Assistant Lacrosse Coach Nicole Graziano Faces off with Alma Mater
Written By Connor Smith, SDA Media Relations
When Arizona State and Florida matchup at Sun Devil Soccer/Lacrosse Stadium on Sunday at 11 AM MST, it will represent a reunion several years in the making.
Sun Devil Lacrosse Assistant Coach Nicole Graziano played for Florida Head Coach Amanda O'Leary from 2012-16, leaving Gainesville as one of the most decorated players in program history. The duo spent five years together elevating the Gators' program, building a connection that has resulted in this highly-anticipated game being scheduled.
"We have tried to schedule Arizona State in the past and were just not able to make it work, but this year we were able to get them on the schedule and look forward to playing a team we have never played before," Gators' Head Coach Amanda O'Leary remarked. "We always enjoy going new places and playing different teams. Arizona State provides us with an extremely competitive opportunity and playing against such a great team will allow us to improve. We are definitely looking forward to traveling to Arizona State for a competitive matchup, with the added bonus of seeing a former Gator Great in action. Nicole will forever hold a special place in my heart and Florida Lacrosse history."
The signs of Graziano entering the coaching profession were there early, with her leadership and personality built for the role of mentorship. Under O'Leary she acted as a coach on the field, playing with a high I.Q. and impressive instincts. She also had a fire and passion for the game of lacrosse recognized by her former coach.
"Nicole was one of the most competitive players I have had the opportunity to coach," Coach O'Leary claimed. "It did not matter what activity we were doing, she always had the drive to win. With that mentality, she pushed her teammates to strive for greatness."
The transition from All-American player to coach has been attempted by many, but very few have been successful. It takes a special type of work ethic, one that Graziano has displayed since she entered the college game. First as a player and now as a coach, Graziano has showed no fear in pursuing her dreams as a lacrosse coach."
"She was a leader by example – you always knew she was going to give you her best in every situation – both on and off the field," Coach O'Leary added. "Nicole was extremely well-liked by her teammates, always able to both give them a laugh and be able to laugh at herself. She always strove to be the best teammate she could by being a great person, both on and off the field. Nicole always had her teammates back, she was just that type of player. I know that if I had to go into battle, I would want her right beside me."
The O'Leary coaching tree is growing by the year, as her former players and assistant coaches establish themselves as up-and-coming coaching prospect. During her playing days, Graziano would pick the brain of the coaching staff and push her teammates to be better, two characteristics that she has utilized to make her an empathetic yet accountable communicator.
"Nicole was really fun to coach because she was never satisfied until she got it right, which made her teammates better every day," Coach O'Leary explained. "She was extremely impactful in continuing our tradition of success. Nicole was very skilled, athletic and smart on the field. When you needed a goal, she was one of the players you wanted with the ball."
After graduating from Florida, Graziano immediately entering the coaching profession. She was quickly hired by Big Ten competitor Rutgers, where she served as an assistant coach from 2017-19. That is when Tim McCormack came calling soon after being hired as the Head Coach of Sun Devil Lacrosse.
"Nicole is someone I identified quickly in the process of building my staff and made strong effort to pursue her to come to Tempe," Coach McCormack remarked. "She has been a great mentor for our student-athletes."
Graziano is now in her third season in Tempe and has been a part of a quick turnaround, elevating the program to perennial NCAA Tournament contender. Her work with the attackers and attacking midfielders has been instrumental in the Sun Devils' rise. Attackers Kerri Clayton, Carley Adams, and Emily Glagolev have all excelled under Graziano's tutelage, becoming Pac-12 All-Conference Players.
"Graz has taught me so much and helped make the game easier," Carley Adams observed. "She is also a very supportive coach that cares about her players."
Arizona State is 4-4 this season, with all four losses coming against Top-20 teams. They are currently in the midst of a four-game stretch against Top-20 teams, continuing with the matchup with the Gators on Sunday at 11 AM MST. McCormack has been leaning on Graziano during this stretch, as she is no stranger to playing tough schedules.
"Graz gets our team well prepared for each opponent," Coach McCormack mentioned. "She treats every game the same, putting the same energy and effort into helping us come out with the victory."
When the two sides meet on Sunday, their may be a brief breakaway from the intensities of pregame for a quick handshake, in recognition of the history between the two friends turned foes. And no matter the result of the game, the message is the same from O'Leary to Graziano.
"I am so pleased that Nicole chose to go into coaching because she has so much to offer the next generation of lacrosse players. Her work ethic, passion for the sport, and love of teaching made the transition to coaching very easy for her. She is extremely likable and fun to be around, which I am sure her players, fellow coaches and support staff enjoy and appreciate."
Coach McCormack shares the same sentiment, knowing he has one of the premier assistant coaches in the game. As Sun Devil Lacrosse rises, so does the admiration of Graziano's work with one of the game's fastest growing programs.
"We are extremely lucky to have a competitor like her on our side," Coach McCormack concluded. "She is relentless in the way she operates and has represented Arizona State the right way."
The showdown will be broadcasted through the ASU Live Stream, with live stats also available.
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