Fairfield Now - Spring 2008
Coaches Come Home
By Kelly McCarthy
There's no place like home. For hundreds of student-athletes, Fairfield University has been their home away from home. For a few, when the student-athlete experience ends, they move forward to the role of coach.
Currently, there are nine former Fairfield student-athletes in the role of coach at their alma mater, whether it is as a full-time head coach, an assistant, or simply a volunteer. They say there is something special about Fairfield and its athletic program - those who have returned want to share that experience.
Field Hockey Coach Jackie Kane '87 spent four years at Fairfield as a player, and the last 13 years as coach.
Field hockey Head Coach Jackie Kane '87 has been a cornerstone of the program for 17 years. She spent four of them as a player and just wrapped up her 13th season at the helm of the program.
As a student-athlete she had the experience of not just being a member of a team, but of experiencing an education with a personal touch. Kane started off pre-med but soon changed her major to communication after Janet Krauss, adjunct professor of English, noticed and encouraged Kane's talent for writing.
"At a bigger university, I might not have had a professor reach out to me like that," Kane said. "At Fairfield, I really got to know the faculty and have that enriching educational experience."
After graduating from Fairfield, Kane worked in the corporate world before deciding to coach the sport she loved. She became the head coach of girls' field hockey at Mount St. Joseph, the Pennsylvania high school where she had flourished as a player. In order to expand her knowledge, Kane took evening courses at Saint Joseph's University to work towards a master's in education. In 1995, she returned to Fairfield to become field hockey's sixth head coach.
Kane's dedication has paid off. Under her tutelage, Fairfield captured the Patriot League regular season title in 1998 and Patriot League Tournament Championship in 2001. The team also made its only NCAA Tournament appearance in 2001. She has led the team to a post-season conference tournament in six of the last 10 years, including four straight Patriot League appearances from 1998 to 2001. A more personal accomplishment for Kane came in 1998 when she was honored as Patriot League Coach of the Year.
"The biggest differences over the years have been the changes to the game's level of play and in the switch to playing on turf. The players have become faster and more athletic, and coaching has become more intricate," she said. "The only thing that hasn't changed is the camaraderie and friendship and the working together to reach a common goal."
Giving back to the sport is something that Kane encourages her players to do, whether it is at Fairfield or elsewhere. Some of her former players, including Lauren Thomas '04, Kandiss Culp '00, and Dani Brown '03, have come back as her assistants. All in all, 24 former student-athletes have come back to coach after graduation, including four student coaches at the collegiate level.
In this family-like atmosphere, Kane stresses academics as something that goes hand-in-hand with athletics.
"I want my players to have the full college experience. I also encourage them to go abroad during the second semester of their junior year," she said. "This does impact the team, but it's something positive for them as individuals."
While Kane has several years under her belt as head coach, Beth Loffredo '06 is just entering the coaching ranks, and takes over as the head coach of the women's lacrosse team. The last two years have placed Loffredo on the fast track as she went from player to graduate assistant to head coach in a very short time.
"It's been quite a whirlwind with many transforming experiences," Loffredo said. "I've learned a lot about coaching, but also a lot about people. It's been really exciting."
Loffredo was a standout on the women's lacrosse team as an undergraduate. She was the Stags' all-time leader in points and career goals and earned All-MAAC honors three times. When graduation approached, she was unsure of her next step. When a graduate assistant position for the team opened up, she decided to take it.
"Being a player was awesome," she said. "I had already invested so much into the team and my teammates that I wanted to see them succeed. I had such a great experience myself that I wanted to help them have a similarly rewarding experience."
In the summer of 2007, Loffredo was appointed interim head coach.
"There's a great understanding between my former teammates and myself. They know I'm not here for any other reason than to help them succeed," she said. "I have complete respect for them. It could have been very awkward, but I think we have a phenomenal belief in each other."
The most rewarding part of coaching, so far, has been the way her team has continued to work hard and commited itself to winning.
"The best part of the job is knowing that the players appreciate what you're doing for them," she said. "That's something a lot of people don't experience. We get to hear it from them everyday."
Changing coaches makes for trying transitional times for student-athletes in any program. For the women's basketball team, the players and the new staff relied on Clare Faurote '06, Director of Basketball Operations, for help during the transition.
"I pretty much went through everything during my four years, including homesickness," the Wisconsin native said. "It's easy to relate to the current players, especially since I'm only two years out and it's fresh in my mind. Also, I know a lot of them personally, so it's easy for me to talk to them, especially during that transition stage."
Returning alums such as Beth Loffredo '06 (left) and Clare Faurote '06 are a welcome addition to the Fairfield campus. "We are pleased when alumni return as members of our coaching staff," said Eugene P. Doris, director of athletics. "They truly understand the mission of the University and Athletics Department and are able to foster those values in our current student-athletes."
Remaining at Fairfield has been a tremendous educational experience for Faurote. She has had the opportunity to play for and work with two experienced and successful head coaches. She played for four years and coached for a fifth under Dianne Nolan, M.A. '90, who accrued more than 500 wins during her tenure. Now Faurote is learning from Joe Frager, who guided Southern Connecticut State University to a Division II National Championship last season.
"I've gotten to work under two successful coaches and learned two very different styles of basketball," Faurote said. "What I've learned so far has been really beneficial and will help me as I take my coaching career further."
Another lesson Faurote has learned is the amount of time and preparation that goes into building a successful program.
"As a player you don't really realize how much time goes into coordinating games. You just show up and the bus is there; you're fed, your uniforms are washed. You don't even think about how that was arranged," she said. Now, in her current position, she's responsible for coordinating all of these details.
Although coaching is not always in their career plans, athletes often find themselves drawn back to their team and to the profession.
After a stellar career with the women's tennis team, which included a MAAC title and NCAA Tournament appearance, Erin Reeves '04, decided to pursue her master's at Fairfield. Coaching became an added bonus and an occupation that she has since realized she wants to continue.
"I love Fairfield," Reeves said. "The most rewarding part of coaching here is being able to watch the players work hard, but enjoy the full experience at the same time. I remember how much fun I had playing on the team and I love seeing the current players playing well."
The Fairfield experience leaves an indelible mark on student-athletes; so much so that some donate their time and come back as volunteer assistants.
Kim (Maher) LoPiano '04, is in her second year as a volunteer assistant with the swimming program. After graduation, LoPiano stayed local, keeping in touch with Head Coach Bill Farley. The two were having lunch one day when LoPiano mentioned she'd like to help out with the team. The next day, Farley invited her to practice.
"I've really enjoyed coming back," LoPiano said. "I have a full-time job, so it can be hectic at times, but it's always worth it. The team is a really great group and I love being a part of a Fairfield team again."