"And They Came Through"

Reflecting on Collegiate’s very successful fall athletic season, one might be tempted to channel the lyrics of the Queen classic “We Are the Champions.”
After all, the girls cross country, field hockey, tennis, and volleyball teams ran the table on League of Independent Schools titles; cross country, field hockey, and tennis added VISAA championships; boys soccer placed first in the Prep League; and last week maxfieldhockey.com ranked the Cougars’ hockey squad 16th nationally, 3rd in the Mid-Atlantic region, and 1st in Virginia.
Eighteen Collegiate athletes earned All-LIS honors, 11 were All-Prep, and 18 All-VISAA. Callie Rogers (field hockey), MK Myers (girls cross country), Stan Craig (boys cross country), Matthew Jenkins (soccer), and Elizabeth Mendoza (tennis) were cited as athlete of the year in their respective sports.
Matthew Richardson (both girls and boys cross country), Rob Ukrop (soccer), Allyson Brand (tennis), and Rose White (volleyball) were selected as coach of the year.
So, yeah, to paraphrase Queen front man and songwriter Freddie Mercury, especially considering that no Collegiate team faced an easy schedule, It was no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise…they paid their dues, they kept on fighting ‘til the end, and they came through.
That said, dwelling solely on championships and post-season honors would be missing the point. Sure, winning is the goal at the varsity level, but the focus of Collegiate’s athletic program from time immemorial has been developing talent, fostering connections, sharing experiences, competing with spirit and sportsmanship, and learning life lessons.
One afternoon recently, Athletic Director Andrew Stanley shared his thoughts about the fall 2022 season and offered insights about the state of Collegiate’s program.
Speak about your expectations for the fall, especially in your first turn as AD.
My expectations centered around making sure that I was doing my part to support teams, creating an environment where athletes could be successful, and doing my part to move the program forward. If we can move three-and-a-half yards forward every day, we’ll never have to punt the ball.
As far as championships, there were no expectations. When you come off a dominating season like soccer had in 2021 (undefeated, league and state champion), you have to make sure these kids don’t feel they have to duplicate that success and make sure you’re supporting them.
We knew we had talented teams coming in, but anybody who’s ever coached knows the number of things that have to go well for it all to go well. When you look at what makes Collegiate successful, we have some unbelievable front-end athletes. It was other kids that helped make our teams successful. That’s always the case.
One of the worst losses I’ve seen in a long time was the middle of the season when the volleyball team lost (3-0) at St. Catherine’s. For them to come back and win the LIS tournament was like, Oh, wow! There were only two all-LIS players on that team. We won with depth. Our tennis team was a revolving door. We had kids coming off the bench and earning All-LIS when somebody got hurt.
Girls cross country was super impressive. They were acutely aware of making sure it felt like a team from top to bottom. They weren’t just saying words. They were doing it. Watching how they would finish their run and go back and run with the kids who were behind them and have these friendly conversations… They understood their roles and responsibilities and handled them accordingly.
Clearly across the board, coaches put kids in positions to succeed. Kids rose to the occasion and performed together for the right reasons.
Our football team had perhaps the toughest schedule in Central Virginia.
I was so impressed with the football coaches and their level of care and attention to detail.
They’re coaches who understand that we don’t do it like everyone else. We control what we can control.
The way our kids competed was really impressive. Look at the way we fought back after some mistakes to secure the (16-10) win at Episcopal. Look at kids like Hayden Rollison, who completely emptied the tank. We had kids willing to play multiple roles. I was super impressed with their effort and intensity. Yes, it’s an incredibly competitive schedule. Injuries changed the season. I was really impressed with the way our kids stayed together and worked all the way to the end. The way they competed in their last game (a 14-3 loss at St. Christopher’s) was a great testament to Mark Palyo (who retired as head coach after 16 seasons). They battled as hard as they could. I was impressed with how the team leaders stayed focused on what mattered and gave us the chance to go into the future with a lot of promise.
Speak about the role of the captains and other team leaders.
We [coaches and ADs) started the fall talking to the kids about the premise of a math formula: that connection plus competition builds confidence. A cohesive team with the right competition becomes confident down the stretch. It was interesting watching the teams talk and work within that premise.
We tried to give them a framework of what we need and how we are going to help the kids take control. It doesn’t matter how fancy your offense is if the kids don’t feel like they can run it. It doesn’t matter how many books you read or how many coaching seminars we go to, the essence of coaching is getting out of the way.
But continuing education for coaches is one of your priorities. Correct?
Yes, but every time I’ve read a self-help or leadership-focused book, I’ve always had one overwhelming feeling, not because I have it all figured out because I wouldn’t be reading the books if I did. My reaction comes from the realization that the skills and expertise described in the books almost always already exist on our campus, and we can learn so much from each other.