The United States Coach of the Year: 2017
Alyssa Frazier, Bridgewater-Raritan (N.J.)

The morning of April 22, 2017 was unlike any other in the history of the Bridgewater-Raritan (N.J.) girls' lacrosse team -- and in the life of head coach Alyssa (Dragon) Frazier.

The occasion, the Gains for Brains Lacrosse Showcase at Cold Spring Harbor (N.Y.), was only the second time that the Panthers have ever had to leave the Garden State to find competition. Too, the Panther team bus left without Frazier. But there was a logistical reason: Frazier was expecting.

"My father drove me to the tournament, just in case I went into labor," Frazier recalls.

The Panthers ended the day with a significant victory, a 17-9 win over Newfield Middle Country (N.Y.). But the season would end with Bridgewater-Raritan holding the Tournament of Champions trophy, and Frazier holding her first-born son, Caden.

For her focused efforts in making the girls' program at the school the equal of the legendary boys' program, Alyssa Frazier is the TopOfTheCircle.com United States Coach of the Year for 2017.


The combined area of Bridgewater and Raritan Townships outline the confluence of five major highways in the north-central part of New Jersey. It's a crossroads of sorts which, like a heart, pumps traffic through dark gray arteries which are known by their numbers: 202, 206, 22, 287, and 78.

But the 50,000 souls who live there have always had an unusual affinity for the game of lacrosse. The boys' team from the Bridgewater-Raritan East campus made the all-comer state final three times in the 1980s, but didn't win until the East and West campuses merged in 1995.

Since then, the boys' team has won the state championship on six occasions and won three NJSIAA Tournaments of Champions. The girls' team only started play in 1997, but, as has been the case for a number of boys' lacrosse powerhouses in the northern half of the state, the girls' team worked hard to match the boys' level of play.

Alyssa Dragon, like many boys and girls in the townships of Raritan and Bridgewater, was given a lacrosse stick in middle school to try to give her the head start that many players lacked even as the sport started growing in the Garden State in the mid-1990s. She and her sister Carlee put in the time on weekends and in the winter to get better, as they would travel amongst the growing network of indoor recreational facilities. She then matriculated to Old Dominion University, where she got to play under former United States women's World Cup coach Sue Stahl.

After graduating in 2012, Dragon made her way back to New Jersey. After coaching both field hockey and girls' lacrosse for a year at Robbinsville (N.J.), she moved back home to take over the same jobs from her from her former coach, Kathie DeBonis. DeBonis had left an enormous legacy and set of expectations for her former player to follow. DeBonis had won the national Coach of the Year award for field hockey from the National Federation of State High School Associations in 2009.

"The girls' lacrosse program," Frazier says, "has always been good. We've been a good team when it comes to the state, but when it comes to measuring ourselves against teams of national caliber, that only started a couple of years ago."

Part of what the younger Frazier did while playing for DeBonis was coach younger players coming up through the district's grade schools. When she was a sophomore in high school, she was given a group of third-graders.

"I remember that group having a lot of talent," Frazier says. "You see, I got a stick when I was in fifth grade; these kids were starting a lot earlier. It's a different level."

As it turns out, that very cohort would be making up the bulk of Bridgewater-Raritan's 2017 varsity team.

"When I saw that group had stayed together through high school," Frazier says, "I knew we had something special."


Many expecations were heaped upon Frazier's 2017 team. This came as a result of the 2016 team's fantastic form which saw the Panthers take an undefeated record into the Group IV North final, only to lose 10-8 to eventual Tournament of Champions finalist Ridgewood (N.J.).

Frazier and her coaching staff decided to add to the difficulty of the team's schedule. Along with Skylands Conference opposition and the in-season Somerset County Tournament, Bridgewater-Raritan did something it had never done: leave the state to find competition.

That first happened on April Fool's Day, when Bridgewater-Raritan took on Bayport-Blue Point (N.Y.) in the Rocky Point (N.Y.) Rumble for a Cure. It was an unfamiliar scene, with unfamiliar umpires and an unfamiliar opponent, but the Panthers were able to make it work, pulling out a 7-6 victory.

"Our schedule was tougher than it has ever been," Frazier says. "And that prepared us for the state tournament."

Twelve days later, B-R pulled off a statement win against Moorestown (N.J.), the state's dominant program with 22 state titles coming into the season.

After the win over Middle Country, she kept on coaching as if nothing had happened -- even though she was about to give birth.

"I didn't stop coaching," Frazier says. "I coached another game against North Hunterdon just before I was due. Only then did I take leave from the team."

It was during her 12 days being away from her team that the Panthers suffered their first loss of the season. It was to Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.), the 2015 Tournament of Champions winner.

"That loss made us regroup," Frazier said. "I watched footage of the game and we didn't play our best that day."

But once Frazier came back, the Panthers sharpened for the postseason. Before the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association championship, however, there was the Somerset County Tournament, a single-elimination FA Cup-style tournament playing off all of the county's teams -- public, prep, and parochial -- for an in-season championship. Bridgewater-Raritan managed to beat a tough Bernardsville Bernards (N.J.) team 10-5 for its third straight SCT title.

Ahead was the state championship, but the road Bridgewater-Rariran had to traverse was altered slightly in 2017. While Group championships games remained North vs. South affairs, each geographical half of the state was split up in two, like almost every other sport in the state.

What that did, however, was give Frazier a specific motivational point for every match.

"We took each game one at a time," Frazier says. "It was just that simple."

In the Group IV North Section 2 final, the motivation was meeting up with Skylands Conference rival Flemington Hunterdon Central (N.J.), but the Panthers won 19-7. For the Group IV state semifinal, there were memories of Ridgewood, the very team they lost to end their season a year ago, but B-R survived and advanced with a 10-9 win.

In the state Group IV final, the opponent was familiar to the small handful of young women who play both lacrosse and field hockey. The opponent was Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), which the school has met -- and been defeated -- 12 years in a row in field hockey. But on the lacrosse pitch, Bridgewater-Raritan reigned  16-4, winning the Group IV state championship.

The win sent B-R to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions, a single-elimination tournament involving the four state titlists. The semifinal, contested four days after winning the state title, came against Bernards, the same team that B-R defeated a scant few weeks ago in the Somerset County final. Only this time, Bernards was coming into the game as Group II state champions. But labels didn't matter; Bridgewater-Raritan scored the first 13 goals of the game in a 17-5 win.

This left Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.), the 2015 Tournament of Champions winner, as the only opponent standing in the way of the T of C trophy. As it turns out, Oak Knoll was the only team that had beaten Bridgewater this year; the game occurred during Frazier's leave of absence.

"We didn't put our best foot forward that game," she said. "And losing to a really good team really fueled our fire."

Playing with the mantra, "We, not me," Bridgewater-Raritan took a late lead and held on to beat the Royals 10-9.

The Panthers' 22-1 record was possible through the effort of 12 seniors, nine of whom were starters. And, as it turned out, an amazing four U.S. Lacrosse All-Americans -- Ally Mastrioanni, Arielle Weismann, Melissa Hawkins, and Hannah Hollingsworth. Mastroianni, a gifted attacker, finished in the top 20 all-time when it comes to combined goals and assists.

Hawkins, a defender, had to mark Mastroianni every day in practice. And Weismann, the team's goalie, had to face her team in shooting drills every day.

"And the thing is, both of my goalies were seniors," Frazier said. "My backup could have likely started on any other team in our conference, that's how good she is."

That depth will be tested in 2018, but what's also known is that the program will still have the services of an award-winning coach. She has already been bestowed the U.S. Lacrosse Coach of the Year for the North Jersey region.

And with the the TopOfTheCircle.com United States Coach of the Year for 2017, Alyssa Frazier will forever be known as the alumna who came back home and shepherded a cohort of unusually talented players to a clean sweep of championships: the Delaware Division of the Skylands Confererence, the Somerset County championship, the Group IV state championship, and the Tournament of Champions trophy.


ALSO CONSIDERED:

Al Bertolone, Mount Sinai (N.Y.) — This Long Island powerhouse three-peated as state Class C champions, playing dominant lacrosse when it counted in the playoffs

Kaitlin Doucette, San Diego Torrey Pines (Calif.) — Improved on last year’s season by running the table with a 23-0 record

Jenny Duckenfield, Rosemont Agnes Irwin (Pa.) — Played an all-star schedule to prepare her team for the PAISAA championships, and the Owls responded brilliantly

Jane Hoff, Hellertown Saucon Valley (Pa.) — In just six years, took a team on a 52-game losing streak to the state tournament

Hilary Grimes, Sutton Kearsarge Regional (N.H.) — After a heartbreaking loss in the final five seconds of last year’s title game, managed to win the state’s Division III championship

Rylee Huffman, Louisville Eastern (Ky.) — In just four years, took a 5-12 team to within a goal of the state championship

Katie Lee, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) — For a school which is more known for field hockey, this coach managed to turn around a 5-12 team to the state Group IV final

Lisa Lindley, Darien (Conn.) — Despite losing three games in a tough regular-season, plus all of the expectations, Blue Wave pulled through to win ninth state title in the last 10 seasons

Meredith McManus, Abington (Mass.) — A team which had no wins in 2011 and was almost scuttled because of low numbers made the Division 2 South tournament

Chris Robinson, Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) — Despite playing powerful out-of-state teams and playing the meat of its schedule in just 32 days, team extended record win streak to 177 games

Sharon Robinson, Bronxville (N.Y.) — Team made its inaugural appearance in the NYSPHSAA Class D final