Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Shades of Blue

It's been a week of contemplation for some of Princeton's coaches, and family seems to be the big winner.

Last week, Princeton lost one of its most lauded mentors in any sport when Bill Tierney chose to be closer to three of his four children and take an opportunity in Denver. Just yesterday, the man who many thought would be the obvious choice to replace Tierney, longtime assistant David Metzbower, came to the same realization and opted not to assume the role of the man he'd assisted for almost 20 years at Princeton.

Now comes more unexpected news when Kathy Sell, after five years as Princeton's head women's tennis coach, felt the pull of family ties and decided to head to North Carolina. Her parents and sisters now live in the Tar Heel State.

Clearly, home has been a strong motivator for Sell. She was a Moorestown, N.J. resident before playing collegiately at Duke (making her favorite shade of blue a darker one than most of her future neighbors) and then spending time at the University of Oregon to pursue a graduate degree and begin her coaching career.

Soon, Sell came home and took the job at Princeton, just a short trip up I-295 from Moorestown. Now that home has moved, so too does Sell.

Sell's departure makes it four sports without a head coach as the summer begins in earnest, and all three sports that were eligible have won an Ivy League title in the last couple years. Glenn Nelson, the head coach of men's and women's volleyball, was the first to end his Princeton career just a year after helping the women's team to a 2007 Ivy title (there is no Ivy League men's volleyball), and Tierney's decision came just weeks after his team won an Ivy championship.

Sell's team wrapped up its first Ivy League title since 2000 on April 19, and less than two months later, Sell is gone.

Princeton's women's tennis team had a winning Ivy League record in all five of Sell's seasons and never saw its Ivy winning percentage decline with her as coach. The Tigers went 4-3 in the league in each of her first two seasons, 5-2 in each of the next two seasons and 6-1 in 2009, the team's best record since a 7-0 season in 2000. The team's overall record was above .500 every year, culminating in a program record 18 wins this past spring. Under Sell's leadership, Princeton returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time since that 2000 season and came closer to winning an NCAA team match than it had ever come, losing to Florida International 4-3 on the last singles bout of a sweltering afternoon in Miami last month.

Events like these give us at TigerBlog HQ a chance to reflect on how much has changed in just a handful of years. Since longtime women's tennis coach and Sell's predecessor Louise Gengler retired after the 2004 season, 15 other programs have seen coaching changes. Out of 38 sports, considering all the different personalities involved, that more than 60% of Princeton's coaches are still at their posts five years later says a lot for the draw of being a head coach here. It means that the people behind the title of "coach" have decided to set down roots here, that many have chosen to remain rather than pursue other opportunities.

For the almost 40% that have moved on, certainly there were a variety of reasons why. Family, as we have seen this week, is a big motivator. Perhaps a desire for a different geographical location or a general change of scenery are others.

Whatever the reason, everyone at TigerBlog HQ has the same wish for all those who follow their own path away from Princeton: Whatever your pursuits, good luck.

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