Tara Singleton Heads South for First Head Coaching Job

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Tara Singleton was a longtime assistant of Janine Tucker's at Johns Hopkins.


When Tara Singleton goes on an interview, she has a pressing question of her own: What is the reputation of the women’s lacrosse program?

When Singleton interviewed for the Jacksonville job left vacant by the program’s first head coach, Mindy McCord, last month, everyone she asked said the same thing.

“Every single person couldn’t have higher praise … they are the gold standard, and they have only proven that thus far,” Singleton said.

It was an interview that, late last year, Singleton wasn’t expecting to need to take. When Johns Hopkins head coach Janine Tucker announced her retirement after nearly three decades on the Blue Jays’ sideline, Singleton hoped to be the next woman up. But she began to sense it wasn’t going to happen.

“In my heart, I was hopeful,” Singleton said. “But in my head, I think [I knew I wasn’t going to get the job] a little bit sooner than I’d like to probably admit. I felt like the administration was probably going in a little bit of a different direction in terms of having head coaching experience and an opportunity to have something different at Hopkins, which makes complete sense.”

Tim McCormack, the former Arizona State coach, was named the next head coach at Johns Hopkins on June 7. Singleton admits being in limbo was a challenge, but she set her sights on the next chapter. She connected with Jacksonville athletic director Alex Ricker-Gilbert.

“He just blew me away,” Singleton said. “He wasn’t trying to convince me as to why I should look at the job or why I should take the job. He was really talking about his product, the team, and everything about Jacksonville just seemed so amazing. I really needed to dive in to find out more.”

The more she learned, the more she loved. Singleton got the sense that the program was invested in — another common question she asks during interviews. But before she could sign on the dotted line, she had to get through interviews with about 10 players. And they weren’t playing softball.

“They definitely put me through the wringer there, but it was a great opportunity to see what makes them tick, what they care about, things in their culture that they want to continue and want to change,” Singleton said.

The last part — what she wants to change — was hard for Singleton to answer. She was honest and told the players she needed to spend time with the team as the head coach before figuring that out. But she knew what she would keep if offered the job.

“I love that when I watch Jacksonville women’s lacrosse play, there’s this element of fearlessness,” Singleton said. “It’s a fast-paced, high-energy style.”

The players and the rest of the panel loved Singleton. On June 27, Ricker-Gilbert announced her as the second-ever Dolphins head coach.

“When this opportunity came about with Jacksonville, all the stars seemed to align … as soon as I said yes, I had a little more pep in my step,” Singleton said. “I’m so excited for this next chapter in my career.”







The next chapter will be with a program known for racking up conference titles and NCAA tournament berths. Under McCord, who launched the program in 2010, the Dolphins won 11 conference regular-season titles and 10 tournament titles. Jacksonville is coming off a season that included a first-round NCAA tournament win over Stanford.

“I think winning is fun, and I am really excited to continue in that space,” Singleton said. “That is the goal, to keep improving every single day and continuing the trajectory.”

But the established reputation brings pressure. The Dolphins are not rebuilding, and finishing a game under .500 won’t be considered a “success.” Singleton is already embracing the challenge.

“Pressure is a privilege,” Singleton said. “The expectation to win the conference is something the players have achieved frequently. They are accustomed to it and built for it. It’s a pressure situation. In some capacity, I will feel it, but it’s more exciting that the team has been there, produced, and we’re going to build off that.”

Singleton knows all about the daily grind. As an assistant at Hopkins, her teams frequently competed against some of the nation’s best programs. But she learned far more than that under Tucker.

“The biggest piece that Janine Tucker brings is caring for the whole person and each person as an individual,” Singleton said. “Too often, I think we look at our teams as just players, and it’s way more than that, so I am absolutely thrilled to be walking into a Jacksonville program where that is held in a high regard.”

It’s why building relationships is the first item on her list as a head coach and will continue to be throughout her time at Jacksonville. There will be an open-door policy, and Singleton wants her players to know she supports them on and off the field.

“You win with people,” Singleton said. “Building those relationships is going to be really impactful for all of us.”

And those relationships will be at the center of the Dolphins’ culture.

“We’re not all going to be best friends, but we’re going to see where the other one is coming from and move mountains because of it,” Singleton said.

Hypothetically, of course. Jacksonville is better known for its beaches and mild winters than tall, icy peaks. So, Singleton plans to take her winter coat off and stay a while.

“[A friend] sent me a text laughing,” Singleton said. “I asked her what was so funny. She said, ‘In [Jacksonville’s] announcement, they put you in a winter jacket. Girl, you won’t be needing those.’”

But she’s not removing it from her closet entirely.

“I certainly enjoy a change in season, but I’ll be back here a ton,” Singleton said. “My family is here … recruiting is heavy in this space. I’m sure I’ll be back here putting those jackets on.”

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