in every facet,” Cook said. “I think it’s so cool to see the growth from 17 through 22 in the strides that players make, not only as players but as people.” 

Brian Mhando is an associate editor for the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’

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