Hatfield’s Judy Strong officiates NCAA Women’s Lacrosse national championship game

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 06-02-2023 5:18 PM

Judy Stong earned her way to the 2023 Division 1 women’s lacrosse national championship game as much as Northwestern or Boston College.

The Hatfield native was one of three officials selected to administer the rules at the highest level of women’s college lacrosse when she oversaw the Wildcats’ 18-6 win over the Eagles. 

Seven officials are called to the Final Four, which was held in Cary, North Carolina, over Memorial Day weekend, and three are chosen from that pool to work the final.

“It’s so emotional. Everyone works hard. Out of all the officials around our country that are really good, I’m one of seven left,” Strong said. “Out of those seven any of us could have been chosen to do the final game of Division 1, the highest level possible in the United States. I was chosen. It was such an honor that I knew I worked hard for. I do put a lot into this and it paid off for me.”

“If I don’t, I still had the most amazing career. And I did,” said Strong, 63. “That’s what makes it so special. I’m winding down, but I did it.”

She began officiating field hockey and lacrosse full time in 2006 after leaving Smith College as a full-time coach. Strong officiated both sports part time before that.

“For me it started off as giving back to the sport. When I was playing, especially after the Olympics, I got into coaching and I realized how important it was to have really good officials who were fit and knew the game,” said Strong, who was on the USA’s Olympic field hockey team in 1984. “I always wanted to give back to the game.”

Since then she’s picked up between 30 and 40 games per season of both field hockey and lacrosse. The field hockey season runs from mid-August to late November, then Strong takes the winter off. “Spring” and lacrosse begin in early February. Once she’s in one season, she focuses entirely on that sport and doesn’t work off season games of the other.

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“I have to be in one mindset,” Strong said.

Her experience both as a player (played both field hockey and lacrosse at UMass after a standout career at Smith Academy) and coach (Smith College, Western New England, Smith Academy) informs how she officiates. Strong reads the game like a player or anticipates what coaches will see or expect.

“It’s a package deal,” she said.

Strong’s lacrosse season began at Notre Dame on Feb. 10.

“We’re inside these beautiful turf fields that feel like you’re outside,” Strong said. “We start earlier and get all these games in.”

That requires plenty of plane trips for Strong, who only officiates Division 1 games. She administered games for the ACC, Big 10 and America East among other conferences. All of that air travel requires a level of mental fortitude.

“Thing happen while I traveled, delays, canceled flights,” Strong said. “You have to be able to mentally figure out what you’re going to do to get there and get home and not have it affect how you officiate.”

Strong’s duties vary possession by possession. The crew of three officials rotate through positions as the teams score. One of them monitors the player with the ball, and the others look out for off ball fouls and defensive positioning infractions from two viewpoints.

After the regular season, Strong refereed the ACC tournament. The national coordinator of officials then assigned her to the NCAA Tournament pod that James Madison hosted.

“You have to have a really strong college schedule in season, which I’ve had the opportunity to be able to get from the assigners that I deal with,” Strong said.

She did two games there then traveled to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for a mid-week Elite 8 matchup between the Tar Heels and Denver. Then Strong was among the seven officials brought to the Final Four. 

“I was excited, honored, thrilled, that I was selected after what I felt was my best year,” she said.

Strong was on the field for Denver’s semifinal loss against Northwestern. That put her in position for the Wildcats next game against BC, a team Strong knew well after their ACC championship run.

“It definitely helps. It makes the players calmer and the coaches calmer because they’ve seen us. They know what kind of game Judy Strong calls, for the most part,” Strong said. “We’re never going to be perfect. But they know because they’ve seen me since the beginning of February. That’s also part of the formula. They’re never bringing in someone who hasn’t seen the teams.”

Working the first semifinal and the final put Strong in the stands to watch the second semifinal between BC and Syracuse. She heard the fans’ jeering even better than on the field.

“Everyone’s out for the win, and you’re the reason they turned the ball over,” Strong said. “They’re gonna let you know, even though I had nothing to do with it.”

Strong hopes that more will consider a path like hers because the number of qualified officials is dwindling.

“If I can make the game better because I played and I’m calling a good game to keep them safe, but get them to understand the rules that when people look at that, maybe that’ll help grow the sport,” Strong said. “Everyone wants to coach, but no one wants to be an official. But if you do it with the right mindset you can reap huge rewards like I have. I’ve been fortunate to see all these high level teams compete. I think others could do that.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.]]>