Above a devastated Scouts field hockey huddle at Glenbard West’s Memorial Field in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, the scoreboard lights illuminated VISITOR-1, HOME-2. Following their loss to the Hilltoppers, the Lake Forest girls field hockey team expected a brutal practice after ceding their halftime lead to a team in which, according to them, they had no business losing to.
The next day, the defending state champions braced for a brutal practice with their running shoes on and water bottles in hand. Instead, Coach Catherine Catanzaro had other plans. The leader walked in with a smile and a loud, booming message: “It’s a new day! Let’s move on from yesterday.”
She quickly wiped the angry, worried looks off the girls faces and instead gave them grace. The cheerful and upbeat educator, who teaches in the Wellness department at Lake Forest, announced that the day’s practice plan featured a number of team-building events to improve team morale and look forward to the long season that loomed ahead.
With the positive news that was given, however, also came the decision from Coach Catanzaro that the playing rotation would be altered. The Scouts’ regular starters weren’t working hard enough to impress their coach with increasingly high expectations. Turns out that exercise worked; the Scouts didn’t lose another in-state game for the rest of the year.
These first ten minutes of that fateful September practice sum up Coach Catanzaro perfectly: a kind and jubilant head coach who demands the most out of her field hockey and lacrosse athletes, but isn’t afraid to let them know exactly where it is they stand.
The now long-tenured Coach Catanzaro began her career way back in Texas at the Episcopal School in Dallas. Picking up bits and pieces of information along the way, Catanzaro then traveled to North Carolina to coach field hockey at Catawba College because her husband’s career as a football coach prompted the move. These experiences, however, have only helped her to build a blueprint on the best way to coach. As a football and former lacrosse coach, Catanzaro’s husband has always been there to bounce questions off of and discuss coaching. Coach Catanzaro says she can prepare her players for that next level because of his experiences, “It allows me to know what it takes to get there, and I prepare them as such.” After spending time on the east coast near her hometown of Virginia Beach, Catanzaro took over at Warren Township High School where she got her first taste of North Suburban Conference action before transitioning to Lake Forest. Catanzaro took the transition in stride and she intends to keep it going as the girls lacrosse team finishes up their season.
As the lacrosse season finishes up, Catanzaro said their goal is to make the semifinals: “anything can happen then. Our goal is top four and once we get there we’ll have some fun.” Field hockey, on the other hand, was a different story: “We were hunting.”
Confused, I posited, “And what do you mean by that?”
“If we wanted it, we were going to go and get it. Our goal was to be state champions, and we went hunting for that.”
Defending a title in any sport is extremely difficult, but to come in and defend in your first season is even more challenging. Catanzaro said her experience as the JV coach at Lake Forest High School helped her continue the culture that was established as a program. She knew her players and the trusting relationships she had developed with all of them helped her succeed in her first year. Junior Sarah Considine, who has had the luxury of competing for Catanzaro in lacrosse and field hockey throughout her high school career, has resounding applause for her coach. “When she gets serious, we all know how to buckle down. She turns our focus right around if we ever get off task, and we respect her more than anything by now.”
Her strict persona clearly rubs off well on her teams and she has a miraculous ability to get them to buy in and appreciate her style. Catanzaro said her loud voice helps prepare her teams for that big game; she says they’ve already weathered the storm. But she doesn’t change her ideals by game. “Our level of expectation doesn’t change. I’ll still demand the best no matter who we’re playing.”
Away from the field, Catanzaro is a terrific person, a mother, wife, and mentor, not just a terrific coach. Her players clearly love her and display the amount of respect she has garnered throughout the years. Junior lacrosse defender Kirsten Larson touched on her coach’s personality a bit more, “Something that makes her different is that she truly cares about each and everyone of her players. I could talk to her about anything and I know I’d be getting the best advice. She’s there for me and everyone else.” This magnetic personality is unique for such a stingy coach, insofar that Catanzaro exemplifies the best of both worlds. Senior field hockey player Elisabeth Domittner agreed: “Her tough love is a great thing, she has rough skin on the outside, but she’s a softie on the inside and loves us.”
This mutual admiration between players and coaches was exhibited prior to the state championship game. She doesn’t focus her attention to any one individual, but instead unites them as a whole. Before the big game, Catanzaro gave each player a match, and transferred the light around the circle. After the room was illuminated by the unified team, she remarked how bright this group can be. She knew they weren’t losing that one.
This rare combination between stern and sympathy is what makes her so special, and in turn, The Forest Scout 2018 Coach of the Year. Never afraid to let her players hear it and strengthen their motivation by challenging them–but also spreading her kindness and obvious appreciation for every athlete–she embodies all of what interscholastic athletics is designed to represent. For me, it all comes back to her unexpected practice after that surprising September loss.