By: Sarah Kate Dhom, Practicum Reporter
Sarah Kellner, who starts her 13 year coaching women’s lacrosse at Regis University, did not apply for the head coaching position, but her credentials and experience were unmatched. As head coach, Kellner has become one of the most successful coaches in the program’s history.
Kellner arrived at Regis from New York, where she played at Cornell University four years. She was named Female Athlete of the Year and was selected for the All-American first team at Cornell. In 2013, Kellner was inducted into the Cornell Hall of Fame.
The success that she had in college followed Kellner to Regis. While it did take a few years to grow the program, “traditions have to be worked on and are not given,” Kellner said.
Every team Kellner has coached has had a similar mindset: to get better every day. Kellner fosters greatness among her players with her philosophy of excellence developed through writing a mission statement at a coaching conference.
Through the years, teams have adopted Kellner’s logic of excellence by building on the work of alumni players’. This has unified the teams of Regis women's lacrosse into a cohesive program. Kellner even receives messages from past alumni who follow the current team’s success, sharing how proud they are to be a part of that success.
Each season the lacrosse team votes on the “value words” that will guide their teamwork. Kellner has noticed themes of family, hard-work and excellence. These shared values, in turn, create a positive learning atmosphere for student athletes. Kellner has noticed that the teams that value family tend to be more successful.
She likes to see how the sport brings her athletes together to support, push, and hold each other accountable while bringing out the best in each player. Being at Regis, Kellner is able to find and recruit top female athletes who have similar values of family, hard work, and excellence.
As a Jesuit university, the Regis community has a unique way of looking at the world. Kellner loves the people that Regis attracts – the faculty, staff, and students – and appreciates its mission, which she aligns with Division II athletics. The aspect of the whole person exemplifies Kellner’s coaching style of bringing out the best in her student athletes on and off the field. The value of giving back to the community is emphasized in her coaching. Five years ago, Kellner adopted the Team Impact program into Regis lacrosse. Team Impact places a child with a terminal illness on a team for support. Kellner pioneered the program west of the Mississippi. She believed her lacrosse team would be perfect for this.
“I thought we were going to be the gift to the family, but the gift became the family shared with the team,” she said.
The last season was among Kellner’s best. She led the team to the program’s first Final Four appearance, which became the team’s “redemption tour.” Regis women’s lacrosse beat two of the three teams that had beaten them during the regular season. Regis even won over Lindenwood University in Missouri; the top-ranked team in the nation.
Regis lacrosse was the farthest team west of the Mississippi to ever make the Division II NCAA semifinals. For Kellner and the team, it was a great accomplishment.
Kellner led her team to the Final Four by always pushing them to be the best on the field, in the classroom, and in the community. This allowed players to be the best versions of themselves so they could go and play like they had nothing to lose.
Before a game, Kellner reminds her players that their success is due in part to the accomplishments of their predecessors who helped build a strong legacy and that the team works as a family to put Regis lacrosse on the map.
“We are not the way we are because of who we were, but because of who we are every day,” Kellner said.
Jada Bonner, a first All-American player who helped lead the lacrosse team to a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) championship and the Regional Championship in 2018, says Kellner provided amazing support during her college career and continues to be a supportive influence even after graduation. She described Kellner as “patient and sharing unconditional love for her players.”
Bonner says she continues to ask herself, “What would Coach do?” or “How would she work through certain situations?” even now that she’s an alumna.
“The Regis lacrosse program has been lucky to have such an accomplished and dedicated coach to lead them to their successes,” said Wendy Donier, a current player. “She is the main reason we have been so successful this season and during my past three seasons.”
Kellner has many goals for keeping the program expanding and growing. She wants to bring in motivated athletes who can add high-level skills to help build the program, continue competing against the best teams in lacrosse, and remain competitive in the RMAC.
Kellner frequently reminds the women’s lacrosse team that their “tradition of excellence is about being our best possible selves, not against other people, but against ourselves.”
Kellner’s keen leadership skills led her to Regis, and her dedication to her players keeps her here.