Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Goodbye Milena

 It's been four years since TigerBlog did his countdown of the top 25 Princeton men's lacrosse players he'd seen in his first 25 years with the program.

By the way, this has nothing to do with lacrosse, so if you get turned off by the lacrosse stuff that TB does, don't worry. You can keep reading.

Anyway, as he got into the top five, a few people reached out to him to ask him who would be No. 1. Again, this has nothing to do with lacrosse.

He still has one email that he received on the subject. It said this:
No way you are doing co-number 1's. There aren't co-Dons. 

Exactly. There was Don Corleone and then there was the next Don Corleone and that was it.

Who sent him that email? Milena Flores. It's Milena in a nutshell. In fact, if TB had to describe Milena, it would be this way:
1) healthy saracasm
2) amazing work ethic
3) huge heart
4) incredible loyalty
5) dry sense of humor
6) very competitive

All of these are really good qualities. Add them together, and you're left with an incredibly special person. 

If you've been following Princeton women's basketball since the arrival of Courtney Banghart 11 years ago, then you know that she has taken a team whose history included some really good teams and really good players and built it into a national figure in the sport.

You've seen the roster turn over time and again, only to continually restock with great players after great players. Just when you thought that the team had peaked, here comes the next wave, and that continues to the present time.

She's had different athletic trainers, different athletic communications contacts, different strength and conditioning coaches, even two different Ford Family Directors of Athletics.

She's had different assistant coaches. Different Directors of Operations.

In fact, there have been two people who have been with Courtney the entire time. One is Angie Brambley-Moyer, the strength and conditioning coach.

The other has been Milena.

For every step the program has made, Milena has been there with Courtney. It started in Year 1, when they went 7-23 together. It continued from there, with nine straight postseason appearances, six Ivy League championships and seven NCAA tournament appearances.

Most recently, Princeton went 24-6 and won the Ivy League championship and tournament championship before advancing to the NCAA tournament. By the way, if that seems like a great season - and for pretty much any team it would be - look at Princeton's last nine years.

During that time, Princeton is 218-56. That averages to 24.2-6.2, which makes last year sort of average by Princeton women's basketball standards.

If Courtney is the lead singer of Princeton women's basketball, then Milena has spent 11 years on the lead guitar.

And now she's leaving Princeton.

TigerBlog came around the corner the other day on his way downstairs to E level to find Milena as she walked the other way. It was then that she broke the news to him that she was leaving coaching, heading home to the Seattle area.

If you're looking at the greatest assistant basketball coaches in Princeton history, you have Bill Carmody on the men's side and Milena Flores on the women's side.

Actually, if you're looking at the best assistant coaches that Princeton has had since TB has been here across all sports, Milena is in the top five. Maybe the top three. There are a few he can think of that he'd put up there with her, but there's really only one who is definitely ahead of her, and that's former men's lacrosse assistant David Metzbower, who is in his own universe.

It's not always easy to be an assistant coach, and it requires your ego to be checked at the door. When you're the assistant coach, you don't always get your way. You advise and you suggest and you bounce ideas around, but ultimately it's the head coach's decision.

Courtney will head into next season with an overall record of 232-93. Milena will leave Princeton with a record of 0-0.

At the same time, Princeton women's basketball wouldn't be what it is and wouldn't have become what it did without Milena. And beyond what can be measured in wins and championships, she's also had an enormous effect on the personal growth of the players who have come through the program and helped to give so many of them a great experience, one they will cherish forever.

And now it's time for the next chapter of her life.

Princeton will be losing someone who was universally liked here during her 11 years. She's someone who supported every team here, every athlete who represented Princeton. Almost all of her recent texts to TigerBlog, for instance, involved lacrosse.

She's also been TigerBlog's friend for 11 years. They've had a million conversations, about everything and nothing. Most of them involved laughter, the understated kind of course, but there were also serious moments as well.

Mostly it's just been good to know that she was around. 

TigerBlog has gone to a lot of women's basketball games since Courtney and Milena arrived. Some of his biggest memories of Milena will be all the times in the minutes before the games that he walked over to her as she sat on the bench watching warmups.

If she was nervous before a game, she never showed it. She was easy to talk to even in those moments, and she'd give him a pregame rundown on how she expected the game to go, who on the other team scared her, what she thought Princeton could do well.

Then she'd always say something funny, probably a little sarcastic, and then it would be game time. In an instant the intensity would be there, the competitive drive that is the mark of every great coach.

And then, when it was over, win or lose, she'd be back to the same soft-spoken Milena she always has been.

TigerBlog wishes her luck as she moves on. And he'll miss her.

There haven't been too many better people ever to walk into Jadwin Gym than Milena Flores.

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