When midfielder Amy Kohout ’18 plays in the Feb. 24 season opener, she and her teammates will open a new chapter in Ursinus lacrosse. The program has a storied history that includes five national championships and 540 wins—making Ursinus the country’s winningest collegiate women’s lacrosse program.
By season’s end, that impressive win total will have grown even more, and some of Kohout’s teammates will trade in their textbooks and lacrosse sticks for caps and gowns.
Some of these brand-new alumnae will opt to remain in athletics and will have the luxury of tapping into a vast network that has created a sort of Ursinus family tree—growing branches of first-rate athletic leaders who have coached at all levels.
Most of these success stories have roots with an Ursinus mentor. When athletic director Laura Moliken came to Ursinus to coach field hockey, her Old Dominion University coach, Beth Anders ’73, had her back. When Scott Sallach ’94 was coaching at Princeton, his Ursinus grid teammate, Dan Mullen ’94, head football coach at Mississippi State, asked him to join his coaching staff. University of Pennsylvania men’s basketball coach Steve Donahue ’84 credits his ex-Ursinus coach Frank (Skip) Werley with jumpstarting his coaching career.
This network encompasses high school coaches like basketball player Dennis Stanton ’04, who coached at Souderton Area High School before being named the district’s athletic director, and Melissa Magee Speidel ’76, a winning former Trenton State College and Old Dominion field hockey and lacrosse coach who has been at The Lawrenceville School for 25-plus years.
The ranks of college coaches include Jenepher Shillingford ’54, former field hockey coach at Bryn Mawr College, Rutgers-Camden tennis coach Casey McCullough ’05 and Mike McGarvey ’06, now assistant basketball coach at Colgate University. There are several UC grads in the national spotlight, such as Mullen, Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther ’94, and Donahue, who was named the Penn basketball coach last March.
For Donahue, coaching is a dream come true. During his first father-son trip to the University of Pennsylvania’s historic Palestra with his late father, Donahue just knew what his future held.
“I left there knowing I wanted to be a part of it myself someday,” Donahue says.
A middle schooler at the time, Donahue already suspected he wouldn’t be tall or quick enough to be a Division I player. But on subsequent Palestra trips, he discovered another possible avenue to realize his dream while watching legendary Philadelphia college coaches work their sideline magic.
He also benefitted from the Ursinus network. Werley, Donahue’s former coach, gave Donahue his first coaching gig as one of his assistants at Springfield High School in Delaware County.
The road back to the Palestra was not easy for Donahue, who worked for MAB Paints as he slowly made his way up the coaching ranks—with Werley for three years, moving to Monsignor Bonner High for two years, working at Philadelphia University under Herb Magee for two more, and then landing an assistant’s job at Penn in 1990.
In 2000, he became head coach of Cornell University, where he stayed for 10 seasons, going to three NCAA Tournaments and one Sweet Sixteen in his final three years. After four seasons at Boston College, his new challenge is to return the Quakers to prominence.
Associate Commissioner of the Atlantic Ten Conference Jay DeFruscio ’82 is certain that Donahue, his former Ursinus teammate, will succeed at Penn.
Ursinus alumni believe in each other. DeFruscio, who won 311 games as the head coach at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia before serving as an NBA assistant for the Indiana Pacers from 2007-2011, believes that Ursinus graduates’ never-say-die attitude equips them to succeed.
“Ursinus people have a certain grittiness or work ethic that separates them from the pack,” he says. “Most of the people I attended Ursinus with were from middle-class families, and many of them were the first to attend college in their families,” says DeFruscio. “So they have a toughness that helps them succeed through tough times—like Steve Donahue continuing to chase his coaching dream even though he didn’t get paid to coach until he was 33.”
Moliken adds: “It’s no accident that Ursinus College has produced so many terrific athletic leaders. Ursinus people possess a pay-it-forward mentality. They help others succeed.”
“I have always loved that about Ursinus. It was my first experience in having someone ‘pay it forward’ for me.”
-Athletic Director Laura Moliken
Moliken speaks from experience. Although she didn’t attend Ursinus, her playing career led her to Old Dominion, where she experienced a “six degrees of separation” from Ursinus. She starred on three consecutive national championship teams for the legendary Beth Anders ’73 and later, played for the U.S. National Team, coached by Anders with help from Vonnie Gros ’57.
When the Ursinus field hockey position opened up, Gros called Moliken. “Because I was respected in the eyes of Beth Anders, and because Vonnie also knew me, I was considered to be ‘in’ by virtue of association, and I was made to feel part of the family from day one.
“I have always loved that about Ursinus. It was my first experience in having someone ‘pay it forward’ for me,” says Moliken, who, as the Bears field hockey coach, won seven consecutive conference championships, made five trips to the Final Four, and won the 2006 Division III National Championship.
Janelle Benner, the current Ursinus coach, also played for Anders at Old Dominion. She has won four conference championships and made at least one trip to the NCAA Final Four in her first four years at Ursinus.
Before Moliken had set foot on the Old Dominion field, Anders had played on the 1984 bronze medal-winning Olympic U.S. field hockey team, coached by Gros, assisted by Margery Watson ’55 and managed by Marjorie Dawkins Garinger ’57. On the team was Episcopal Academy field hockey coach/athletic director Regina “Gina” Buggy ’81.
Buggy, an All-American in field hockey and lacrosse at Ursinus, is one of the nation’s elite high school field hockey coaches. She credits Ursinus for laying the foundation for her success.
“Ursinus, for its size, clearly has a pretty substantial athletics network across the country,” says Buggy. “I chose to attend Ursinus because of its academic reputation and its tremendous reputation for women’s athletics.
“My Ursinus coaches—Adele Boyd ’53 and Mary Ann Harris for field hockey, and Watson and Sue Stahl ’66 for lacrosse—were incredible. They instilled in me the confidence to succeed in whatever I chose to do, and they made phone calls on my behalf to help my career get started,” Buggy says.
As Episcopal Academy’s athletic director, Buggy has hired C.J. Yespelkis ’11 as an assistant football coach and has recommended Ursinus as a college destination for a number of recent Episcopal athletes.
Buggy’s coach, Adele Boyd, tipped off her player, Nancy Bernardini ’78, about a job opening at The George School in Bucks County, where, after 38 years, Bernardini is the athletic director and coaches basketball, lacrosse and field hockey.
“The spiral goes on,” says Boyd. “Our coaches pay it forward. It is a very tight network. We all keep in touch, and there is a comfort in that.”
Boyd came to Ursinus from teaching and coaching at Cheltenham High School because as a student she lived with the family of President D.L. Helfferich, who was seeking a field hockey coach to replace the legendary Eleanor Frost Snell.
Snell’s record in field hockey was 198-61-29. Her Snell’s Belles, as her players were known, looked to her as a life coach as well. Her legacy is carried forward in the annual Snell-Shillingford Coaching Symposium, during which coaches mentor current players who might want to become coaches.
Basketball coach Debbie Ryan ’75 just missed playing basketball for Snell but she came to Ursinus because of the reputation of trailblazing female athletes. After her playing career, Ryan went on to coach the University of Virginia to 736 career wins and three Final Fours and is in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Current assistant athletic director Erin Fitzgerald Stroble ’02, a two-time All American, played field hockey for Gros her freshman year and for Moliken during her sophomore year. She played lacrosse all four years for Carrie Reilly Kirk. When Kirk left, Stroble returned to Ursinus as head lacrosse coach. “I’m very sure that Carrie was a big part of why I was considered,” she says.
When Stroble moved into full-time administration and her replacement was sought, her thoughts turned to the Snell-Shillingford Symposium. Current lacrosse coach Katie Hagan had been a student participant in the symposium and later a coach contributor. “This is where I really got to know Katie and what led me to seek her out and recommend her strongly,” Stroble says.
“The most powerful image a young female athlete with interest in coaching can see is a female coach already doing the job. If I hadn’t been fortunate enough to see multiple images of female coaches throughout my youth, I wouldn’t have had the confidence that I, too, could be a coach. Those examples, coupled with the strong connections I made as an undergraduate at Ursinus, have made me another proud and grateful branch on the Ursinus coaching tree.”
Others clearly subscribe to Ursinus’ pay-it-forward mantra. Mullen, the highly successful Mississippi State football coach, tapped Sallach, his former suitemate, teammate and Alpha Phi Epsilon brother at Ursinus, to join him in Starkville, Miss., in 2009, as an assistant coach.
Sallach couldn’t be happier. “There is nothing like game day in the SEC,” Sallach says. “Playing in sold-out stadiums … often on national TV, is a surreal experience. It’s the pinnacle of college football. For a (former) Division III athlete from one of the smallest high schools in New Jersey to have all these unbelievable experiences is amazing. Sometimes, I can’t believe it’s happening to me.”
Sometimes the network is just about the shared experience of being Ursinus alumni. When Joyce Anne Koubaroulis ’06 returned to Ursinus this fall, DeFruscio discovered that Koubaroulis, who was just inducted into the Hall of Fame for Athletes, worked at Christopher Newport University. The former head field hockey coach at Virginia Wesleyan University, she had made a career turn into academic support. DeFruscio asked her to meet and share their UC connections.
None of this surprises Moliken. “Ursinus alums know the personal qualities that are synonymous with a Ursinus degree, so creating those connections makes sense,” she says. “The students who come here appreciate the opportunity and make the most of their college experience. That work ethic carries over into all aspects of their lives. Once given the opportunity—no matter what the field—Ursinus graduates are going to be grateful and are going to work tirelessly to succeed. It’s in our DNA.”