From player to coach: Islander wins Coach of the Year in first season
November 24, 2008 · Updated 5:27 PM
When Megan Elston was a sophomore at Mercer Island High School, playing goalkeeper for the soccer team wasn’t enough. Wanting to play another sport during the school year, preferably in the spring, a friend suggested she try lacrosse. Her love affair with the sport has lasted almost a decade, but has brought her back to the place she started as the Islander team’s head coach.
“It is a great honor to coach where you played,” said Elston, who took over the team at the beginning of the season. “This is such an addictive sport. I can’t get enough.”
The similarities between soccer and lacrosse are many. But for Elston, she had no desire to play goalkeeper in her new sport.
“I played three years as a soccer goalie but there was no way I was going to sit in a lacrosse goal,” said Elston, who played offense at MIHS and at the University of Washington. “That is just too small of ball, going way too fast, coming at your head.”
Offense was where Elston wanted to be and she embraced the new role helping to lead Mercer Island to the state playoffs for the first time during her senior season.
“My senior year there was a big shift in the league,” said Elston, who moved to Mercer Island from Pennsylvania in high school. “It went from one league to the Varsity A and Varsity B split.
“All of the teams were always really close because no one knew about lacrosse.”
Although the Islanders did well during the first year of the split in the A division, the next few seasons would be tough. In 2002, Sarah Milo took over as the team’s head coach. That same preseason Elston got a call she did not expect.
“I got a call from Jane Gallup and she said they needed a junior varsity coach,” said Elston, who was attending and playing for the University of Washington. “I told her I would ask my coaches. But she was asking if I wanted to do it. I thought it was funny because I had only been playing for three years.”
Elston took the job but only had experience working for the Mercer Island Parks and Recreation department as a camp counselor as her only coaching experience.
Three other former players and friends of Elston’s also began coaching on Mercer Island at the middle school level: Kara Gibson, Marika Bonnema and Sara Babani.
In 2003 Elston was made assistant varsity coach under Milo and got to coach her younger sister Kate Elston.
“We are two different types of coaches so it worked well,” said Elston. “She was defensive-minded and more of a cheerleader. “I am more into the technical aspects.”
When Milo took a teaching job in Chile this last January, Elston took over as head coach. But the job would not be easy with nearly half the players from the 2006 season gone.
“The chemistry was phenomenal this year,” said Elston. “Our junior class is very strong. It is the first group of girls to benefit from the middle school program and I knew I would need them to come through big.”
The girls and Elston won the East Division title and made it all the way to the state semifinals. Elston was named coach of the year in her first season.
“I was nominated with a lot of other long-time outstanding coaches,” said Elston, who was not alone as Craig van der Horn won coach of the year for the Varsity B team. “He coached me when I played here and we both had different types of seasons this year. It is great to know that we got it not just for our records.”
The sport has grown with the coach, not only splitting into two leagues but expanding each year. There is even talk of the sport becoming a WIAA sanctioned activity.
“There will be 12 teams in varsity A next year,” said Elston. “This was the first successful year for the third and fourth grade teams. I want to build the program the way the boys have.”
The coach also still plays lacrosse for the Seattle Woman’s League and works at Breakaway Sports, a lacrosse equipment supplier.
The coach said that she will definitely be here for the 2008 season but she will also complete her masters degree in teaching from the UW.