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W&L women's lacrosse coach O'Brien exits for Amherst

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O'Brien

Brooke O’Brien steered the Washington and Lee women’s lacrosse team to 13 ODAC titles in her 15 seasons at the school. She is leaving for the Amherst job.

Brooke O’Brien is heading north.

O’Brien, who has been the coach of the Washington and Lee women’s lacrosse team for 15 seasons, is leaving the Generals to become the coach at her alma mater, Amherst College in Massachusetts.

W&L announced her resignation Monday.

O’Brien guided the Generals to 13 ODAC championships, as well as to the 2017 NCAA Division III final four.

She and her husband both grew up in Massachusetts, making the Amherst job too hard to resist.

“Hard to leave W&L, but the opportunity was one we couldn’t pass up,” O’Brien, 41, said in a phone interview.

“[Amherst is] about 30 minutes from the town I grew up in, where most of my family is. And it’s also about 90 minutes from where my husband’s family is. So instead of being eight to 10 hours from all of our family, we’ll now be 30-90 minutes from all of our family, which is a big difference, especially for our kids. And our parents are getting older.

“It’s definitely a family move. It’s not a lacrosse move.”

Amherst needed a new coach to replace Christine Paradis, who has retired. Paradis led Amherst to the NCAA crown in 2003, when O’Brien — then known by her maiden name of Diamond — was her star goalkeeper.

O’Brien earned ODAC coach of the year honors last month for the ninth time after steering W&L to its 12th straight ODAC title.

The Generals went 19-3 overall and 8-0 in the ODAC this year, sweeping the ODAC regular-season and tournament titles and tying the school record for overall wins. The team won two NCAA tournament games, advancing to the NCAA quarterfinals for only the third time in school history.

O’Brien said the program is in “a great place” for whomever replaces her.

“There’s three All-Americans returning, there’s a lot of really talented players and just wonderful people returning to our roster,” O’Brien said. “We’ve got a great incoming first-year class.”

O’Brien had a career mark of 221-60 at W&L, including an eye-popping 122-4 in ODAC play.

“I’m really proud of what we’ve built,” she said.

Her 2017 team made the program’s lone trip to the NCAA semifinals. The Generals lost to The College of New Jersey in double overtime, finishing 19-2.

O’Brien’s 2020 team might have made another trip to the final four, but the season was cut short in March of that year because of the coronavirus pandemic. That team was off to a 5-1 start, including wins over former NCAA champs Salisbury and Gettysburg, and had risen to No. 4 in the national coaches’ poll.

“Our 2020 team was a phenomenal team,” O’Brien said. “That’s probably the most talented team I’ve ever coached here.

“We very likely could have returned to the final four and possibly could’ve won it all.”

O’Brien succeeded Jan Hathorn, who stepped down after the 2007 season to become W&L’s athletic director. Hathorn won 222 games in 19 seasons as the Generals’ coach.

“I inherited a really strong program from Jan,” O’Brien said. “It was kind of just taking that next step in terms of intensifying the recruiting work and really just putting our sights on that highest level nationally.”

O’Brien becomes the second long-time W&L coach to leave the school this year. Neil Cunningham, who led the women’s soccer team for 21 years, stepped down in March to become the athletic director at St. Andrew’s School in Delaware.

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Mark Berman covers Virginia Tech men’s basketball and many other teams at the university. He also helps cover other colleges, including Radford, VMI, Roanoke, Washington and Lee and Ferrum.

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