How Did First-Year Head Coaches Fare in 2021?

(Photo Courtesy of Johns Hopkins Athletics)

The 2021 season was certainly not a normal one. While this were pretty normal by Memorial Day, restrictions and pauses added challenges that nobody had ever had to deal with before. Add in the fact of being a first-year head coach and that can certainly make things even more difficult.

During the 2021 season, three programs (Holy Cross, Johns Hopkins, VMI) were led by first-year head coaches. Hampton and Cornell did not play a season this past spring.

Here is a look at how the three first-year DI head coaches fared during the 2021 season.

J.L. Reppert: Holy Cross

Record: 2-4 (1-3 Patriot League)

Wins: Sacred Heart, Lafayette

Taking over a college lacrosse program and being able to build that bond with your team and instill your culture is hard enough. Now add getting hired 36 days before the start of the season. That’s the exact situation Reppert was put in, being hired on January 22nd with the Crusaders’ first contest of the season taking place on February 27th. And to add to the unusualness of the situation, the Patriot League opted for a modified schedule where they split the conference into divisions and each team played a six-game conference schedule. Holy Cross didn’t even complete their entire schedule as the university cancelled their season with two games left due to a “violation of team standards and of the College’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols.”

But despite all that made 2021 nothing like a normal season, there were still some high points that can be taken from Reppert’s first year in Worcester. Reppert recorded his first win as a head coach in the Crusaders’ season-opener, defeating Sacred Heart 11-10. In their last game of the season, Holy Cross beat Lafayette 10-7. And while their losses came by an average of 7.5 goals, they took Colgate to overtime in the snow during their second contest of the year.

Peter Milliman: Johns Hopkins

Record: 4-9 (2-8 Big Ten)

Wins: Michigan, Penn State (Twice), Rutgers

After putting Cornell back on track, which included leading them to an NCAA Quarterfinals appearance in 2018, Peter Milliman was handed the keys to the ship at Johns Hopkins and tasked with doing much of the season. And while his first year at Homewood was one without a fall ball and saw the Blue Jays play a Big Ten-only schedule, there were certainly some successes – especially late in the season.

Milliman’s first win at Hopkins came in week two when the Blue Jays beat Michigan 14-7. The Blue Jays got trounced by rival Maryland the next week before defeating Penn State 13-6 in their fourth game of the season. The Blue Jays followed that win with an eight-game losing streak that included close losses to Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State, and a one-goal loss to Maryland. However, the Blue Jays picked up some serious momentum following that loss and made a significant amount of noise in the Big Ten Tournament when they defeated Penn State 15-7 in the first round and Rutgers 12-10 in the second round. They then took Maryland to the wire again in the conference title game, losing 12-10.

James Purpura: VMI

Record: 1-10 (0-6 SoCon)

Wins: Lafayette

2021 marked Purpura’s return to Lexington after leaving VMI following the 2018 season to take the head coach job at DIII Arcadia where he helped lead a turnaround of the program. Now back at VMI, Purpura looks to replicate that success with the Keydets. The task is challenging and year one was not

VMI was hit with some Covid issues early in the season, having to push back the start of their season and cancel or postpone multiple games. Puprua recorded his first win as the head coach at VMI in their first game of the season with the Keydets beating Lafayette 13-12 on the road. VMI didn’t earn a single win the rest of the season, but they hung with conference opponent Bellarmine in their two contest against the Knights, losing 12-9 in their first meeting and 11-9 in their second. The Keydets ended the season with a three-goal, 14-11, loss at home against Cleveland State

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