PHOTO BY MATTHEW WHITE

Angie Kensinger, who led St. John's (Texas) to 12 state girls' lacrosse titles and was revered locally for her stewardship of the sport and countless athletes, died April 22 in a plane crash.

Playing for Coach K: Texas Lacrosse Community Grieves Loss of a Legend


Angie Kensinger won more than 85 percent of the games she coached — yet rarely talked about winning.

“I never remember her talking about winning or losing,” St. John’s athletic director Vince Arduini said. “It was all about playing the game the right way.”

The coach was a legend of Texas lacrosse, but she would wince at any talk of her legacy.

“She didn’t ever think about it or would never have acknowledged in terms of a legacy, but everybody else would,” longtime friend Brent Bechtol said. “Everybody else knew they were getting something special.”

Kensinger’s death in an April 22 plane crash left Texas’ close-knit lacrosse world with a “gaping hole,” per Bechtol. Angie and her husband, Stuart, who both died in the crash, were pillars of the community, with Angie coaching St. John’s for 23 years and Stuart fervently cheering Angie and her players onward.

For droves of young players, they were simply Coach K and Mr. Coach K.

“It’s still almost impossible to imagine,” Bechtol said. “I’ve never been through anything like this.”


Nicole Morris remembered wondering if she would make it past her first year as an assistant given Kensinger’s approach of never, ever yelling at the referees. “It was almost ‘golly gee’ over the top, but it was so genuinely Angie.”


In more than four decades of athletics, Arduini said he had never come across anyone quite like Kensinger. Sure, the record (351-51) and state titles (12) are beyond stellar, but that’s not what comes to mind among those closest to her.

“Angie was more than just a coach, and not to minimize coaching, but she was bigger than that,” Arduini said. “I’ve never come across somebody like Angie. She just had the best connecting ability that I’ve ever seen.”

That was true regardless of an athlete’s talent, per Nell Copeland, now a senior defender for Northwestern.

“Coach K was one of those people who made every single person feel special,” Copeland said. “Once you walked in the room with her, her smile lit up, and that was the same thing on the field. Whether or not you were a star player or coming off the bench, she made you feel special.”

Nor did it matter whether a player was starring or sitting, according to longtime assistant Nicole Morris.

“They might not ever see the field when the games started to count for something, but they all were always at practice with a smile and full of energy, and whatever Coach K wanted you to do, you just would do it,” Morris said. “They never questioned. It was a gift.”

It also didn’t matter how big the game. There was always time for fun. Carson Copeland, now a sophomore defender for Northwestern, recalls Kensinger coming up with raps that they would perform right before a title game.

“We would all do a beat clapping, and she got so excited,” Copeland said. “She kept it super, super light. Even right before we were about to step on the field, it was all smiles.”








Those smiles extended well beyond St. John’s, and that impact has been made especially clear over the past couple of weeks, with teams throughout Texas wearing black and red ribbons and wristbands in her honor.

Episcopal School of Dallas coach Maggie Koch said she still remembers the feeling of awe that came over her the first time she saw Kensinger’s team in action. She was blown away by the talent, but also the sportsmanship of the players, how their game seemed utterly free of ego.

Koch recalled conversations with Kensinger about former players now in college. Even though Kensinger had plenty of her own playing at the next level, she always wanted to talk about Koch’s kids.

“She always wanted to celebrate everyone else,” Koch said. “She never wanted to talk about herself.”

That selflessness was never more clear than after St. John’s 2016 state title game, in which St. John’s beat Episcopal in overtime. Koch was devastated. Episcopal had never made the state championship game before, and the Eagles had come so close to winning. Koch woke up the next morning to a text from Kensinger: “How are you doing?” Later that day, Kensinger called Koch to check in.

“I feel like in coaching, it’s not the norm to have your heart broken and simultaneously be genuinely happy for the team that you lost to, but that’s how I felt about St. John’s,” Koch said. “They worked hard, they did everything the right way and they were the best. They were the best and she was the best.”




PHOTO BY GRACE RANDALL

Teams throughout Texas, including St. John's, wore black and red ribbons and wristbands in Kensinger's honor.


Kensinger brought the game of lacrosse to countless children through youth teams, lately through the Swizzlesticks Lacrosse organization she and Bechtol rolled out in 2013. Some elite coaches might struggle to teach in a more casual setting. Not Kensinger.

“She easily makes that transition from a top and elite women’s varsity coach to someone who can go down and coach third-graders and have a ball doing it,” Bechtol said. “She is that person and that personality, and the game means so much to her.”

Swizzlesticks, per Bechtol, had a simple aim. It wasn’t about finding the most talented players. It was about bringing kids into the sport.

St. John’s lacrosse similarly was about far more than wins and losses.

“It was just a positive culture,” Koch said. “I haven’t seen it much, and maybe that’s part of what makes it so special. I can’t put my finger on it, but I know that it was something that I admired from the first time I saw them on the field.”

Morris remembered wondering if she would make it past her first year as an assistant given Kensinger’s approach of never, ever yelling at the referees.

“It was almost ‘golly gee’ over the top, but it was so genuinely Angie,” Morris said. “I was like, ‘Man, I’m super intense, highly competitive… I don’t know how this is going to work.’ But I went back one more year and then kept coming back.”

For 17 years.

Angie’s husband, Stuart, kept coming back as well.

He loved the game and cared deeply about the players. Northwestern’s Lindsey McKone recalled him talking about how much he wanted to catch a game in the cold of the early season at Lakeside Field just to understand what their lives were like. The St. John’s alums assured him he didn’t have to take in a game in the cold, but he was so eager to give it a try.

As Northwestern’s four St. John’s lacrosse players took the time to reflect on Angie’s legacy just hours after defeating top-seeded Maryland in the Big Ten tournament, they spoke little about big wins and plenty about character.

“That’s something she really taught us, how important it was to win with dignity or lose with dignity, whatever it was,” said Kate Copeland, a sophomore defender for the Wildcats. “It wasn’t necessarily the win or the loss, but being together and being able to come together and compete for something.”

In the weeks following Kensinger’s death, Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller encouraged her four St. John’s players to bring a little bit of Houston to Evanston. She invited the four St. John’s players to regale their Northwestern teammates with stories about Kensinger.

And the day before their Big Ten Tournament title game against Maryland, the Wildcats celebrated Cinco de Michael, a classic Kensinger invention involving Mexican candy, a piñata, tortillas and Michael Jackson music.

At St. John’s, Cinco de Michael tended to fall right before the conference tournament as well, but that was alright. Kensinger was never one to let lacrosse get in the way of a fun time, because her life was about making lacrosse as fun as possible. As music blasted, players would shoot at tortillas hanging from the net or at the piñata. The Wildcats carried out that tradition, with McKone blasting the ball through a tortilla to win the competition.

Like St. John’s did so many times under Kensinger, Northwestern followed fun with winning, with McKone hitting the back of the net three times against Maryland.

“Every time that I step on the field, I have a little angel on my shoulder,” McKone said. “I know that there is someone watching over me, and I can play the way that she would want me to play — with poise and confidence. That’s kind of how I became myself these last couple of games, playing the way Coach K would have wanted.”