While Art Bonifati was brought in to be a short-term replacement to lead the Scarsdale girls lacrosse team two years ago, the long-term replacement was right by his side. Assistant coach Kaitlin Nolan, after the two were unable to coach last spring due to the COVID-19 shutdown, was tasked this spring with leading the Raiders into the future.
Nolan had already impressed as a K-5 physical education teacher at Quaker Ridge and Edgewood elementary schools and in her three years as girls assistant swim and dive coach to Barney Foltman since being hired for the 2018-19 school year.
Prior to Scarsdale, Nolan coached two years of junior varsity lacrosse at Briarcliff.
“When Kaitlin Nolan was hired as a teacher here, it was clear she was a talented educator,” director of physical education, health and athletics Ray Pappalardi said. “I’d like to say she’s wise beyond her years, an old soul, whatever metaphor or imagery. She’s incredibly talented and has a lot of know-how. She emerged as the best candidate for this position. If you ask anyone involved they just saw her as the next person to take over and I think she’s going to do an incredible job.”
After head coach Genette Zonghetti was fired prior to the 2018 season and Pappalardi ended up coaching the team that spring, Bonifati was brought in the following year with Nolan hoping to be the heir apparent.
The Mahopac graduate and college lacrosse player at Keene State College was a popular choice with the players, too.
“I think it’s been awesome,” senior captain Emily Felder said. “It was a very positive thing for our team. The vibes she brings will help uplift our team. It helps wipe away what happened in the past. We were kind of going down a slippery slope and it’s only up from here.”
Senior captain Maddie Seltzer, the best diver in the section and possibly the state, has had Nolan as coach for multiple seasons in multiple sports. “She brings a super positive energy and that’s been rubbing off on all the girls,” Seltzer said. “She’s a familiar, friendly face that we all trust and look up to. I think it’s been really great for both the swim and dive team to have her around and for the lacrosse team. Everyone really looks up to her.”
Pappalardi opted not to hire an assistant for Nolan this year so they can find the right person she can have good chemistry with, like she already does with junior varsity coach Jess Hanson.
Having Nolan work with veteran multisport coaches Foltman and Bonifati in her first year of teaching helped the transition, especially for lacrosse.
“It gave her the opportunity to really focus on her teaching in the classroom and get that down and become a little more familiar with the Scarsdale community before getting thrust into a head coaching position,” Pappalardi said. “We know that’s high pressure and high contact and you really have to be engaged with the community if you are going to be a head coach in Scarsdale. I think it gave her some time to get her feet wet.”
Working with Foltman with swim and dive was a little more low key compared to running a true team sport, and Foltman saw right away what a gem the district had discovered. “He was the first one to say we have someone special in her and we should look to keep her around,” Pappalardi said.
Nolan appreciated working with Bonifati and learned from the experience.
“He’s been around a long time, so to have that guidance and his knowledge of the game and parts of what he did it was nice to have a veteran leader as a head coach,” she said. “It was good for the girls to have a coach like that and they could trust us. I was able to learn from him and we had a really good relationship. It was a nice experience.”
Nolan took the last couple of years to get to know the culture, the program and the girls, so once she got out with them this spring she had a good starting point as far as the relationship she had with the returning players.
“Two years ago we had a couple of sophomores and freshmen who are still on the team now, so it helped me get more comfortable and I know how they play,” she said. “Even though we didn’t have that season last year we were still connected and they were developing and growing. Also I knew where the program was and it gave a clearer vision of where I want the program to be.”
Unlike most other schools, which got shut down during the first week of spring preseason in 2020, Scarsdale announced its shutdown the night before preseason was slated to begin, so the team never got on the field together. The first practice after almost two years on April 19 was “surreal” for Nolan.
“We never take a day for granted anymore,” she said. “When we show up we are there, completely present in the moment for that two hours or hour and a half. There were no excuses and the discipline started from Day One. Even though we were a little bit behind the eight ball we were keeping the expectation high. This is Scarsdale girls lacrosse and we’re keeping the standard high. We want to keep climbing the ladder and putting in the work. That’s all I can ask from them.”
Nolan takes the energy from her younger students during the school day into the afternoons. “It’s fun,” she said of her PE classes. “We have a blast.”
“I’ve always grown up around sports,” Nolan said. “I was a college athlete and from there, a coach. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I went into phys ed because I love it and it’s fun. You have to do what you love. And coaching is what I love, too. I have the best of both worlds where I get to teach kindergarten through fifth grade and then I get to coach ninth through 12th. I skip that middle school group, but other than that I get to work with all these kids throughout my day.”
She knows she’ll soon see some of her students make their way to the high school and possibly be on one of her teams.
“I look forward to seeing them once they come to high school because it’s great to see how these kids grow up,” Nolan said. “That’s a great experience having that relationship throughout their athletic and academic careers at Scarsdale.”
This season, Nolan is focused on making the best of the season during the altered, condensed COVID-19 season.
“This year everyone is so grateful to have our season,” Nolan said. “They haven’t played together since 2019, which is crazy. We’re grateful and we just want to keep making it better.”
The Raiders are 1-4, with the team earning its first win 14-3 over Harrison on May. 6.
“I want to help make the girls, make the team better each day,” Nolan said. “Every day we want to be better than the last one and getting to the point of where we trust each other so we have a well-disciplined, well-rounded team. The girls are committed to the game.”
Nolan returns that commitment to her players in the short term and the long term.
“I think she’s the right person for a very long time,” Pappalardi said. “She’ll be able to build this program over time.”
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