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