Wayneflete girls’ lacrosse coach Cathie Connors, right, and her daughter, Jess Connors, on crutches, cheer along with teammates after a goal against Freeport on Friday in Portland. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

This was supposed to be a story about an esteemed coach and her daughter, an All-State player, competing together for a final season in the sport they love.

But as Waynflete girls’ lacrosse coach Cathie Connors and senior midfielder Jess Connors found out, stories change.

On Wednesday, Jess Connors, 18, broke her ankle early in the second half of a game at Greely. At first she thought the injury was a sprain, but X-rays on Thursday revealed the worst: She had suffered her first significant injury at the worst possible time.

On Friday, she was on the sidelines with crutches, her right lower leg wrapped in a soft cast and bandages.

Connors won’t get another chance to play for her mother. She won’t get to play in another Class C state championship game, like she did a year ago when she scored five goals in a 9-8 win against Freeport, as her mom earned her 13th state title at Waynflete.

“We had such an amazing season last year. It was kind of like a fairy tale and now it’s like, it just came to an end so abruptly,” Jess said.

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Cathie Connors, 51, has been Waynflete’s coach since 1993, when she was hired as a 22-year-old fresh out of Castleton State College – the only person to apply for the vacant position.

She grew up on New York’s Long Island, a lacrosse hotbed long before the game became popular in Maine. Her uncle was a college coach. Her brother, David Keenan, led Lake Region High to the first Class C girls’ title in 2018. He is now the women’s lacrosse coach at St. Joseph’s College, which took an undefeated record into this year’s NCAA Division III tournament before losing Saturday.

Over 29 seasons, Connors has coached the Flyers to a record of 310-87-1. She has more wins than any high school lacrosse coach in Maine history. Boys’ lacrosse coaches Don Glover, who retired with 303 wins, mostly at Brunswick, and current Cape Elizabeth Coach Ben Raymond (306) are the only others to cross the 300-win plateau.

Wayneflete’s Cathie Connors is Maine’s all-time leader in coaching wins in high school lacrosse with 310. She has been coaching the Flyers since 1993. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Connors has succeeded with a grace and optimism that’s loved by her players and respected by her peers. But she admitted she’s still looking for the right way, the right words, to move on after Jess’s injury.

“I told the team (Thursday) and we’re all really sad. Any time I’ve had players get hurt or have to miss a season, it’s devastating,” she said. “And I feel that same horrible pit in my stomach, but now there’s an extra layer because I’m her mom.

“As a coach, how you help, you do whatever you can. But as a mom, I’m still working on that. I didn’t have a lot of words for Jess last night.”

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When Jess Connors crumpled to the ground after a routine bump from a defender, she clutched her right ankle and began to sob. At the time, she wasn’t sure how badly the ankle was damaged, but she had heard scary, popping noises.

“The first thought in my head and why I got so upset was that I was going to lose my last season with my mom because that’s kind of like everything for me,” said Jess. “Having my last season with her. Finishing out strong, especially with the season we had last year.”

Waynflete girls’ lacrosse senior Jess Connors is helped off the field by her mother, Coach Cathie Connors and assistant coach Laura Bishop, left, after injuring her ankle in Wednesday’s game at Greely High. Steve Craig photo

Friday afternoon at Waynflete’s new artificial surface field near the Fore River, mom and daughter were doing their best to adapt. Jess was on the sidelines, usually sitting on a folding chair, standing occasionally, cheering her teammates and offering quiet tips during timeouts.

Cathie Connors was enthusiastically coaching her team in a 6-4 loss to Freeport. While Jess Connors’ all-around game and scoring prowess will be hard to replace, Waynflete showed it will continue to play with energy and passion and was markedly sharper with its passing and field composure compared to its 12-4 loss to Greely on Wednesday.

Which, according to Greely Coach Becca Koelker, is no surprise.

“What I admire most about Cathie is that she knows how to get the best out of her teams,” Koelker said. “She takes whoever she has to work with and makes this incredible group. They always have good chemistry, they always work so hard, and she knows how to put people into roles that highlight their strengths. I think that’s an amazing gift as a coach.”

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As the dean of Waynflete’s upper school students, Cathie Connors said she’s afforded many opportunities to build relationships throughout the school year.

“I know, being her daughter, I always think she knows everything about me already, but I feel like she knows everybody’s strengths and weaknesses, and more importantly, she knows how to coach everybody,” Jess Connors said. “She plays to everyone’s emotions and everyone’s needs and who they are as a person, and I think that’s something I’ve always admired about her as a coach.”

During timeouts and halftime breaks, Connors’ instructions are succinct, ever positive and easy to digest.

“I mean, she’s been doing this for a long time,” said Waynflete senior goalie and co-captain Emily Girard. “So when she’s looking at how we’re playing and the things we need to fix, she’s very quick to recognize that and has a quick way of telling us how to fix it and make ourselves better in the long run.

“And even if we’re not doing well in a game, she’ll say, this is a learning experience. What we take away from it will be much better than the score.”

Girard said she sees much of Cathie Connors in her daughter.

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“She’s another coach, really,” Girard said. “She’s also so loving, like her mom. It’s a problem a lot of times when the star player on the team (acts) like a superior person and looks down on the team, and she is not that person whatsoever.”

Cathie Connors said she has no intention of retiring soon, though she will have to figure out ways to get to the San Francisco area next year to see Jess, who will attend and play lacrosse at Dominican University of California in San Rafael.

“It’s what I look forward to all year,” she said of coaching. “I love hanging out with these girls, year after year. Every year, I love the next group even more.

“Seeing kids change the ways they change, it’s just so much fun. To bring out confidence in young women, it’s really cool and I’m really lucky.”

This week, the Connors could have used a bit more luck. But Cathie Connors is ever the optimist as her Waynflete team, currently 4-3 enters the final stretch of the regular season.

“I think you have to stay positive,” she said. “I don’t know how you get through it if you don’t. … Jess has had such a good run and it ended in a horribly sad way for her, but we’ll figure it out.”


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