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Stories from the Home We Love So Well: A Little Coaching from Our Coaches

The Home We Love So Well: Stories from Home Series

A Little Coaching from Our Coaches

In March, Hawks tennis teams were looking forward to competing in the USA South Conference Tournament in North Carolina, which would have occurred last weekend (they both had a good chance of qualifying); the soccer teams were in the middle of their spring season; cross country was planning its first ever spring track meet; women’s golf was competing in what coach Ashley Crane calls “the most important spring season in Huntingdon history” with the addition of a USA South Conference tournament this year; women’s lacrosse had their eyes on making it to the conference playoffs for the first time; men’s lacrosse looked forward to defending their 2019 conference title; the wrestling, basketball, and football teams were in post-season work-out and grade-monitoring mode; the indoor volleyball program anticipated an April 9 scrimmage to which six other college teams had committed; the beach volleyball program was at the peak of the season; the cheer team was starting to plan for April 27 try-outs; the baseball and softball programs, pending conference wins, had their minds on regional NCAA play-offs; and men’s golf, with the #1 ranked Division III player in the country as part of the team, had their drive set for nationals.

And then an infinitely microscopic contagion shut everything down. No more practices. No more games. No more roaring crowds. Just the silence of everyone’s bedroom—back at home.

The NCAA announced the cancellation of games, practices, and championships for collegiate sports on Thursday, March 12. The USA South announced cancellation of the spring season March 13. “It was the best season our [beach volleyball] program had had with wins, but also with team chemistry,” says head coach Latonia Brady.  “The team was waiting in the locker room for me that Thursday as I had to go to an emergency athletic staff meeting. The girls were preparing to set the courts up for our Huntingdon Beach Tournament that was supposed to be Friday thru Sunday. Parents had already traveled in for a great weekend of volleyball. To have to drive back to our locker room and tell all those girls our season was over and to see their devastated faces and to hear their cries was something I will never forget. I had no words to help ease the pain, especially for the seniors. To go from what was supposed to be a fun weekend of beach volleyball for all of Huntingdon to no more spring sports period, was the most helpless feeling I had ever experienced in my 13 years of college coaching.”

Head baseball coach D.J. Conville ’98 has spent the past week thinking about the tournament that might have been and the men on his team who could have been there. “This past week was one of the most difficult for me so far because I thought a lot  about those seniors who missed that experience. To be honest, the emotions about the seniors have been without a doubt the hardest part [of dealing with this pandemic] as it relates to our Huntingdon lives.”

Thank goodness coaches are coaches. By nature, they look forward, motivate, encourage, and move toward triumph even in the darkest of times. Truth be told, we all need good coaches right now.

First, they had to maintain the unity and esprit-de-corps each team covets, even as Hawks scattered to their home states. The players on the men’s lacrosse team alone represent 11 states. “Social media and technology have been such a blessing during this time,” says Coach Crane. “We have been able to see our team weekly on Zoom calls. We have found positivity and faith through scripture and motivational quotes and discuss weekly how we can remain positive and what we can do to lift each other up. Constant team communication has brought many of us through tough times. Having an extended family that you can rely on, that’s what a team is all about.”

All of the coaches are using social media to keep in touch with their teams, as well as that old-fashioned method called the telephone. “During the pandemic, as a staff, we text and call our players periodically to check in with them,” says head men’s basketball coach David Gurganus. “Additionally, we have Zoom meetings with the team every Thursday and a voluntary bible study over Zoom every Monday.”

Women’s basketball follows a similar plan, says head coach Paige Huff ’08, “We have a GroupMe with all of the players, myself and Coach [Brittany] Greene in it and we talk in the group message. I try to check in with players individually  once a week and weekly Zoom meetings give us a chance to actually see each other.”

Softball coach Casey Chrietzburg ’09 is using social media as another means to get her team involved in competition. “We are doing a social media takeover for our softball account, broken into classes. Each class is posting and competing for the most amount of ‘likes.'”

Women’s tennis coach Ximena Moore uses her team’s weekly Zoom meetings to discuss what’s going on in players’ lives and with their families. “We are a very close team so we are constantly encouraging each other and checking on each other to make sure we are doing okay.”

The cheer squad conducted their annual tryouts virtually this year. Candidates completed their skills and emailed video recordings to the judges. “The 2020–2021 Hawks Cheer Squad was announced April 27th on Zoom—a very talented group of women. We are excited to get started,” says coach Stephanie Hicks, who also serves as assistant vice president for athletic recruitment.

The men’s golf program was joined by PGA player Scott Stallings on a Skype call. “He spent a few hours answering questions and chatting with the team about his approach and experiences,” says director of golf Dave Schreyer ’89. “I have been working with my players over the Internet helping them create a plan to work for the summer so we are ready to step back in the forefront of the division in the fall.” He also sends his team motivational quotes. “The one I go back to and repeat is never far from my mind: ‘Hard Work Beats Talent When Talent Doesn’t Work Hard.’ That is especially true during this unprecedented time—having the motivation to get better when you don’t see an end in sight or you don’t have an upcoming tournament.”

Wrestling coach Matt Oliver sends his players videos of their matches and of wrestling techniques. He’s involved his players in the recruitment process, as well. “But the majority of what I contact them about is their grades—making sure they are keeping up with assignments, letting them know I’m keeping tabs on them and that their grades are important. I like to discuss the future with them to keep them motivated.” In fact, grades are a topic upon which every coach is focused year-round, since satisfactory academic progress determines a player’s eligibility to participate in intercollegiate athletics.

A healthy body promotes a healthy mind, and establishing a routine contributes to both goals. Striving to maintain the same schedules and routines as student-athletes had on campus has been a top priority for coaches. Director of strength and conditioning Charlie Goodyear‘s Goodyear Workout—especially developed and adapted for in-season, out-of-season, and pandemic/quarantine (the latter depends on ordinary objects and facilities, rather than specialized gyms or gym equipment), according to each team’s needs—is the holy grail of fitness for Hawks athletes.

“Coach Goodyear does an outstanding job with our athletes and we were blessed to have worked with him when we did,” says coach Cliff Jordan, women’s soccer.

“We have been asking our players in addition to their Coach Goodyear workouts to also be getting touches on the ball and continuing to play soccer any way they can,” says men’s coach Matt Cooper. “Passing off a wall, juggling, dribbling around the yard, passing and playing with a family member or friend—any way they can safely be playing.” Huntingdon announced last week that the fall semester will begin two weeks earlier than previously planned, which Coach Cooper believes will be an advantage for the soccer program.  “Starting classes early allows us to start preseason practice early as well. We will be very well prepared.”

“I have been telling our guys since January to be special,” says head football coach Mike Turk.  “As simple as it sounds, in order to be special (get special results), you have to be special. You cannot be like everybody else. You have to do workouts, even during the current conditions when it would be easy to slack off. You have to keep up with your academics, even when all the classes are online. The circumstances won’t define our ultimate result—how we handle them will!  I have told them, if we are who we say we are, these circumstances should give us the biggest advantage over our opponents that we have ever had!”

Coach Brady concurs, quoting one of her favorite authors, John Maxwell, “Good management of bad experiences leads to great growth. Painful experiences prompt us to face who we are and where we are.  What we do with that experience defines us.”

Coach Gurganus reinforces the team tenets of “Do the right thing, energy, effort, and enthusiasm” to promote morale and keep the men’s basketball players united. Likewise, the women’s team’s motto, “Stronger Together” is fitting for this time, offers Coach Huff. “All of our athletes are going through something that nobody has ever dealt with before. We just continue to tell them we are all in this together and we are there for them every step of the way.”

Empathy for the seniors in their programs and in athletics around the world has been heartbreaking for coaches this spring, but the most difficult circumstances warrant the best coaching.

“I really hate this for Mark Melchor ’20,” says men’s tennis coach Tony Franklin ’84. “Mark is a very good player and a leader for our team. We had a very good opportunity to qualify for the conference tournament. However, Mark has been accepted into graduate school at Fresno State. He plans to walk- on the tennis team there. I wish him the best. Mark will be missed next year.”

“I hate this for the seniors all over the world,” says Coach Brady. “Being a college athlete is probably the most amazing time of your life. The thrills of winning in practice and games and the camaraderie with your teammates are so special! To have [that] ripped away so suddenly is an unimaginable pain. [Our seniors] were not able to finish their college athlete story with a beautiful ending.  My team, and especially the seniors, have handled this with grace and maturity. They are really trying to focus on the ‘what’s next’ mindset. They have made me proud how much they have tried to pour into our younger team members and future Hawks. I couldn’t be more proud and in awe of their wonderful hearts for our program.”

“I am not a spring coach, but I hate it even for my athletes,” says Coach Huff. “They missed out on the last days of classes, the athletic banquet, the team party, final meetings with [coaches] and professors, senior trips, graduation, and getting the chance to actually tell people good-bye. I felt that those were some of the most important times as a senior. I just want students to know that we as a school hope to eventually make up all those memories with new ones—such as the 2020 graduation on the same day as Homecoming—this will be a first and a very special day.”

“We really love our players and we want the very best for them,” adds women’s lacrosse coach Bryan Stanley. “We are very sorry for their senior year to be cut short; however we will be here to help and support them in any way we can.”

Last year at this time cross country coach Ed Wright was coaching high school seniors at Montgomery Catholic. His team won the state championship. He said he recognizes how devastating the pandemic has been to high school seniors who had to forego their final season, and to new college runners who missed their first-ever spring track meet.

From a different perspective, Coach Moore, who had no seniors on the women’s tennis team this spring, felt that she missed the opportunity to coach the freshman class. “The freshmen missed their first season and were unable to compete at the conference championship, where they would have experienced the adrenaline, the camaraderie, the cheering, the stress and anxiety of putting everything on the line. This is the part of the game I am missing the most this season—[coaching] this amazing group of girls. I am so blessed that we get next year, God willing, to work and reflect on the  opportunities to make things better and more successful—to have … another year and to appreciate the things we took for granted before this pandemic.”

In true Hawk spirit, the desire for personal success gives way to paying success forward to younger and future teammates. Coach Schreyer looks at the succession philosophically. “Drew Mathers ’20 will be graduating this spring. We have been working hard on a destination for him to finish his career during graduate school. Drew is considered to be one of the best golfers in all of college golf. He is the top-ranked D3 player and has a very good shot at winning multiple awards. He is being recruited by a number of the top D1 schools to represent them as he [moves on to] graduate school. What do you say to a player like that? He has impacted our team in such a positive way.  He learned as a freshman from Nicklaus Award winner and All-American  Addison Lambeth ’17 and was also impacted by All-American  Will Thrash ’17. Their experience and drive  gave Drew a game plan for success. Drew, like those before him,  became the next generation to lead. Drew works tirelessly and his younger teammates see his drive and they try to mirror him. That is the trickle-down effect of greatness that I expect from my seniors. It is their legacy to our program and why we have been a successful program for a number of years. In the fall of 2020, someone on my squad will emerge as that next superstar to lead this team. He will lead  by example and his attention to detail will be noticed by his peers, and the cycle will continue.”

“Coming off the most wins in 16 years for the men’s soccer program we are really excited to have even more success this upcoming season,” says Coach Cooper. “We return a great group and have another talented incoming class. The returners are excited for the new guys to join us and make an immediate impact within our team. The hard work and commitment that the guys put in this past season, are putting in during this unique spring, and will put in over the summer has really kept everyone positive and excited for what’s to come next season. Everyone is ready to get back to campus and on the field and in the classroom to have another very successful year.”

Coach Brady says that spring is a key time for coaches of fall and winter sports to focus on skill development with young players who will return to build the team in the next season. “It’s a fun and exciting time to get back to the basics without the pressures of your current record.  Every year you graduate important components to your program so the spring season allows you to focus your time and attention on younger players who you want to grow to fill those voids.” Upperclass volleyball players are focusing on encouraging the rising sophomores as they are the ones impacted the most by the loss of the spring season.

“In the end, we are all in this pandemic together and now more than ever we need to show the Huntingdon community the true meaning of ‘family’ and taking care of each other,” Coach Jordan affirms.

Coach Crane offered a special message for seniors on her golf team; a message that is translatable to any sport or college cohort. “I know that you have put years, months, days, hours and minutes of hard work into becoming the player that was supposed to perform their last semester this spring. I know you counted down the days until season started and I know that you now feel robbed of what could have been, you grieve for what you lost. Let’s focus on what you gained. You gained 3 1/2 years of college golf experience. You gained unbreakable friendships. You have stored countless memories from road trips. You experienced true happiness from a team that was bonded by the same passion as you. Thank you for being dedicated to your passion, your team, but mostly to yourself. You proved to yourself that you are a tremendous student-athlete. The promise and commitment you made to yourself day one of college has been fulfilled to the absolute best of your ability. Thank you for your commitment to your coaches and team, and thank you for always representing Huntingdon College proudly.”

Ever hopeful, all of the Hawks coaches are planning for their teams to soar in the future. “Our season would have been packed full of school work, golf, travel and workouts, but equally important, memories, laughter, fun and unforgettable rounds of golf. I am excited for the team to come back to have the opportunity to experience all that is wonderful about being a student-athlete,” declares Coach Crane.

To all of our student-athletes and our students on this last day of finals, we offer a hearty “Hawk ’em!”

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Read more Stories from the Home We Love So Well.

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