Sports, Spring, Lacrosse

‘Heights’ 2021–22 Coach of the Year: Acacia Walker-Weinstein

When Acacia Walker-Weinstein took the head coaching job for Boston College lacrosse in May 2012, the Eagles looked far different from the team that steps on the field at Alumni Stadium today. BC had finished with a losing conference record in each of the 12 years prior to Walker-Weinstein’s hire, stretching all the way back to when the Eagles still played in the Big East. 

But after serving as an associate head coach for the Eagles for two years, Walker-Weinstein took the reins as head coach ahead of the 2013 season, and little by little, a program started to grow. 

BC went 0–5 in conference play in 2009. Then, after finishing the next three seasons 1–4 in the ACC, the Eagles finished 3–2 in the conference in 2013. In 2015, they went 5–2 in the ACC. In 2018 and 2019, that number became 7–0, with Sam Apuzzo winning the Tewaaraton in 2018. In 2021? The Eagles won the NCAA Championship

“Acacia has built this program from the ground up,” junior defenseman Hollie Schleicher said. 

In her 10 years on the Heights, Walker-Weinstein has transformed BC’s lacrosse program into the national standard. After winning the National Championship in 2021, she led the Eagles to a 14–2 record in the 2022 regular season, showing the world that BC is out for the trophy again. 

By sustaining success at the highest level and creating a culture that the rest of the country looks to as the model, Walker-Weinstein earned The Heights’ 2021–22 Coach of the Year honor.

“Every day, I’m motivated by [my team],” Walker-Weinstein said. “We’re here to win National Championships and have sustainable success, and every day, the girls are the reason why I love to be at work every single day.”

Walker-Weinstein’s roots in lacrosse started when she was a child. While she is now decorated with accolades, there was a time when lacrosse was far from what she wanted to do every day. 

“I was playing baseball, mostly, with the boys, and my friend was like ‘You have to come play a girls’ sport,’ and I didn’t really like the idea of lacrosse, but I tried it and I fell in love with it,” she said. 

Walker-Weinstein went on to play for Maryland, where she was an IWLCA All-American and an All-ACC Selection. She captained the Terrapins her senior year and was nominated for the Tewaaraton Award—given to the nation’s top lacrosse player—in 2004 and 2005. 

She continued to play lacrosse at an elite level after college, competing with the U.S. Women’s Senior National Lacrosse Team from 2002–12. During that span, she also spent time coaching at Northwestern and UMass Amherst before joining the Eagles as an associate head coach in 2011. 

Now that she’s a decade into her current role, Walker-Weinstein has built not just a National Championship–winning team. She’s built a culture. 

“The girls have a real love for each other and for competition and for Boston College,” Walker-Weinstein said. “We really try to take good care of the culture because I think that really helps take care of the winning.”

Schleicher said that this uplifting atmosphere and Walker-Weinstein’s attitude on and off the field were integral in her decision to come to BC. 

“Acacia and the coaching staff had so much to do with why I came here,” Schleicher said. “I had been to so many of the camps when I was younger, and she was just always so full of energy and—it sounds kind of cliche—but always smiling and always positive. … I knew that I wanted to surround myself with that kind of mentor.”

Schleicher credits Walker-Weinstein with creating a balance between a high level of performance and a welcoming, enjoyable environment—one that involves fun but focuses on getting the job done.

“The atmosphere at practice is really fun,” Schleicher said. “It’s really high energy, there’s a lot of smiling, there’s a lot of laughing, but there’s also a lot of hard work going on. I think she does a really good job of just balancing that culture.”

Walker-Weinstein’s maternal nature makes her someone that her players can turn to when they need help, Schleicher said.

“I think she does a really good job with balancing pushing her players to their fullest potential but also … really being there for you and knowing what you need in certain moments,” Schleicher said.

The competitive yet supportive culture Walker-Weinstein has created is what allows the Eagles to be so successful on the field, according to Apuzzo, who played for BC from 2016–19.

“Acacia has done an incredible job in creating and cultivating a really open and kind of loving culture,” Apuzzo said. “She spends a lot of time—a lot of her personal time—and her energy in making sure that our culture is a really good foundation for our team. Some coaches only care about the X’s and O’s and the lacrosse part, but she knows that if our culture isn’t where it needs to be, we’re not going to win at all.”

For Walker-Weinstein, the passion and dedication of her players is what makes her excited to come to BC each day. Leading a roster comprised of the nation’s best, including the defending Tewaaraton winner, seven preseason All-American recipients, and seven 2022 All-ACC honorees, Walker-Weinstein said that she is motivated by her team.

“They’re a good group of girls,” she said. “They work so hard, they’re good people, and it makes it a really awesome place to work.”

In addition to leading a team of talented players, Walker-Weinstein spearheads an accomplished, all-female coaching staff featuring Jennifer Kent, Apuzzo, and Callahan Kent. 

“It is a great thing that we’re all female, but I don’t really think about it like that—I just hire the best people,” Walker-Weinstein said. “It’s something to be proud of, but we just want the best coaches in the country and in the game.”

Working within a group of women is empowering for Apuzzo, and she said that she believes BC’s staff is a demonstration of where lacrosse—and women’s sports as a whole—is headed. 

“I think especially now, the women’s game is growing in a sense that more players are going into coaching, so a lot of the girls in the NCAA are going right to coaching after graduation which I think is incredible to keep boosting up women in lacrosse, but also just women in sports,” Apuzzo said. “I think we’re taking the right steps.”

Apuzzo said she appreciates how well Walker-Weinstein includes her and Jennifer Kent into decisions and allows them to take liberty in their respective realms—Apuzzo with the offense and Kent with the defense. 

“I think we have a really unique coaching staff,” she said. “Acacia does an incredible job of including Jen and I in a lot of huge decisions. Where some head coaches in the lacrosse world don’t necessarily take as much input, Acacia allows us to really have some freedom within our different units … and trusts a lot, which makes it really easy and fun to work with her.”

For the Eagles, having an elite coaching staff and hard-working players has paid off. On the heels of its National Championship win, BC went 14–2 this regular season, falling only to No. 1 North Carolina and then–No. 7 Duke by just one goal in both games. The Eagles have defeated every other opponent they’ve played—by margins of as many as 16 goals—including rival Syracuse in a 2021 title game rematch. 

In BC’s matchup against Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament, Walker-Weinstein earned her 150th career win at BC.

Walker-Weinstein has grown immensely over the years, according to Apuzzo, who said she has enjoyed getting to observe her former coach and now colleague from both sides of the sideline. 

“I think she’s definitely grown in different ways and learned a lot of things, especially going from playing in three national championships and losing to last year,” Apuzzo said. “There’s always this kind of part of her that is trying to kind of make herself better.”

For Walker-Weinstein herself, when it comes to her growth and the future, there’s only one thing on her mind. 

“To win again.”

May 1, 2022