By Gabby Guerard
A word I had never said until the fall of 2016. Before all the games, before all the stories.
I stepped into Naomi Graves’ office terrified. In fact, I got lost just trying to find it. Palms sweaty, anxious energy radiating from my pores, I had a death grip on my notebook. There were eight questions prepped and ready – some of which Coach would be intrigued by, and one of which she squashed without hesitation (and rightfully so, it wasn’t very good).
I had never interviewed a coach before. And anyone who knows Coach Graves knows she can be tough – because of how deeply she cares. Sugarcoating? She’s never heard of it. And any of her athletes can attest to that.
A tough coach and a young journalist who was pretty clueless: name a better recipe for disaster.
I didn’t know how to write beat stories, or season previews, or features, or game stories, or NEWMAC previews. I didn’t know how to live tweet during games. I didn’t even have a Twitter account yet. I didn’t know how to ask the hard questions after a loss. Honestly, I don’t think I even did an interview when I had to cover a loss for the first time, because I was so nervous.
What I didn’t realize at the time is this team, this program and this coach would fuel my passion as a sports journalist and teach me far more than anything I ever learned in a classroom.
I learned the importance of the “little things” as Coach says, like memorizing how to spell everyone’s last names correctly – even the long ones like “Adamopoulos,” “Restituyo” and “Dzindolet.” Or taking the time to scout the other team and do some research ahead of time, so I can tuck in those quick facts to my story and still hit my deadline.
I learned to love the “dirty work” as Coach says, like digging through the archives to figure out if players will set new records. Or transcribing for hours upon hours to make sure I have the perfect quotes for features stories.
I “learned from my losses” as Coach says, like when I lost the most important 15 minutes of a 45-minute interview for what was the biggest story I had ever done as a first-year for the Pride Sports Journal. Happy to report I’ve never forgotten to put my phone on airplane mode while recording interviews ever since.
Though, it wasn’t just a newspaper beat that helped me grow my journalistic skills. Coach wasn’t just a basketball coach. She cared about me as a person, and that only grew as the time on my Springfield College clock ticked down.
In my first quarter as a freshman, she checked on how spring season was going for my field hockey team and whether people were buying in. Then in my second quarter when I got a career-ending concussion so severe that I was unable to cover her team as a sophomore, she listened with an open heart. But I came out of halftime stronger than ever. In the third quarter she helped empower me as a female sports journalist, since junior year, I was one of the only women to cover our teams on campus.
This year was the fourth quarter, and she never stopped pushing me. For instance, I’ll never forget the last time I interviewed her inside her office.
This time around, I could’ve navigated there in my sleep. I wasn’t anxious and my heart wasn’t racing. I did, however, have some questions prepared like my first interview. But I didn’t look down at them a single time, because our conversation was so organic.
I was there to get quotes for a beat story, but she wound up interviewing me.
“What’s your game plan for after graduation?” she asked.
When I hesitantly told her I was hoping to land a job somewhere, she quickly pressed, “How?” While I muddled through the fact I was still figuring it out, I explained how I’ll reach out to all the individuals I’ve met along the way at my internships, and how one even told me I’d be on his short list if there were an opening.
“But you can’t just be on his short list. You need to be at the top of his short list,” she said in the same stern, passionate voice I had heard hundreds of times before from the sidelines.
“I know, Coach! I’m working on it!” I said, as we both began smiling from ear to ear.
How lucky am I to have a coach not only respect me as a young journalist, but also invest her energy into pushing me to become the best I can be?
It wasn’t just Coach, though. It was the entire team – all 28 players who have been a part of this program over the last four years.
Sitting in Blake Arena for senior day was hard. I’ve covered so many senior days before, but this one was different.
I remember when Alex Goslin got her first collegiate start when we were first-years. I was so excited, and even a bit relieved, to talk to someone who was my age. It was so inspiring to see one of my peers have such an impact on the court.
Flash forward to this season when I watched her hit her 1,000th point.
I’ve seen this group of seniors grow all the way from start to finish at Springfield – a privilege few journalists have. But selfishly, I knew in a way it would be my senior day too. It was the last Springfield College women’s basketball game I’d ever cover.
That’s a hard reality I’m only just now beginning to feel, because I love this team – and anyone who knows me (or follows me on Twitter) knows it, too. People poke fun of me for always posting updates about “Posse this” and “Posse that.”
So, why am I so invested in a program that I’m not even a part of?
Because, Posse, you’ve shaped me into the sports journalist I am today. No matter how many other teams I’ll fight tooth and nail for the chance to cover in my future, you’ll always be the first team that believed in me and gave me a shot. And for that, I’ll always be thankful.
Coming to you live from Blake Arena where I’ve got you covered on all things Posse for one final time. My last update is simple:
To Alex, Emily Jacques, Taylor Hall, and Lauren “Rudy” Rudolph: It’s been an honor to tell your stories for four years.
To Coach Graves: I’ll always be thankful that you pushed me to become better.
To Posse: You’ll always be MY team.
Photo courtesy of Gabby Guerard