Monday, June 27, 2016

Melisa And Ron

Melisa Meccage and Ron Celestin are leaving Princeton Athletics.

Between them, they have given 35 years of coaching to Princeton, Melissa for 14 with the field hockey team, Ron for 21 with the women's soccer team.

After Kristen Holmes-Winn announced that she was leaving her job as head field hockey coach, TigerBlog mentioned that there are certain accomplishments that separate the greatest of the great coaches from those who have been elite. To TigerBlog, as he said last week, that means having accomplished something that nobody else ever has.

Usually, this means the head coach. In some cases, though, the assistant coach has been such an integral part of the program for so long that it counts for them as well.

In the case of both Melisa Meccage and Ron Celestin, that is definitely true.

In Melisa's case, the 2012 NCAA championship is on her resume. In Ron's case, he has the 2004 Final Four on his.

It's not easy to be a longtime assistant coach, especially under a high-profile, wildly successful head coach like Holmes-Winn or Julie Shackford, for whom Celestin worked for 20 of his 21 years at Princeton. For starters, you get almost no credit for the program's success; that goes to the head coach. You absolutely need to check your ego at the door, or you cannot be successful.

When TigerBlog started to think about Ron and Melisa, he started thinking about the greatest assistant coaches Princeton Athletics has ever had, or at least in the nearly 30 years that TigerBlog has been paying attention.

Melisa Meccage and Ron Celestin are both easily in the top 10, maybe both in the top five.

The best? TigerBlog will go with longtime men's lacrosse assistant David Metzbower. After Metz, though, these two are up there with anyone.

Let's start with Melisa Meccage.

Melisa was a college field hockey teammate of Holmes-Winn at Iowa, and she was a member of her staff for all 244 games Holmes-Winn would coach at Princeton. Together, the two would win 12 Ivy League titles and 13 years, reach the NCAA quarterfinals seven times and of course win that 2012 NCAA title.

No other Ivy League field hockey team has ever won an NCAA title. It is one of the signature accomplishments in the history of Princeton women's athletics.

When TigerBlog thinks about Melisa, he thinks about her as a person, not as a coach. And if he had to pick one word to describe her, that word would be "genuine."

TigerBlog can't remember too many times that he ever saw Melisa where she wasn't smiling. And when she asked how he was doing, or how his kids were doing, clearly she wanted to know.

In fact, Melisa did as much as anyone to encourage Miss TigerBlog when she was first playing field hockey - and sports in general. Since then, she has often asked about MTB, and in a way that has always been, well, genuine.

Melisa is leaving coaching to work with her husband Jeremy on their sports travel business, Zag Sports. TigerBlog may have lost track, but he thinks they have four kids.

She will be missed at Princeton. Her work with the field hockey program for 13 seasons speaks for itself, which is good, because she would never think of taking the credit for the success. More than that, she's been a great representative of the University and the department, with her personality, her likeability, her demeanor.

Like TB said, she's just a genuinely good person.

And Ron Celestin?

The one word TigerBlog would use to describe him is "strong." He is one of the strongest people TigerBlog has ever met.

Not in physical strength. No, Ron Celestin is wispy, rail thin.

No, TigerBlog means strength of character. Ron is one of those rare people who never changes, never wavers from who he is, never cuts any corners, never lowers his expectations of those around the program while at the same time giving those same people his full and unconditional support.

TigerBlog actually met Ron before either workers at the University. TigerBlog was covering high school sports; Ron was the very successful coach at Princeton High School.

Since then, TB has watched Ron and his wife Annette's two kids - he knows for a fact Ron and Annette have two, Chantal and C.C. - grow up from little kids to high school to college He's been to their house many times, and they have been to his.

In all the time he's known Ron, TB has always marveled at him. Ron is a funny man. He likes to laugh, softly. For that matter, he also speaks softly.

He's one of the greatest family men TB has ever known. And by family, TigerBlog means Ron's own family, and the extended family that has been Princeton women's soccer in his 21 years.

During that time, he's been part of seven Ivy League titles and nine NCAA tournaments. The most recent of each was a year ago, in Sean Driscoll's first year as head coach, when Ron gave the program much-needed stability and continuity after Shackford left. 

TigerBlog has wanted so many times to tell Ron how much he admires him, but the time was never right.

So maybe now, as he's leaving Princeton to become the associate head coach at Northeastern, this is finally the right time.

TigerBlog hasn't met too many better people in his life than Ron Celestin. He's excited for his long-time friend for his new career challenge.

On the other hand, he'll miss him.

So will Princeton Athletics.

Ron Celestin and Melissa Meccage. They are two of the best coaches Princeton Athletics has had - even if they did so far away from the spotlight.


Anonymous said...

A great post and very well-deserved tribute to two spectacular assistant coaches and, clearly, two outstanding persons. Princeton will sorely miss both of them.

Nassau83 said...

Ron and Melissa deserve high praise - for their excellence and long service at Princeton! While assistant coaches on the men's and women's swim teams have not served long tenures, several have gone on to other important positions in the sport. Former Men's assistant Jamie Holder became head coach at Georgetown and was recently hired as head coach at Dartmouth. Former Women's assistant Greg Meehan is now the head coach at Stanford and Mitch Dalton, another men's assistant, is USA Swimming's National Junior Team Program Director. The quality of coaching at Princeton - at the head level and now at the assistant level as well is simply extraordinary!