In the past two years, three new head coaches have been hired to lead three different women’s sports programs. In 2015-16, all three coaches led their teams to successful seasons. New head coach Jessica Griggs led the women’s soccer team to the semifinal round of the conference playoffs, former interim head coach Bobby McGraw compiled the most wins in a single season for the women’s basketball team in a decade and former assistant coach Stacey Rice led the softball team back into the playoffs for the first time in six years.
Griggs was named the new women’s soccer head coach in March of 2015, coming off of a one-year stint as the head coach of Division III Northland College. She inherited a program that had won a combined 20 games in the past three years.
In her first season as head coach, Griggs led The Rock to 13 wins and a trip to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Tournament semifinal round.
SRU athletic director Paul Lueken said that Griggs found early success with the women’s soccer program because she was able to adapt her coaching philosophies to the players already on the roster.
“She (Griggs) didn’t try to reinvent the wheel here. She certainly instilled some of the things she wants to do,” Lueken said. “I know she’s set high expectations for herself, she wants to win the PSAC championship every year and move on and win a national championship. She wants to make sure we do it the right way, she wants to focus on student success not only on the field but in the classroom and in the community. My hope for (Griggs) is that she can settle in here for a long time.”
Under Griggs, six players were named to all-region postseason teams and the team as a whole posted a 3.1 GPA in the fall semester.
Coach McGraw was named the interim head coach of the women’s basketball team in May of 2014. In his first year in charge of the program, he led the team to an 11-16 record and a trip to the PSAC playoffs for the first time since the 2005-06 season.
However, it was not certain whether or not McGraw would be hired as the permanent head coach after his interim season.
McGraw said that he could not let the uncertainty of his job security affect him in any way.
“There was one thought through that process; ‘go find the best players that we can sign immediately’,” McGraw said. “If we were brought back, the last thing we wanted to do was come back with an empty cupboard because we were sitting on our hands hoping we would be back. It was nerve-racking, but at the same time we had to have the thought process that we were going to get hired, so go out and get players.”
After being named the permanent head coach of the team last summer, McGraw coach the team to a 13-15 record, the most wins in a single season for the program in the last decade.
In the past five seasons before McGraw, the women’s basketball team totaled 25 wins. In two seasons under McGraw, the women’s basketball team already has 24 wins. McGraw has also been able to draw highly touted high school recruits and transfers.
“The next step is to win the PSAC title,” McGraw said. “We can win the PSAC. We have a lot coming back, we have a freshman coming in, we have a transfer coming in who will all make huge impacts. The goal is to not win two more games, the goal next year is to win the PSAC title, plain and simple.”
McGraw said that he will continue to work to improve the team defensively, and that is how he plans on winning a championship.
Coach Rice has been a part of the Slippery Rock softball team since 2005, both as a player and as an assistant coach.
She was promoted to head coach of the team prior to last season and has already steered the program in the right direction. This year, Rice’s second as head coach, the team won 20 games, the most since 2010, and she led the team into the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Lueken thinks that Rice’s familiarity with and determination for the softball program has enabled her to have this early success.
“I think it has been a tremendous advantage for her. She was here when we were successful and when we did make the playoffs and as a player and saw what that looks like,” Lueken said. “She has a very strong desire to be very competitive. She’s been able to develop her players, both as an assistant and now as head coach. The coach she learned under was an offensive coach and so I think that’s how she’s approached her own coaching style.”
The 12 years Rice has been a part of the SRU softball team have been the program’s most successful period and Rice is looking to continue the mission to win a title that she started when she was a player for The Rock.
In the end, Lueken thinks that is important for a university to have both men’s and women’s sports that are successful. He thinks that it reflects well on Slippery Rock when both men’s and women’s teams can bring home championships and be an example of how SRU athletics operates.
McGraw said that he thinks that it is good for everyone when men’s and women’s sports can be successful. He said in the past, people would only buy tickets to see the men’s basketball team, but now people are buying tickets to see both.
As each of these coaches continue to build their legacies at Slippery Rock, the only certainty is that they are doing so with the best intentions for both the university and their players.