Still swinging, Igoe has Franklin soaring

Sebastian Lena for ESPNBoston.com

FRANKLIN, Mass. -- If you blinked, you'd miss her.

A blur streaking up the field, she dodges by one defender and slips by another with the elusiveness of a flickering flame. Her deceptive quickness is only matched by her tremendous upper body strength, which she uses to bully her opponent, carving out just enough space to make her move.

Stopping on a dime, she turns and leaps off one foot, rocketing a laser destined for the top left corner of the goal. By the time the goalkeeper can react, the ball is already bouncing off the back netting and onto the turf below.

There’s no celebration, no congratulatory handshakes, not even a smile. Just silence.

She calmly approaches the defense -- each player hanging on her every movement -- and pauses.

“Again,” she says, lifting the whistle nestled around her neck up to her lips.

Meet Kristin Igoe. To the lacrosse world, she’s a two-time state champion, Boston College’s all-time leading scorer and a 2013 U.S. Women’s World Cup gold medalist.

But to these girls gathered on the turf field of Franklin High School, the 25-year-old simply goes by “Coach.”

A Wait, and an Explosion

If they weren’t already on a first-name basis, they were surely working towards it.

More often than not, whenever Framingham head coach Stacey Freda glanced into the stands, Shari Krasnoo would be there, sandwiched in between over-enthusiastic parents and rowdy high school students. Then the head coach of the Boston College women’s lacrosse team, Krasnoo was an ardent observer of the Flyers’ progress.

But even that familiarity couldn’t prepare Freda for the conversation the pair would exchange one night in 2004.

“She said, ‘I want that kid.’ [And pointed at Igoe],” Freda recalled to The Boston Globe of that conversation. “I said, ‘She’s just a freshman, she barely plays.’

“She said, ‘I know, but she’s going to be good. I want her.’”

It’s tough to blame Freda for her initial disbelief.

After all, it was only that fall that she had pulled Igoe aside after a soccer match and encouraged her to come try out for the lacrosse team. Not to mention, as a newcomer to the game -- she had only picked up a stick just a couple months prior to tryouts -- Igoe still struggled with grasping basic fundamentals, such as throwing and catching.

Yet there Krasnoo was on that fateful spring evening, the head coach of a Division 1 program, eagle-eyeing over a zealous freshman buried on the depth chart of a Framingham roster dripping with talent.

Was she jumping the gun? Maybe. But Krasnoo certainly wasn’t alone in her admiration.

“I only remember playing against [Igoe] because she was so unbelievably fast in high school,” recalled Notre Dame (Hingham) head coach Meredith Frank, who played at Westwood from 2002-05. “Her speed...There’s no way to describe it. She was so athletic.

“You could tell she was destined for success.”

But speed alone can only take you so far, especially on a squad ripe with athletic girls, many who grew up playing the sport from a young age.

So there Igoe sat, melting away at the end of the bench, waiting for an opportunity. Her name only called upon for mop-up duty late in blowouts, not much else.

One could argue that it was this experience that birthed her now trademark unwavering drive and insatiable hunger to improve.

“I knew if I wanted to catch up [to my teammates] I had to work out on my own,” Igoe said of her mentality after that freshman year. “I just kept a stick in my hand as much as I could. Whether it was throwing and catching with friends or playing wall ball, I did whatever I could to get better.”

The hard work behind the scenes immediately paid dividends.

Over the next three years, Igoe played a starring role on a Flyers squad that put together a 71-2-1 record over that span, including a flawless 50-0 mark and back-to-back state titles during her final two seasons. She left Framingham as one of the state’s most lethal scorers, racking up 201 goals and 151 assists.

Three-time Eastern Mass. All-Star, two-time high school All-American, two-time Under Armour All-American. There was hardly an award or recognition Igoe didn’t get her hands on.

Suddenly, the girl who was told to simply pass the ball away if she ever gained possession had quickly blossomed into the dynamic playmaker opponents feared and teammates often looked to pass to.

“Kristin was amazing, but she never let any of that attention get to her,” said Framingham (2007-10) teammate Tanner Guarino. “She was very humble and the type of captain who always had a team-first mentality. She would go out of her way to share her knowledge for the game and push each one of us to get better.”

Soon word spread outside the halls of Framingham High about the selfless leader with a natural mastery of the game.

It wasn’t long after that that colleges began knocking on the door. Among the suitors were annual lacrosse powerhouses Northwestern, North Carolina and Penn.

But while most girls would jump at the chance to play for an elite program at the collegiate level, Igoe isn’t most girls.

“I wanted to go somewhere that I could help build the program,” Igoe admitted. “Northwestern had won three straight national titles at the time and North Carolina was up there. So I wanted to go where I could make a big impact and bring a lower level team up to a high level.”

Enter: Boston College.

The Eagles' new head coach Bowen Holden -- who had replaced Krasnoo at the helm in 2005 -- had huge visions for the future of the program. After years of mediocrity, she was determined to raise the team’s level of playing to match that of its peers in the tough ACC.

Igoe seemed like the perfect building block.

“I knew from the first moment I saw her that she was going to be something special,” recalled Holden, who had kept tabs on Igoe since she was a sophomore. “She had all the tools and was still growing into her body. But her speed alone was something I knew we wanted to bring to Boston College.”

A program on the rise and proximity to home? It was a no-brainer for Igoe.

'A Loud Pop'

As she lay motionless in her dorm bed, Igoe stared blankly at the ceiling, her mind replaying the moment over and over.

Only days ago, she was with her Boston College teammates going through an extra practice on the football field to close out fall ball. In high spirits, Igoe excelled through one-on-one defensive drills, a freshman living out a realized dream.

That’s when one wrong dodge, one faulty step, threatened to take that all away.

“I was being warmed up on the other end of the field and I remember hearing this loud pop,” recalled Sheila Serafino, a goalie for the Eagles from 2008-11. “I turned around and there was Kristin on the ground.”

Holden knew, her teammates knew, and as much as she didn’t want to believe it, Igoe knew. She had torn her anterior cruciate ligament and would be ruled out for the upcoming season.

Back in her dorm, the tears began to build up, blurring her vision.

Was this it? Was her college career over even before her first game?

Thankfully, Holden was there to lift the spirits and offer guidance to her devastated budding star.

“I’ve blown both of my knees before, so from my experience, I know what the road ahead looked like,” Holden said. “I just told her, ‘There’s a reason for this, and we might not know what that is right now, but there’s a blessing in disguise.’”

Those words served as a beacon of hope through the darkest of hours for Igoe.

Following successful surgery that December, she immediately began an intense recovery schedule. Twice a day, everyday, Igoe would meet with the Boston College trainer for rehab sessions.

She would spend hours struggling through the most miniscule of exercises. These included heel slides, standing toe raises and running in the pool -- activities many take for granted.

At one point, she was instructed to sit on the table and simply squeeze her leg repeatedly.

“It was incredibly frustrating. One of the toughest times of my life,” Igoe said of the rehab. “I was really upset because I had worked so hard in the summer and fall and then I had to sit out for six months. I’m just so competitive and it killed me not to be able to play.”

Although she couldn’t participate, Igoe ensured she never missed a practice or game.

Whether it was listening to what coach Holden preached during practices or watching her teammates during games, Igoe was a sponge. She would even take her work home, watching and re-watching game film whenever she could.

In other words, Igoe became a pupil of the game.

“Anytime someone gets injured, you never know how they’re going to respond,” said Holden. “But [Igoe] came back stronger than ever. And that really all goes to show her work ethic and all the hours she put in. She’s a workhorse.”

Much like her time at Framingham, it took a year of observation from the sidelines to really light the fire under Igoe.

Over an extraordinary career, she flashed talent and athleticism of the likes the school had never seen before. Igoe quickly ascended to become the Eagles’ all-time leading scorer (165 goals), finished her career in the top five in nearly all of the program’s career records and made ACC history by becoming the first player to earn All-ACC honors four times.

But even more meaningful to Igoe than all of her individual awards and accolades was what she was able to help Boston College accomplish.

With each passing year, the team improved, registering victories over opponents it had never defeated and setting school records in wins. Finally, in 2011, Igoe helped the Eagles reach the NCAA tournament for the first time ever.

“I think it just goes back to all the reasons I wanted to come to BC in the first place,” Igoe said. “It was like, ‘Wow, everything I had hoped to achieve here came true.’ So to be apart of the actual build up of this program was something I’ll never forget.”

Double Impact

This wasn’t the start she was hoping for.

Four games in to her inaugural season as the head coach of Franklin High, Igoe’s squad was 2-2 and struggling in all facets of the game. With state powerhouse Needham bringing its 36-game regular season winning streak into town next, something had to change.

“I noticed the girls were playing a little timid,” Igoe said. “So I just told them, ‘You guys are good. It doesn’t matter what team we play or what kind of history they have. You can beat them.’

“I think that resonated with them and they came out fired up.”

The speech did the trick, as the Panthers scraped their way to a 5-3 win—the team’s first win over a Top 10 opponent in eight years.

Franklin won their next 16 games, eventually falling to Westwood in the South sectional semifinals. The following year, Igoe helped the team accomplish another first: winning a sectional title and reaching the state semis.

Did we mention, she managed all of this while simultaneously training for and playing in the 2013 U.S. Women’s Lacrosse World Cup in Canada?

“[As a player], Kristin would literally strap every one of her teammates onto her back and carry them if she could,” said Serafino, now the junior varsity coach at Franklin. “And I just think it’s awesome that these girls buy into that and feed off of it. They just love that she puts so much into them.”

Now, in her third year at the helm, Igoe hopes to help the Panthers take the next step.

The team finished the regular season at 13-4 and entered the MIAA State Tournament as the No. 3 seed in the Division I East regional. Following victories over King Philip and Natick, Franklin has rolled into the sectional semifinals.

Up next: a date with Holden and her No. 7-seeded Lincoln-Sudbury Warriors.

“It’s fun to coach against her because she’s really doing something with those kids,” said Holden, who took over at L-S in 2014. “I know I better be prepared, because she’s going to throw something at us just like we’re going to try to throw something at her.”

In just a short span, Igoe has worked magic with the Panthers, transforming a team full of athletes into a team full of dedicated lacrosse players.

“A couple years ago, most of our team was just playing because it was a sport to play for the spring,” said senior captain and UMass commit Emily Jeffries. “But just having [Igoe] as coach has made a lot of the girls really want to focus on lacrosse. Now, we have like six or seven girls going on to play in college.”

That kind of influence is a rare gift as far as coaching goes. But with all that talent, and still at a relatively young age, are Igoe’s serious playing days behind her?

As a new mother -- she gave birth to her first child in February -- Igoe’s playing career might have to take a bit of backseat for now.

“If I never played lacrosse at a competitive level, I think I’d be okay with it,” said Igoe. “The last time I played, I was fortunate enough to win a gold medal, so that’s a good way to leave it. In the back of my mind, I always think about getting back in the game, but for now I’m really happy coaching the Franklin girls and helping this team get better.”

Sebastian Lena can be reached via e-mail at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com or on Twitter @SP7988.