As Princeton women’s lacrosse coach Chris Sailer enters the 36th and final year of her hall-of-fame career, perhaps one game best epitomizes her approach: the 2002 national championship. Sailer was facing off against her former player and national-championship-winning captain Kim Simons Tortolani ’94, then coach of the Georgetown Hoyas, and after a hard-fought first half there was seemingly no advantage to be had.
Tortolani knew otherwise. Reflecting on the experience, she ruefully notes that “we went into halftime tied, and I knew I was in trouble.” Sailer used the break to fire up her squad, and the Tigers went on to a 12-7 victory and Sailer’s second national title.
Sailer has led the women’s lacrosse program to 12 final fours, seven national title games, and three national titles, and she was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2008. She leaves behind a legacy of unprecedented success, both in trophies and in culture. She has been hailed by her former players not just as a great coach, but a master motivator and a steward of the program’s history and prestige. Tortolani says Sailer instilled a real sense of “honor to be playing for the team and the program, and [that] you owe something to those who have played before you.”
Program alumni recognize Sailer’s gift for reaching her players. Tortolani says that Sailer “made it very clear that we were good enough and instilled a great belief in us.” To play for Sailer is to be pushed to the absolute highest standards, both athletically and personally, players say. However, those tough expectations come with rock-solid support, backed by her ever-present belief in her team.
Asked about her philosophy of coaching, Sailer said she always believed in how “important [it is that] players know how much you believe in them and watch them succeed.”
Reflecting on how her approach has evolved over the years, Sailer says that “you have to change — times change, culture changes.” Program alumni even say there is a Chris 1.0 and a Chris 2.0, charges to which Sailer pleads guilty: “Chris 2.0 is a little softer around the edges,” she admits with a laugh.
All-American Gillian Thomson ’92 says Sailer was always quick to support athletes who had played under her at Princeton, even long after they graduated. While Thomson was coaching high school lacrosse, she once emailed her old coach with a question about game strategy; Sailer called her immediately to offer detailed advice.
Given her reputation for intensity and hard-won success, players say people might not know about Sailer’s hidden talent: She is notoriously both “fantastic and horrible at karaoke, especially bus karaoke,” Tortolani says. (Sailer acknowledges a “few classic performances” in her time at Princeton.) At the final celebration of Sailer’s career, Tortolani says, “I hope a microphone is presented to Chris Sailer for us all to enjoy.”