Celebrated lacrosse coach emphasizes sisterhood, strength

If you watch any of the women’s lacrosse roster videos, in which the player states their name, position and reason for coming to Vassar, there are two common themes. The first—for the great academics. And the second—to play for Judy Finerghty.

Finerghty has been the head women’s lacrosse coach at Vassar for 22 years. A four-time Liberty League Coach of the Year, Finerghty has over 150 victories under her belt. For 16 years of her tenure here at Vassar, Finerghty served as the head coach of the field hockey team as well. Finerghty was also a dual-sport athlete as an undergraduate at Guilford College in Maryland, where she played lacrosse and basketball.

Finerghty has been indispensable in the Athletics Department during her time as a head coach. She has been here long enough to witness countless changes and improvements to the athletic culture at Vassar. When she first started working here, there were hardly any full-time coaches, and the head women’s lacrosse job was paired with the head field hockey job.

However, the past two decades have proved to be extremely beneficial for athletics programs at Vassar. Finerghty applauded the work of Andy Jennings, who was the athletic director from 1990 to 2004. His push to improve the facilities, hire more full-time staff and add a greater variety of sports drove the improvement of the overall varsity athletic culture.

“We are definitely a much bigger and much more legitimate Division III program than we were when I first got here,” Finerghty said. “We really had no athletic tradition or very little athletic tradition and I think that’s changed or has been much improved at this point.”

Finerghty coached both field hockey and lacrosse for 16 years, and by the end, she was one of the few coaches left in Division III coaching two sports. Eventually, as the popularity of both sports blossomed, it would prove too difficult for Finerghty juggle all demands and recruit year-round. She had a tough decision to make.

“When I decided to coach lacrosse over field hockey, it was a hard decision in some ways because I loved both sports,” Finerghty said. “I think the thing that really did it for me was the innovations in lacrosse, the technology. It was just a really exciting time to be a part of the sport.”

Being a part of the growth of the sport was exciting for Finerghty. The game had changed tremendously since she started.

“When I played in college and when I first got here we didn’t have sideline or endline boundaries on the field,” Finerghty said. “We didn’t have restraining lines, and now we have all kinds of lines, we have possession clocks and we have all kinds of stick technology that makes the skills that the players can perform so much better.”

Finerghty’s love for lacrosse and her team translates directly into the high-energy, upbeat attitude she brings to every practice and game. Finerghty explained that she tries to make practices as enjoyable as possible: “I try to keep everybody up and make it fun and make everything team-oriented so that everybody feels connected to each other.”

The way she carries herself in practice and the energy that she brings each and every day resonates with everyone she coaches. Sophomore midfielder Adele MacEwen commented on how Finerghty is able to make her and her teammates push themselves every practice and every game. “Judy radiates pure joy. You can be playing the best or the worst game of your life and she’s just happy to be with you,” MacEwen said. “When someone loves and appreciates you at your best and your worst it’s pretty special and you want to fight your hardest for them.”

Not only do current players find Finerghty’s coaching style inspiring, but alumnae also carry lessons from Finerghty with them to this day. Ashley Rey ’09, a captain of both field hockey and lacrosse, explained how lucky she was to have Finerghty as a coach for two seasons out of the year. When asked what it was like to play for Coach Finerghty, Rey put it simply: “Life-changing, inspiring, strengthening.”

For Rey, there was a overall positive impression that Finerghty left on her. “Playing for Judy taught me how to push myself to be my best—on and off the field—without taking the fun out of the sports,” Rey said. “Judy is the kind of leader you want guiding you through the tough and the good. Playing for her was pure joy, with a little soreness on the side.”

Finerghty has been an incredibly successful coach at Vassar in every sense possible. She not only finds success in her ability to help the team win games, but also has fostered a close-knit and supportive atmosphere within her team. The motto of the women’s lacrosse team is “Always take care of your girl,” a philosophy that Finerghty preaches day in and day out, whether it is on or off the field.

Although she is not sure where the motto came from, Finerghty is certain that it is one of the most important lessons that she wants her team to follow. “I think people play sports for more than just the satisfaction of going out and performing individually at their best,” Finerghty said. “They play sports because of the connections they make with other people,”

Players don’t necessarily remember all the wins and the losses, but rather the broader experience. “What [my players] remember is the time they spent with their teammates and how important that was,” Finerghty expressed. “You can pass somebody a ball and if there’s no feeling between those two people, then somebody just scores goals and somebody has the assist. When you combine what you’re doing with another person, that feeling gets so amplified.”

The mutual connection between players is not only reflected on the field, but also within the network of alumnae. This motto of always watching out for your teammates, and also watching out for those who came before you and will come after you, is something that Finerghty’s players can carry with them beyond their four years they spend at Vassar.

“That spider web of connections is so important. It just makes the whole experience richer, more rewarding and gives everybody a sense of belonging to the program. I feel that is absolutely indispensable and is probably the most important aspect of our program,” Finerghty noted.

The words of Finergthy’s players reveal that she has made a profound impact during her time as a head coach. The concept of creating a community and the philosophy of support and teamwork motto are ideas that Rey says she still thinks about to this day. “[Coach] taught me commitment, putting others before myself, and the beauty of ‘we.’ The number one emphasis was to ‘always take care of your girl,’ on and off the field, and to this day I try to live by that standard,” Rey noted. “I use what she taught me in my daily life, with friends, family and coworkers. I can honestly, and without hesitation, say that my time with Jude made me a better person.”

What makes Coach Finerghty special is the lasting mark she leaves on everyone she crosses paths with. The lasting relationships she forms with her players explain why Finerghty will undoubtedly go down as one of the most loved and respected coaches in Vassar’s history. As Rey put it, “Jude isn’t just a sports coach but a life coach. Even now, off the team for almost 10 years, I consider her one of the most influential people in my life.”

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