Friday, August 22, 2014

Guest TigerBlog - Emily Benhcke's Thoughts On Shacks

In the entire history of Princeton Athletics, how many people have been a head coach for at least 20 seasons? What would you guess?

It turns out the answer is 24, including two – Richard Vaughan and Jimmy Reed – who coached at least 20 seasons with two different teams. Or so TigerBlog thinks, assuming that the same Richard Vaughan coached hockey and sprint football and the same Jimmy Reed coached soccer and wrestling.

Some of the names on the list are obvious. Pete Carril. Cappy Cappon. Larry Ellis. Betty Constable. Eddie Donovan. Louise Gengler. Glenn Nelson.
Princeton has six active coaches who have coached here for at least 20 seasons: men’s track and field coach Fred Samara, women’s track and field coach Peter Farrell, women’s swimming coach Susan Teeter, men’s swimming coach Rob Orr, women’s squash coach Gail Ramsay and women’s lacrosse coach Chris Sailer.

Princeton will have a 25th coach and seventh active coach join that list, but she will go no further than 20 seasons here. Julie Shackford, the women’s soccer coach, announced today that the 2014 season at Princeton will be her 20th and final one.

Shackford is 196-106-26 in her first 19 seasons at Princeton, so she obviously needs four wins to reach 200. The next-best total by a Princeton soccer coach is 136, by Reed, who spent 29 seasons coaching the men’s team. Shackford is 238-130-30 overall with her four years as the head coach at Carnegie Mellon added in.

Her resume also includes six Ivy League titles and eight NCAA tournament appearances, the most by an Ivy women’s soccer coach. She is one of two Ivy coaches to go 7-0-0 in women’s soccer twice, something she did in 2004 and 2012.

Speaking of 2004, she did something that year that no other Ivy women’s soccer coach has ever matched, taking Princeton all the way to the NCAA Final Four. In fact, it’s the only time an Ivy League team has reached the Final Four of a 64-team NCAA tournament.

On the day that she announces her retirement, TigerBlog turned to Emily Behncke, a two-time first-team All-Ivy League selection, the 2005 Ivy Player of the Year and one of the stars of the 2004 Final Four team, to talk about her head coach, whom her players almost exclusively call "Shacks":

It's impossible to express in just a few words the profound impact Shacks has made on the Princeton soccer program.

It’s easy to start with the six Ivy League championships, eight NCAA appearances, and magical Final Four run of 2004, but her impact goes far beyond the soccer field. 

My memories of Shacks go back nearly 20 years, from those first games I watched as a middle schooler when my brothers were on the men’s soccer team, to my own years playing at Princeton, to her continued success with the program that I’ve witnessed as an alum. 

What stands out most for me – and what I believe will be her lasting legacy for the hundreds of players who played for her during her 20 years as head of the Princeton women’s soccer program – is her passion for her players' success. Shacks cares deeply for each of her players, and more than anything, is driven to help them realize and achieve their full potential.

She doesn’t back away from some tough love to help her players achieve that goal. For me personally, that led to some seriously sore biceps as a freshman. 

“Behncke, you’re positioning is off… push ups! Behncke, no square balls… push ups! Behncke, you just need to get stronger… push ups!”

But it’s because of Shacks and what she grew that I was able to compete in a Final Four, play professionally in Sweden, and, most importantly, be a part of program that remains almost as much a part of my life now as it was during my four years on campus.

When her players walk off Myslik Field for the last time as graduating seniors, chances are they will have experienced many memorable nights, captured an Ivy League title, and played in the NCAA tournament. But what is most important to Shacks is the progress each player has made throughout her career and the fact that her players can graduate proud of their contributions to the program, without any regrets.

And although she demands a lot from her players, Shacks constantly finds creative ways to keep things fun. 

Our beloved “PGGs” (Pre-Game-Games) got so competitive she frequently had to cut them off so we wouldn’t wipe ourselves out before the actual league game. Blue/White challenges during practice drew some of the fiercest one-on-one battles I’ve seen in college soccer.  “Phantom Menace” pranks amongst the team were encouraged, even though they were largely aimed at the coaching staff. 

And we all still talk about who’s earned the “yellow jersey” – an initiative she implemented after getting swept up in the Tour de France excitement one year.  She really lives her mantra, “it doesn’t get any better than this” and she made us all believe it.  Even after long bus rides home from away games or cold November practices in the rain, we all still felt fortunate to be there, to be part of something that special.   

I now spend more time behind a desk than running around a field, but the lessons I learned from her during my four years at Princeton remain surprisingly relevant. 

Whether you’re nervous about a pre-season run test or your first client presentation, it’s important to remember, "You'll pass out before you die." If you find yourself in a tough game against Harvard with an unforgiving referee or you’re negotiating a new deal, “expect the unexpected.” Have patience – it will all come "in due time." 

And most importantly, whatever stage of life you’re in, "it doesn't get any better than this." 

Shacks has amassed many accolades during her coaching career, most notably as 2004 Division I Coach of the Year. And although she rarely spoke of her own glory days, she has just as many success stories from her playing days at William & Mary, where she was a three-time All America. 

As impressive as those stats are they don’t show the impact she’s had on the hundreds of players she’s coached over the past 19 seasons at Princeton. Despite all of the games her team won, the individual rewards she received, and the six Ivy League championships she won, her lasting legacy to the program and the community will always be that she helped every one of the young women who played for her identify their full potential and continue to strive to realize that potential long after they left the comfort, friendship, and family that she created at Princeton.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

where is she headed next? good luck!