Tuesday, June 14, 2022

A Pair Of Farewells

Today is about goodbyes, first for someone that no Princeton fan has ever rooted for and the other whom Princeton fans always wanted to see win.

The first one is Steve Conn, who has retired after spending 36 years working in the Yale sports information office. He's been the sport contact for a lot of sports along the way, including with NCAA championship teams in men's hockey and men's lacrosse.

The world of Ivy League sports information was a much different one when Steve Conn first came to Yale, and a few years later when TigerBlog first came to Princeton. He'd say the camaraderie was unlike anything he's ever experienced in his professional life, with people across eight schools who viewed themselves as working together as much as they did as working for rival institutions. 

Every road trip was a chance to see your coworker/friend from that week's opponents. There were endless Friday night dinners out prior to Saturday games, and those dinners were as much a part of the enjoyment of the weekend as the games themselves.

This was before communications moved as quickly as they do today. Back then, the week before a game would mean constant back and forth between the sports information people involved; today pretty much all of that communication gets handled in one email or text message.

Steve Conn ended his time at Yale with the annual boat races against Harvard the week after the IRA national championships. Now it's on to other things for him, but he leaves behind a legacy of excellence and caring at Yale that touched countless athletes and coaches and made him a legend in the profession and in the Ivy League.

Plus, he's just a fantastic all-around human being. TigerBlog wishes him all the best, though, as he said earlier, he never actually rooted for him.

As for the rooting interest, that would be Laura Granville, who announced last week that she is leaving her position as the head women's tennis coach at Princeton.

Her record at Princeton is an amazing one. She took over the program in 2012 and led the Tigers to six Ivy League championships, winning three straight from 2014-16 and then winning in 2018, 2019 and, after the pandemic canceled two seasons, again this spring.

She was a five-time Ivy League women's tennis coach of the year. She led the team to its first NCAA win back in 2014 and another one this season, when the Tigers knocked off Army 4-0 in the opening round. Her teams have been ranked as high as No. 5 nationally (where the Tigers were in 2020 when the pandemic came along).

The standard for women's tennis coaches at Princeton was set early on. It was the very first sport for women at Princeton, dating back to when Helena Novakova and Margie Gengler Smith won the Eastern Intercollegiate championship in the fall of 1970, before there was a coach. 

That spring, in 1971, the women's tennis team played the first team competition against another school. The coach that day, the first in Princeton women's athletics history, was Eve Kraft, a volunteer whom Merrily Dean Baker recruited because she had no budget for women's coaches.

How did Kraft do? She coached the team for 26 matches and had a 26-0 record. Since that start, no head coach at Princeton has had lower than a .594 winning percentage.

As for Granville, her final winning percentage at Princeton is .668, with 129 wins and 64 losses. She was 20-1 in her league matches in her final three seasons. That's a lot of winning.

More than that, she, like Steve Conn, is also a fantastic human being. She is fiercely competitive and driven to giving her athletes a championship experience, while at the same time she is also soft-spoken and caring, someone who always seemed to be smiling and positive.

She is the exact kind of person who makes Princeton Athletics so special.

Now she's leaving. Her legacy at Princeton will be a championship one, as a coach, and as a human being. Princeton has been lucky to have her as its women's tennis coach.

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