For a game in which the Massachusetts Stingers were taking on the New England Mutiny in a Women’s Premier Soccer League match-up, the head coach of the Springfield College women’s soccer team, John Gibson, was out to watch his former player and graduate assistant coach Nicole Hanewich play for the Stingers.
Following the game, the now 14-year coach of the Pride stumbled upon a familiar face. It was someone that he had met previously while she was at Springfield College earning her Master of Education degree in Athletic Counseling. To Gibson, the familiar face was that of Jill Serafino, the then mental conditioning coach of the Mutiny.
Although this was only the second time that the two had met, little did either know that a few years later the duo would be preparing to lead the 2013 Springfield women’s soccer team into the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference championship tournament, and hopefully beyond.
“Jill has so much experience as a coach,” said Gibson. “She is so many different generations away from me, so she has different methods and different experiences that I have not had. Jill is a fantastic resource for the program.”
While attending classes and working towards her Bachelor of Arts in Sports Management, Psychology and Exercise Science at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, Serafino also took on an Athletic Administration internship with Vincent Grassetti at Springfield Technical Community College.
At STCC, she wanted to stay involved with soccer as well, for it was her passion, but due to a lull in the women’s soccer team participation numbers, the school was forced to drop the program for the season. This setback in playing, however, opened an opportunity of becoming a multidimensional coach for Serafino.
“I wanted to get into Athletic Administration at the time, or at least I thought I did and I wanted to stay involved with soccer, so I was able to help out with the men’s soccer team, which was the beginning of me coaching at that level,” reflected Serafino.
Upon graduating from the University of Massachusetts with a Bachelor of Arts in Sports Management, Psychology and Exercise Science, Serafino came to Springfield College to pursue her Master of Education in Psychology with a concentration in Athletic Counseling.
After receiving her Master’s in two years at Springfield, Serafino took a job with American International College as an assistant coach under Matt Johnson, who took over the program in 2005.
Serafino spent two years with the Yellow Jackets, helping to improve the team’s record from 1-15-1 to 7-13-0 in a two-season swing. Serafino then moved on to become an assistant at the Division I level at the University of Albany.
Following her one-year stint with Albany, in which the Great Danes went 3-17, Serafino returned to AIC for two more years with the Yellow Jackets.
“Jill was with us during some of the dark times. You know, the times when we were trying to rebuild and get better,” commented Johnson. “She helped bring our program to what it is now through her recruiting and coaching and mentoring. Her consistent presence and work ethic really helped us.”
Serving as a solid contributor to the rebuilding of the women’s soccer program, AIC won the NE-10 regular season title for the second time in program history in 2012. After her second stint at AIC, Serafino decided that she wanted to pursue her Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in School Counseling, back at Springfield College.
“She was an integral part in helping to shape our program,” continued Johnson. “She was such a big part of our program. I was sad to see her go but happy to see her start a new chapter in her life.”
After carefully keeping an eye on Serafino’s journey through the coaching ranks and consistently having to coach against AIC in the preseason as well as spring tournaments, Gibson regretted not employing Serafino as a graduate assistant the first time she was at Springfield.
He made certain not to let her slip through his fingers twice in his career with the Pride.
“I had originally met Jill when she was first here for Athletic Counseling,” said Gibson. “I didn’t employ her and I couldn’t believe it, and now I am trying to persuade her into staying here.”
Luckily for Gibson, Serafino returned to Alden Street to join him on the sidelines, and is now in her second year alongside the 14-year head coach of the Pride.
“There is a type of student-athlete that is associated with Springfield College. They’re hard-working, driven, smart and athletic, and they have all of these components that are not so easy to find at any other school or program,” said Serafino. “It is refreshing to show up every day to a practice session and see how disciplined they are.”
Being at a variety of programs the past few years, Serafino praises her energetic and high-spirited players for keeping her youthful.
“Whether they are with the strength and conditioning coach or with us they take every day seriously,” added Serafino. “How attentive they are and how they try to apply every single thing that we are telling them to do, and then they go out there in the game and fight for the entire 90 minutes is 100 percent refreshing. There is really not a second that they really slack off or don’t put in the effort.”
With an extensive background in athletics and coaching such as hers, Serafino was able to mold her own brand of a coaching style, one that is quite contrary to that of Gibson’s. After coaching with Johnson at AIC, who is known for his high energy and fast-paced talking, getting to coach alongside a calming source such as Gibson was a complete “180.”
“[Coach Gibson] brings a lot of experience to the table,” said Serafino. “He can rope me in when my mind is racing on a million different things, and he brings me back to reality. He is very organized and always has a plan in place, and he is going to see that plan through from beginning to end.”
Although Serafino brings energy and high expectations to the women’s soccer team at Springfield College, it is the soccer intelligence that really impresses her players day in and day out.
“Jill is a great coach,” commented senior captain Vicky DiNatale. “She has such an amazing understanding of the game. She knows what every position on the field should be doing and knows a great deal about different formations, which has really helped us out a lot this season. She prepares us going into each and every game, and sees the potential of the team and works with us so that we can reach it.”
“Coach Serafino brings a lot of variety and experience to practices and games, and she has a very high soccer IQ,” added fellow-captain Sara Dalton. “She expects a lot out of us, which pushes us at practice and prepares us for every game.”
In the two years that Serafino has diligently paced the Springfield College sideline, the Pride have accumulated a record of 24-9-5, including a NEWMAC championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2012.
As humble as she is, Serafino knows that the women’s soccer program would not be where it is today if it weren’t for the supporting cast that goes along with the team.
“Our athletic trainers, strength and conditioning coaches and athletic counselors are a huge part of what I love about Springfield College,” added Serafino. “Emily Hildebrand, our athletic trainer, is the best I’ve ever worked with. Quen Wan, our strength and conditioning coach, is equally as dedicated. Their techniques and knowledge have allowed our team to stay fit and healthy in order to compete at our best. They deserve tons of credit.”
Serafino and the Pride will look to continue their postseason successes from last year when they take on Wheaton College in the NEWMAC Semifinals on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Jon Santer can be reached at email@example.com