Women’s soccer coach makes her mark

Published by Tyler Howe, Date: October 17, 2019
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Head coach Jessica Griggs and assistant coach Mark Sappington call out orders on the sideline against Walsh University on Sept. 6.

In March 2015, the winningest coach in Slippery Rock women’s soccer had stepped down the past fall after delivering yet another winning season. Slippery Rock had just hired new head coach Jessica Griggs, a coach with minimal experience, but one who had succeeded in everything she’d done so far and was from a soccer family. Griggs was stepping into a job that had a lot of expectations, but she had a track record of success.

Griggs, who is a Guilford, Connecticut native, had been around soccer her whole life because of her father, Steve, who coached Yale University’s soccer team from 1975-1997 and won the Ivy League multiple times.

“Being a part of a soccer family obviously impacts you as a soccer player; I think it helped my IQ of the game and all that. But my mom’s side of the family is also a soccer family, she had seven brothers, five played, and three were All-Americans so it just kind of comes from both sides, which is a big impact,” Griggs explained.

A few years later, Griggs went on to play college soccer at Dickinson College where she started all four years and was named all-conference every year. In her career, she was part of a team that made it to the Round of 16 in NCAA Division III tournament and scored 88 points in her career (34 goals and 20 assists).

“I got recruited by the coach and really had a very good connection with her immediately and to this day she’s one of my best friends. I really did fall in love with the school, but I wanted to play for her specifically,” Griggs said. As of the start of last season, Griggs was still fifth all-time in goals scored in Dickinson school history.

While at Dickinson, she majored in Spanish. “My father speaks five languages and he’s very cultural and kind of made it important in our upbringing that we learned about other cultures, so Spanish gave me the chance to study abroad and I studied in Barcelona,” Griggs said. And being the soccer fan that she is, while in Spain she went to multiple soccer games.

After graduating, Griggs got her first experience in coaching when she got an assistant coach position at Shippensburg University. She was there for four seasons, and while there met her now assistant coach, Mark Sappington, who she has now been with for seven of the last eight seasons.

While at Shippensburg, her most significant season was the 2013 season which saw the Raiders finish with a 12-6-3 record and an NCAA tournament appearance. Griggs and the Raiders were knocked off by her future team on her future field in overtime against, ironically, Slippery Rock.

“I think the most enjoyable part [of coaching with her] has been kind of a two-fold, seeing her learn and grow as a coach and seeing me learn and grow as a coach as well,” Sappington said.

Griggs then got her first head coaching job at Northland University in Wisconsin where she led them to an 11-9-1 record. “It was a great year, great experience both personally and professionally. It was a tiny town and a tiny college and I created a little bond with them and got them to work and made sure they were always working and not giving up,” said Griggs. “The one thing I took from it was a lot of trial and error, being a first time head coach in a program like this would be really scary, but I got to go to a small school in Wisconsin and do some trial and error,” Griggs explained.

After leading Northland to a winning record after they had won only 20 games in the past three seasons, coaches around the PSAC encouraged her to apply for Slippery Rock’s head coaching job.

“I almost didn’t apply, I didn’t think this was a job I would remotely be considered for. It was a really well sought-out job, and I think I put in my application the last day and when then gave me a call I was so shocked,” Griggs said.

Since she was hired, she picked up right where Noreen Herlihy left off, leading Slippery Rock to the PSAC tournament all four years so far, and has extended Slippery Rock’s consecutive winning season streak to 23 seasons. In that time she has tallied a 54-27-6 record (as of Oct. 15).

“I think everyone expected failure from no matter who took over; you don’t want to take over after a very successful coach like that so everyone expects failure in some way or another, but I don’t think either one of us [Coach Sappington] had the mindset that that mattered. We were just going to do what we needed to do to help the team and the girls,” Griggs said.

Fast forward nearly five seasons, Griggs is currently in the best season of her career as head coach of Slippery Rock. She is looking to make it to the NCAA tournament for the first time as a head coach, and she has come extremely close multiple times now. But Griggs is also focused on the relationships she maintains with the girls.

“You’re going to have coaches with different philosophies, but for me [having good relationships with players] is also a must, because if you’re only focused on the end goal, you’re going to struggle to get there. If focus on all the surrounding characteristics leads to wins you’re going to have a good time doing it and you finish with the end goal of winning as well,” Sappington said.

Griggs doesn’t only want to insure success on the field, but in life as well for the girls and the same goes for her entire staff.

“I think one of the biggest things I want is the fact that when the girls leave here, I hope to see them be successful in whatever they’re doing and be a part of what they’re doing and who they are after college,” said Griggs. “And you can say winning, but for me one of the biggest accomplishments would be to see them be successful and hopefully I had an impact on that.”

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