Based on his experience, one would think Gil Swenson is a chiseled veteran of the coaching ranks.
And based on his experience, he is.
But the first-year Montgomery High boys' lacrosse coach is no grey beard. In fact, even though he has seven years of high school and college coaching experience, the head coach for the Cougars is just 25 years old.
Swenson played at Randolph High School and went to Hofstra to play at the college level. But a hip injury kept him off the field and he transferred to Rutgers. All the while he has been involved in coaching.
While in high school, Swenson coached as part of the Randolph youth program. He’s since coached at the high school level at West Essex and Hanover Park, while also coaching at St. Joseph’s University before arriving at Montgomery last year as assistant coach.
“Because of the injuries, I wasn’t able to play and it got me started in coaching early,” said Swenson, who takes over for Jon England as head coach. “I have done things in coaching earlier than I would have if I kept playing. I have enjoyed it and I have learned from some good people along the way. I feel like all the different experiences have helped me.”
Swenson works at Nex Level Arena in Flemington as the Director of Sports and Business Development, where he runs sports programs for among other things soccer, football, lacrosse and field hockey. He’s felt a lure towards coaching going as far back as his playing days at Randolph.
“I was coaching with the youth program at Randolph when I was in high school,” he said. “I helped when I could after practice. I have been coaching since my sophomore year in high school. When I wasn’t able to play because of the injuries it was an easy decision to stay with coaching.
“I have been doing it a while but I still feel like I have a lot to learn.”
After one season as an assistant, Swenson steps into a situation that has enjoyed plenty of lacrosse success. He’s glad to have had last year to get to know the players and the surroundings.
“It was a big reason stuck around and wanted to pursue this job,” Swenson said. “I had experience with these guys. It’s a good group of guys and there is a solid youth program in place. When Jon said he was stepping down I was happy and humbled to be able to take over. It’s a storied program soI know we have a lot to keep up with. The guys before set the standard and we want to keep it going.”
Swenson views himself as a coach who tries to put his players in the best position to be successful.
“I like to get the players involved and I have a great coaching staff,” he said. “I like to get player feedback. I am always looking more for effort and energy from guys. You need to know the x and o part but I want that mentality that you are going to come and work hard every day. That has been the focus and if we have that we’ll be successful.”
Montgomery reached the South Jersey, Group 4 state sectional final last year after having won the title the previous two years. Expectations are always high for the program and this year is no different. The Cougars will open the season March 27 at Watchung Hills.
“Last year we were young with a lot of new starters,” Swenson said. ”A lot of them are back so it has been an easy transition. We try to block out the outside expectations. We have our own expectations in house and keep it between us and know what we want to do.”
Every game the Cougars play will be against a top team. Such is life in the Skyland Conference.
“It’s great,” Swenson said. “I love the conference. I was new to it last year and it was eye opening how much talent there is in this conference. It is a good challenge and we enjoy getting after it.”