By Heather Keller
At Sacred Heart University, Division I athletics are ever-present on campus, represented by 18 women’s and 13 men’s teams. Coaches have seen the dedication that goes into being a Division I athlete from their players and have firsthand experience as college athletes themselves.
“You get a different perspective from being an athlete to being a coach,” said John Spadafina, head women’s swimming coach. “When you’re an athlete you’re doing all of the hard work that your coach is telling you to do. When you are the coach, there is a lot of preparation, but you get a lot of appreciation from the rewards your athletes end up getting. That’s the joy of why we do what we do.”
Several coaches at Sacred Heart have made their way through the ranks of the sport they love, from youth leagues to high school, and then to being athletes in college to finally settling into being collegiate coaches.
In fifth grade, Laura Cook, head women’s lacrosse coach, began playing the sport she would eventually play in college and go on to coach at Sacred Heart.
“Being from right outside of Philly, which is one of the hotbeds for lacrosse, I had opportunities early to pick up the sport,” said Cook.
Co-head softball coach, Elizabeth Luckie, did not have the same advantage with the sport she would eventually go on to coach.
“I didn’t start playing softball until I was 13. They really didn’t have softball where I grew up, so I played baseball until I made the varsity softball team in ninth grade,” said Luckie.
While length of time spent playing a sport does have an impact on one’s coaching ability, the dedication and passion of a coach is also an important and invaluable factor.
During Spadafina’s collegiate career as a swimmer at Central Connecticut State University, he had to endure the discontinuation of the men’s swimming and diving program.
“At conclusion of the 2001-02 season, I was a junior at the time which lead to coaching, because I still had a passion for the sport,” said Spadafina.
Cook was a four-year starter on the lacrosse team at the University of Massachusetts, and served as a captain. As she enters season 18 as a head coach, she reflected on her decision to coach.
“My intention was never to go into coaching but the opportunity presented itself to become the head coach at Sacred Heart when I graduated from University of Massachusetts in 1999,” said Cook. “I always had a high lacrosse IQ and a great understanding of the game so that was helpful in my transition from college player to head coach at such a young age.”
Luckie is a Sacred Heart alumna who played softball during her collegiate career as a Pioneer. She began coaching the Pioneers in 1989, although coaching was not in her original plan.
“The more I played I was intrigued by the strategy. I really thought I would be a basketball coach, which was actually my favorite sport,” said Luckie. “I guess I was destined to be a softball coach.”
As Spadafina joined the Pioneer coaching staff in 2014, he immediately put emphasis on academics, with the cumulative team GPA hovering around a 3.26 since his arrival.
“At our level, most of our kids will never say they are All-Americans in their sport, but they can always say they are Academic All-Americans,” said Spadafina.
To earn Team Academic All-American honors, the team must have a 3.0 cumulative average, which has not been an issue for the team to consistently secure.
“Coaching is not just the Xs and Os…it is so much more than that,” said Cook.