Kayla Treanor combines tradition and youth in early success as Syracuse coach

Kayla Treanor's Syracuse women's lacrosse era off to a flying start

The youngest head coach of any ACC athletic program, the 28-year-old women's lacrosse coach has made her expectations clear: it’s championship or nothing.
Published: March 16, 2022 | Updated: March 21st, 2022 at 8:21 pm
Kayla Treanor is 6-1 in her first season coaching the Syracuse women's lacrosse team, the team she played for from 2013-16.

Clouds floated across the warm sky and cars trickled along East Colvin Street at lazy intervals. It was a mild June day in Syracuse, New York. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

But inside the Iocolano-Petty Football complex, a torch was being passed. One Syracuse lacrosse legend was making a big change, another was ascending to the mantle. With the change came a proclamation, a mission statement with no traces of ambiguity.

“I want to bring a national championship back to Syracuse University,” new women’s lacrosse coach Kayla Treanor said.

And so the youngest head coach of any ACC athletic program, 27 years old at the time, took over the position long held by Gary Gait, who coached Treanor and her teammates to four consecutive Final Fours and a national title appearance. Suddenly, two of the greatest lacrosse players not only in Syracuse history, but the history of the sport, were back at the helms of the teams they once starred for.

“It’s been… definitely a unique one,” sixth-year Syracuse senior Emily Hawryschuk said. “When you lose a head coach, typically they go someplace else. So to see our former head coach now lead the guys, I think it’s something that really goes back to the history of Syracuse lacrosse.”

That shared history is an illustrious one, but extends significantly farther back for one of the two programs. Currently playing its 106th season, the men’s team has won 15 national championships. Ten of those have come since the dawn of NCAA men’s lacrosse, which is three more than any of SU’s competitors.

By contrast, the NCAA did not have a women’s lacrosse championship until 1982, 16 years before Syracuse fielded a women’s program. The program has achieved since—conference titles, Player of the Year accolades and a Final Four appearance every three years. The only thing still missing? A national title.

The women’s team has made two title game appearances. One of them occurred while Treanor was playing for Gait in 2012, when the Orange lost to their long-time tormentors, the Maryland Terrapins. The other? Last May, when Gait’s squad lost to the Boston College Eagles, with Treanor as BC’s top assistant coach.

Now that they work in the same building, Gait and Treanor are linked by much more than just history. They’re trying to build a brand bigger than either of their two programs.

“We’re really trying to combine it under one umbrella of just Syracuse lacrosse,” Treanor said Wednesday on the Unleashed women’s lacrosse podcast. “Everybody that comes here loves lacrosse, you come to Syracuse because it’s a lacrosse school. And there’s such a long tradition and history between the men and the women’s program.”

Seven games into her debut season, Treanor’s team sits at 6-1, their only loss in overtime on the road to the fifth-ranked Northwestern Wildcats.

From late-game defensive substitutions to calling a timeout that led to an overtime winner at Notre Dame, Treanor, now 28, has made a number of moves that made her look far wiser than most her age. But she’s not rushing to take credit for any of her early success.

“I feel really fortunate because I have the most incredible coaching staff,” Treanor said in her weekly press conference Thursday. “Caitlin, Kenzie and Jason Gebhart… they’re brilliant and they do so much. So as a first-year head coach it’s really nice to know that I have such amazing coaches. It’s really a group effort with us.”

Modest though she may be, it’s difficult not to marvel at Treanor’s early success. It’s one thing to take over and run a team at a younger age than any of her peers. Yet not only is the memory of Treanor’s Eagles defeating a majority of this team’s players is still fresh, many of those same players know Treanor not only as a coach, but as a teammate.

“Honestly, Kayla was one of my inspirations when I was younger,” senior midfielder Sam Swart said. “It’s kind of crazy to be able to play with her when we’re at USA [Lacrosse], or even to be coached by her when we’re here.”

Still one of the best attackers in the world, Treanor is set to compete for USA Lacrosse at the World Lacrosse Women’s World Championship starting June 29 in Towson, Maryland. Current Orange players Hawryschuk and Swart are on the national team’s training roster, and several others have participated in USA Lacrosse training camps alongside their head coach.

But as much as Treanor can still help a team on the attack, she may have found a way to impact even more from the sidelines.

“She’s one of the best lacrosse players ever, so it’s pretty cool to hear from someone who’s so good,” senior defender Sarah Cooper said. “You only see her down on attack when she’s playing, but she helps all over… defensively, at the draw, and definitely on the offense.”

So is it possible, in spite of age-old cliches about the lack of wisdom that comes with youth, that Treanor’s proximity in age to her own players might be the very reason she is the perfect head coach for this team? Those players certainly seem to think so.

“She’s young,” Cooper said laughing. “She’s in tune with us… she kind of knows what’s up. So it works.”