This spring will be Janine Tuckers' 29th — and final — season with Johns Hopkins.

Johns Hopkins' Janine Tucker Ready to Retire: 'It's Going to Be OK'

No honor bestowed on Janine Tucker has meant any more than being presented the 2021 Diane Geppi-Aikens Memorial Award at the IWLCA convention in Dallas.

“Diane was one of the most special people in my life,” said Tucker of the late Loyola coach, whom she played for then assisted in her first coaching job. “She was my dear friend. I’ve watched people get that award for years and have always been in such awe and felt such joy, and I could see Diane in each of the people that had been named in her honor.”

Tucker is only starting to recognize — quietly and very reluctantly — the influence and impact of her own coaching career. The tributes to her legacy began to pour in after she announced in August that her 29th season at Johns Hopkins will be her last.

“I was so surprised,” said Mackenzie Heldberg, who graduated in 2021 as the program’s 12th all-time leading scorer at the Division I level. “There was no indication. She’s the most energetic person, no matter what is going on in her life outside of lacrosse, none of us would know it. She brings so much joy and love for the players and the game. That never changed.”

Tucker and her team got a glimpse of the future as she battled COVID-19 in September. She was hospitalized for a week but was mostly removed from the Hopkins program for more than a month. Associate head coach Tara Singleton ran most every fall ball practice while Tucker recovered.

“The way Janine Tucker takes care of herself is taking care of everyone else,” said Singleton, an assistant to Tucker for 13 years. “The fact that she was taking time for herself was really, really meaningful.”

It showed the severity of the disease that sadly claimed the life of Tucker’s 87-year-old father, affectionately known as “Coach,” while Tucker herself was fighting to fully recover. For the first time in her life, she felt scared.

“I kept telling myself, I don’t want to leave my children and I don’t want to leave my Blue Jays,” Tucker said. “That was something that crossed my mind a lot lying in the hospital.”

“The way Janine Tucker takes care of herself is taking care of everyone else.” 

— Tara Singleton

Tucker’s spirit was renewed by cards that Singleton dropped off from all 41 of her players. Each wrote of something special that Tucker had said that stuck with them or a special memory they shared.

“I had a lot of time to think about how lucky I am,” Tucker said.

Tucker has created an extended family of alumnae that feel the same. It’s a culture that she built while winning more than 300 games and transitioning Hopkins from Division III to Division I. Heldberg felt fortunate to get a fifth year to play for Tucker.

“We’re all so sad to see her go because of the impact she’s had on us and the program in itself,” she said. “There is really no change in Coach Tucker. She’s been great. She’s been my second mom away from home.”

Tucker has recognized potential that athletes couldn’t even see in themselves. Mary Ann McGuire Dickson was in Tucker’s first freshman class at Hopkins, when she coached both field hockey and lacrosse. Dickson had never played lacrosse before, but Tucker asked her to put her speed to use in lacrosse. Dickson, who finished third in career scoring for Hopkins field hockey, graduated as the 1997 National Division III Defensive Player of the Year in lacrosse.

“I joke about it,” said Dickson, who is on the JHU Board of Trustees. “I say I went in a field hockey player, and I graduated a lacrosse player.”

Tucker’s influence extended into the coaching realm. She coaxed Ricky Fried, who previously had coached only the men’s game, into assisting her in lacrosse and field hockey. He stayed nine years before he went on to become Georgetown women’s coach and head coach of the U.S. women’s national team.

“It was great,” Fried said. “She welcomed me with open arms. It was very collaborative. She was in charge, and she was very comfortable and confident, but also wanted to get new ideas and have different opinions.”

Tucker consistently has pushed her student-athletes to be great people and great players. Her energy and vibrant leadership have inspired. Erin Wellner Hellmold played for Tucker and went on to assist Fried at Georgetown.

“Part, if not all, of the reason I went into coaching was because of her,” said the 2002 graduate, who is now the strategic business development director of the True Lacrosse girls’ program. “I wanted to instill what she had instilled in me with all these young women and girls and just have that impact. It was a significant impact she had on me and still has on these young women.”


Janine Tucker instructs defender Haley Reitz during a late-February game against Northwestern last season.

Tucker also has touched those that haven’t worked directly with her. She’s authored five books, worked countless camps and clinics, and over the pandemic, she worked on a podcast. In retirement, she expects to remain close to the lacrosse community that reached out to her when they recognized she was down. She even heard from every single Big Ten coach.

“It truly is a family,” Tucker said. “Lacrosse is a family. Here are these people trying to kick my butt every time we play them, and they couldn’t have been more kind or thoughtful or conscientious in taking the time to send me things and send me strength and tell me that they’re praying for me.”

Tucker slowly worked her way back to her team. She was home to watch them on a livestream over one weekend. She was back in the hospital on another play day. She started coming in two hours per day for practices only, wearing an oxygen monitor at first and carrying a steroid inhaler. She was on hand for the final two fall ball tournaments and finally felt herself again by the second week of November. Tucker is looking forward to a healthy spring with the inspirational dream of riding off into the sunset after coaching in the final four that will be hosted by Johns Hopkins.

“A part of me is convinced that I was almost meant to get a taste of letting go,” Tucker said. “And knowing that after 29 years of coaching at Hopkins and having my life devoted to some of the most amazing young women I’ve ever met, I got a taste of it, and it’s going to be OK. And they’re going to be OK. They were thriving with Coach Tara and my staff. In the end, I think of Diane a lot. We have these battles that we’re meant to fight, and we’re going to be OK.”