BUILDING LIFE ON THE BROCK HIDDEN BATTLEFIELD
BY GAGE NUTTER
BY VIN GALLO
Senior Amanda Nusbaum didn’t need the stats to validate her collegiate success. It’s what is behind the numbers that mattered most. BY GABBY GUERARD P. 28
THE LONG FIGHT
IF YOU BUILD IT THEY WILL COME
BY DANIELA DETORE
BY JACK MARGAROS
SPRING 2019 | VOLUME XII
Pure Domination Nick Giorgio finished his senior season with 82 total tackles and 14 quarterback sacks. He was named one of 13 semifinalists for the Gagliardi National Player of the Year Trophy. He was also named to the New England Football Writers Association Division II/III All-New England team, NEWMAC All-Conference first team and the D3football.com All-East Region first team.
2 Courtesy of Daniela Detore
Courtesy of Sam Leventhal
NEWMACTION The womenâ€™s basketball program, led in part by junior Emily Jacques, posted a 12-4 regular-season conference record. The team hosted the NEWMAC Tournament Championship this past season.
Flipping through Channels The 109th annual Springfield Gymnastics Homeshow paid homage to popular television programs. Springfield wrestler Joe Fusco took the mat as a WWE performer in this yearâ€™s production.
Courtesy of Sam Leventhal
Leading Off By Marty Dobrow Faculty Advisor Courtesy of Springfield College
Twenty years. Two decades. A score. The equivalent of five presidential administrations. Or five college journeys. A heartbeat.
sium in Washington. In that same time frame, I traveled with five of our students to San Diego for the Associated Collegiate Press conference (where we had a great dinner with two of our star graduates); and separately with six students on a civil rights tour of St. Augustine, Fla. That is the city where Martin Luther King, Jr. was in jail in the days just before he came to Springfield College to give the 1964 commencement address. We stay busy. We stay committed.
This is our 20th year of the Communications/Sports Journalism (COSJ) major at Springfield College. I have watched it all up close. The program’s first day was my first day, too. By far the best part of this time from my perspective has been the interaction with the wonderful students who have come through here. It has been a consistently vibrant, creative, humane bunch of young journalists who have kept me (spiritually) young. Many have gone on to big things in the media world. They are writing for papers and magazines and websites. They are working for small TV stations and for ESPN. They are rocking in radio, thriving in public relations. Our graduates have covered presidential campaigns, mass murders, the World Series, and the Super Bowl. They have taught journalism at the high school and college level. They have won state and national journalism awards. One had a story recognized in “The Best American Sports Writing.” Just within the last six weeks, I have had one of our graduates come back to talk to a class about his newly-published book, while I swelled with pride in watching the YouTube clip of another giving the keynote address at a prominent journalism sympo-
Granted, journalism has changed quite a bit over these 20 years. When I came here in 1999, I would never have imagined the streaming of games on my computer or the live-tweeting of events from our phones. What hasn’t changed, though, what I don’t think will ever change, is our appetite for the great story. Great stories are hard work, but they deepen the day. They inspire. They widen our empathy. They make us more. That’s what you will get here in our 12th edition of Pride Sports Journal. There are stories that show people dealing with brutally hard things: suicide, the terrors of an aneurysm. We see a coach still driving hard after 40 years on the sideline. We see the unique inner drive of athletes who compete as individuals within a framework of team sports. And we see a Springfield College athlete who has defied the odds to keep a professional dream alive. To the incredible staff of PSJ, I salute you on your inspiring commitment to the great story. That’s how we have been rolling for the last 20 years, and that’s how we plan to continue to roll for many, many more.
5 Front and back cover photos courtesy of Sam Leventhal
The Staff Gage Nutter @GageNutter_ Writer
Vin Gallo @VinGallo731 Writer
Gabby Guerard @GabbyGuerard Writer
Sam Leventhal @SamLeventhal Photography/Layout
Jack Margaros @JackMargaros Writer
Daniela Detore @DanielaDetore Writer
Danny Priest @dpriest3 Layout Design
Table of Contents
By Gabby Guerard
Play. For. Five.
Get to know “The Nuzzy Behind The Numbers.”
By Daniela Detore
The Long Fight
The NEWMAC Women’s Volleyball Coach of The Year, who almost wasn’t.
8 By Gage Nutter
By Jack Margaros
Men’s basketball head coach
If You Build It, They Will Come
Charlie Brock has seen it all.
Brian Johnson might be on the
cusp of being an MLB draft pick.
By Vin Gallo
Life On The Hidden Battlefields
Fighting for the team, on their
Can you name these athletes based off their baby photos?
To my team... Senior athletes give their teams a final message.
Alumni Take a look at what Springfield College Communications/Sports Journalism grads are up to today.
Courtesy of Sam Leventhal
The Pride Sports Journal staff makes its picks for athletes who exemplify what it means to wear THE jersey.
Building Broc BY GAGE NUTTER
His cheeks begin to redden.
His eyes focus in. Wrinkles protrude from his forehead. He stares at the source of his dissatisfaction through his pair of glasses. Charlie Brock is unimpressed. He stands in front of the scorer’s table in Springfield College’s Blake Arena -- hands on his hips under his suit jacket. He gives his scowl
of disapproval that supporters of the team have come to know. One of his players isn’t putting in enough effort on the court. Potential rebounds are not being grabbed, shots are off the mark and the defense is lackluster. Brock would have normally stomped his foot in disapproval. But after decades of stomping on the sideline and surgeries to his knee and ankle,
ock: Forty years into his coaching career, Charlie Brock is still having fun.
the option isn’t available.
coach in 2019.
As the player makes his way back down the court, Brock calls out his name and gives him a piece of advice in his hoarse, booming voice.
So, when Charlie Brock tells you to work harder, you do it.
The instruction was simple, but it carried weight coming from someone who has led young men from the sidelines of a basketball court for 40 years.
Brock remembers doing a lot of the dirty work on his family’s farm in Hopkinton, Mass. growing up.
Having a bad game is one thing. But being told you aren’t working hard enough is another thing entirely -- it strikes a player to their core. There is a difference between a young head coach who hasn’t experienced much demanding hard work, and someone who has coached basketball for four decades and has lived Brock’s life. His family’s farm needed someone to work the field and tend to the livestock. Taking care of all twenty-two acres with his dad wasn’t easy. But he did it. At 25 years old, he worked as a bartender late at night and into the early morning in New Jersey in addition to his first head coaching job. At 32 years old, he braved through the harsh winters of Minnesota and charged his car battery every night so he could get to work on time the next day. After years of laying the groundwork, he led Springfield to its first-ever national semifinals in 2018. Twenty years, and seemingly more to come into his career at Springfield College, he became the program’s all-time winningest
*** It wasn’t a big commercial undertaking. Just enough to sustain the family’s needs.
If the animals needed to be fed or some shoveling needed to be done, he did it. His father, William Brock, worked for the Ludlow Corporation as a salesman and his mother, Jean, worked hard to keep their house in order while raising him and his older sister. The blue collar environment that he grew up in wasn’t keen on excuses. His dad served in World War II and went on two tours, including one in the Pacific. “What he said, went,” said Brock. With his father working during the day and money tight, there weren’t a lot of options available to keep the farm running. Brock’s parents employed the best kind of labor there is – free labor, and he became the labor force. Weeks, eventually years, of this physically taxing work went on. Day by day, he grew stronger -- mentally and physically. As his stature continued to grow, so did his interest in athletics. Summer days were spent going to the local tennis court in town and playing with his dad. He trained his footwork, he learned the rules, how to serve and return shots, front hand and backhand, from his father. “It was a cool thing between us,” said Brock.
Courtesy of Gage Nutter
“He was rugged,” said classmate Don Pingree. “I never saw him fight someone, but the threat was always there. You wouldn’t want to mess with a 6 foot 5 inch redhead.” On the basketball court, Brock used that ruggedness to become a versatile low post defender for the Pride. His ability to move laterally became so refined during his tennis days, it was almost impossible for opponents to get by him on the block. Whenever he stepped onto a basketball court, his work ethic and defensive prowess came to light – but once he stepped off of it, there were some improvements that needed to be made. “I didn’t have the maturity to understand that I should go to class,” said Brock. “I was, what might be considered, a late bloomer.” One fall day, Brock decided to attend an American International College football game with a couple of friends. He leaned over the chain link fence near the sideline. As he watched the game, he decided to unwind with a cigarette. Little did he know, his basketball coach, Ed Bilik, was in the stands – and he was watching. He called Brock into his office the next day. “I told him he had a decision to make,” said Bilik. “You’re either going to be sucking on cigarettes or playing basketball…We just laid it on the line.” Brock remembers the meeting all too well. THE REBEL BROCK REGULARLY RODE HIS MOTORCYCLE UP AND DOWN ALDEN STREET WHILE HE WAS A STUDENT. (Courtesy of Springfield College Archives) “It was something we shared.” He played throughout high school, but he found that his temperament wasn’t well suited for the game – basketball was what worked for him. *** It would be to no one’s surprise on a warm spring day in 1976 to see Brock rolling down Alden Street on his British BSA motorcycle with a black leather jacket on his back and a big red afro blowing in the wind – sporting from time to time his infamous scowl. 10
“I think there was a fight or flight (response) there,” he said. “I could’ve just said to heck with it and smoke cigarettes and hang around, or I could get back into the ring and get after it. I think part of that was playing, and I wanted to play.” After the meeting, Brock’s leadership skills and standards were heightened considerably. He rounded into an all-around good player, especially defensively, and became a leader in Springfield’s locker room. “I think Charlie made a decision that he wanted to be a basketball player and a student athlete -and he became one,” said Bilik. *** He doesn’t remember exactly when it happened, he just knew it wasn’t good. Around the midway point of his senior season, Brock injured his knee and was sidelined for the remainder of the year. The pain was excruciating, but not playing felt
even worse. “When you get hurt it is a bit of a nasty feeling,” said Brock. “You feel like an outcast.” Although the injury and ensuing rehabilitation was grueling, he made a conscious effort to stay a part of the team. He went to every practice and traveled for the team’s away games. While sitting on the sidelines during games and practices, he saw the game in a different way. Some things that he didn’t understand while playing started to make sense from the sideline. He not only observed how Bilik coached, but he started to understand why he carried himself the way he did. The injury was painful, but it allowed him to see and appreciate basketball in a way that would change his life. “That is when I got attracted to teaching and coaching basketball.” Brock was torn.
It was 1976 and he was a year removed from his college graduation when he got the call from Bilik.
His old coach wanted him to come back to Springfield and work on his staff as a graduate assistant. After graduation, Brock, much like many young college grads, didn’t know his next step. He moved to Maine, spending his first year out of school working odd jobs, but mostly construction. The work reminded him of his days on the family farm. The construction company offered him a full-time job if he stayed. But ever since the end of his senior year at Springfield, his desire to coach was strong. He took a chance and accepted the graduate assistant position. “Bilik called, and I answered,” said Brock. Since he was around the age of players on the team, he understood how to connect with and coach them effectively. His ability to relate to younger players helped make him one of the coaching staff’s best recruiters. In those first years on the sideline, Brock started to pick up on some things that he didn’t notice during his playing days. He quickly learned that Bilik approached every game the same way. It didn’t matter whether the team was playing the best program in the country or the last place team in the conference.
THE TEACHER AND THE STUDENT BROCK (left) WORKED AS A GRAD ASSISTANT AT SPRINGFIELD ON BILIK’S (right) COACHING STAFF AFTER GRADUATION. (Courtesy of Charlie Brock)
and sent them on their way. Springfield men’s volleyball coach and New Jersey native Charlie Sullivan still remembers when Brock would kick him and his friends out of that gym. “We all took shots until the big guy with the big mouth came,” said Sullivan. “Then we would run.” It was 1980 when Brock was named head coach at Drew University. The job only paid $9 thousand a year, but it was a start. He relished the opportunity to prove himself as a young coach, but to get by he had to work extra hard.
THE FIRST STEP BROCK (left) ALONGSIDE ASSISTANT COACH VINCENT MASCO IN 1980 DURING HIS TENURE AT DREW UNIVERSITY. (Courtesy of Drew University Archives) “He was implacable,” said Brock. Bilik was disciplined, but Brock continued to be impressed by how humble he was, too. The year before Brock arrived on Alden Street, Springfield defeated a UMass team that was a regional powerhouse and led by Hall of Famer, Julius “Dr. J” Erving. It was arguably the biggest win in the program’s history. Bilik rarely spoke of it. “He never made a big deal out of it,” said Brock. “It was just another game that we won.” Being humble and preparing for teams, ranked or not, the same way is something that Brock picked up from Bilik decades ago and it is something he continues to try and do today. “I hope it will be said that I have been like that,” said Brock. *** The sound of bouncing balls and children chatting echoed down the hall from Baldwin Gymnasium in Madison, N.J. Brock walked into the gym and saw kids shooting hoops. His team was scheduled to use the space to practice that afternoon. He walked over to the group 12
Compensation for the job was so low that he had to supplement his income by working as a bartender on off nights and as a tennis instructor at a yacht club during the summers. He remembers working late at the local bar in town and counting up all the money he made in tips at the end of the night. Bartending came easily to him, but when it came to running his first basketball program, he went through some growing pains. “I can’t imagine that I knew what I was doing when I took the job,” said Brock. A lot of his basketball knowledge at the time came from what he learned in his years playing and coaching on Alden Street. He decided to run an offense at Drew that was similar to the one Bilik was running at Springfield. The flex offense, as it is commonly known, uses high and low screens to get open shots under the hoop and jump shots around the elbow. Although the choice to run the offense was one of necessity at the time, Brock adopted the strategy in the following years and it is something he continues to run at Springfield. Drew had a breakout campaign in his third year. The team went undefeated in conference games for, what still remains as, the second time in the school’s history. Brock admits he was naive in those early days, but he found his way. “I knew enough to get some things done.” *** Brock didn’t even know how to pronounce Gustavus Adolphus when he first arrived on the college’s campus, but he learned over the next three years.
He started coaching with the Lions in 1986 after four seasons at Drew. The winters in New England and New Jersey were something that he was accustomed to, but they were nothing like January in St. Paul, Minn. A blizzard in 1988 wreaked havoc on most of the state. Winds reached upwards of 60 mph, snow drifts were up to seven feet high. He remembers sometimes having to take his car’s battery out and charging it overnight to make sure he would get to work on time the next day. Brock could tell that his roster at Gustavus had the potential to compete at a high level in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. He was determined to turn the group into something great. “I was a flashy guy from the East that talked too fast...They had no idea what was coming,” said Brock. He led the program to two NCAA tournament appearances and an MIAC title in his
three seasons at Gustavus. Brock looks back on his years in St. Paul as some of his favorite in his coaching career. Working at high school basketball camps in the summer and with his roster of tough midwestern kids in the winter was what he loved to do. He remembers the school’s gymnasium being packed for home matchups every season. The games served as a way for students and members of the community to get out of the cold and watch Brock’s hardnosed kids go to work.
campus’ beauty. The weather was also a little bit better than what was normal in Minnesota. “It was a much better place to live,” said Brock. “I got kind of enticed by the climate.” The following season, Trinity was in need of a new head coach. Brock interviewed for the position and was offered the job. At the time, Trinity had recently moved into Div. III from Div. II. They wanted a coach that could find them success.
But most of all, the town loved basketball as much as he did.
Brock got the program on the right path, but it took some time.
“It’s one of my regrets that I didn’t stay a little bit longer at Gustavus,” said Brock. “I really enjoyed it.”
His first season at the college in 1989 still stands as one of the toughest in his coaching career. The team went 7-18 on the season.
*** Things change when the hot, Southern Texas sun hits your skin for the first time. Brock took his Gustavus team down to Trinity for a non-conference game in one of his final seasons at the college. While there, he was struck by the
In the next three years, his teams steadily got better and better. Brock prides himself on being efficient. Although he found success during the second half of his stint at Trinity, he doesn’t make any excuses about the
“I was a flashy guy from the East that talked too fast...They had no idea what was coming.” - Brock on his arrival at Gustavus Adolphus College
Brock was torn. It was 1998 when he got the call from Bilik. Now the Athletic Director at Springfield College, he wanted Brock as the next head coach of the Springfield men’s basketball team. Brock was coming off his best season at Trinity and the weather in San Antonio was impeccable. It took a lot of thinking, but he eventually interviewed for the position and was awarded the job. “It was coming home,” Brock said. Returning to Alden Street gave him the opportunity to not only coach on the court, but teach in the classroom. At Gustavus, he remembers teaching physical education and enjoying it. It gave him the opportunity to talk to students not on the basketball team and make new connections. With Springfield’s philosophy of educating the whole person, teaching in the classroom is always encouraged for coaches. COMING HOME BROCK RETURNED TO SPRINGFIELD COLLEGE AS THE PROGRAM’S HEAD COACH IN 1998. (Courtesy of Springfield College Archives)
“One of the things I didn’t have at Trinity that I love to do is teach...Just getting to know other kids,” said Brock. “Being a member of the faculty and teaching (at Springfield) was a major attraction for me.”
program’s missteps during his first few years at the school.
Almost 40 years into his coaching career, Brock’s passion for the game has not wavered -- he’s just had to find different ways of expressing it on the sidelines the last few seasons.
“Quite frankly, Trinity took too long,” said Brock. “It should take three or four years (to see improvement) and it took me probably five.” On top of it taking a while to turn things around, the attitude towards basketball by fans and administration at Trinity was different than the one held at Gustavus. Trinity is in Southern Texas where football is king and basketball is seen as a secondary sport. The crowds that came to the games in San Antonio weren’t like the ones that would fill the gym at Gustavus in St. Paul. The excitement around the team wasn’t the same. The situation was different, but he made it work. He stayed at the school for nine seasons, his longest tenure at any school up to that point. “Living in San Antonio was pretty enticing, so I wasn’t in a big hurry to leave.” *** 14
Brock has had to deal with multitude of other ailments the last few years. He had a knee replacement in 2013 and went through an eight hour spinal surgery in 2016. After years of stomping his foot on the sideline, the action caused him to fracture a bone. He must now get an ankle replacement at the end of 2019. He was relegated to wearing a medical boot and sitting more than he is used to at the beginning of the 2018-19 season as he rehabbed his foot. The pain was, and continues to be, difficult to deal with, but he’s never thought twice about toning things down. “I’m having fun,” said Brock. “I just don’t do post moves (in practice) anymore.” *** Brock sits down at the desk nestled in the corner of his office. He is surrounded by memories and moments in his career. A photo of him on the sideline coaching next to Bilik as an assistant hangs on the wall to his right. A collage of photos from big games
during Springfield’s national semifinal run hangs to his left. A file cabinet full of playbooks from his time at previous colleges sits under the collage. With 40 years of coaching memories hanging on his walls, he is always reminded of the past whenever he enters his office. For him, the past is a fun place to visit, but not for too long. The present and the future is what’s most important. Brock puts his foot on top of his desk to ease the chronic pain in his ankle. He’s thinking of the future. A future that will eventually no longer involve coaching. He imagines that he’ll do a lot of gardening, which has become one of his favorite hobbies. But other than that, it’s all up in the air. “I’m not sure what I’ll do,” said Brock. “I’ll do whatever anyone wants me to do...It will be whatever I want to do.” Every October 15th for the last 40 years has been consistently booked for him. It has always marked the first day of practice. He imagines once he retires that the day will make him anxious every time it comes around.
Brock. “I don’t think that’ll change.” That’s the future. Sure, it’s important, but not as much as the present. Four decades into coaching, Brock is still having fun. “You’ve got to like what you’re doing and the people you’re doing it with,” he said. “I like the kids that we are dealing with -- always have. Springfield is a great place. I’ll finish out here and it’ll be just right.” He pauses and takes a draw from his e-cigarette -- an homage to his rebellious past before he continues. “I haven’t even thought about an end date. It’s how long I enjoy it and how long (the school) is willing to have me here -- and maybe not necessarily in that order.” A sly, rebellious smirk shines out of the corner of his mouth.
“I’ll think that I must be doing something right now...There is something I should be doing,” said
Courtesy of Gage Nutter 15
Baby Ballers Can you guess which Springfield College athletes these are?
All photos are courtesy of the athletes
Answers on p. 36
It’s not all about being the most athletic. It’s about winning the fight within your head. BY VIN GALLO
They’re all up there. All of them are on the wall outside of wrestling head coach Jason Holder’s office. Above the maroon carpeting of Springfield College’s PE Complex hallway hang the plaques. The plaques of the Pride’s All-American wrestlers from the past. Jeff Blatnick, a Greco Roman Olympic gold medalist, three times in a row, from 1977-79. Andy Goodwin, Eric Gould, and Ryan Kalman, all in 1997. Then Springfield’s most recent, Dylan Foley, in 2014. The older plaques are tinted a light, aged yellow on a wood frame. The newer ones are bright – the wood shiny; sleek with a gold inner outline that surrounds a milky white certificate. Though they each carry the same historic and honorary weight. Courtesy of Sam Leventhal
Adjacent to Holder’s office is the entrance to the Doug Parker Wrestling Room, a maroon door that lets out a high-pitched squeak as each wrestler enters for practice at 4:15 p.m. “Klink” by Smino is already bumping from the boombox speakers in the corner as the Pride line up and start a game of handball to get the blood going. There’s no hold-up. The wrestlers dive all over the floor, batting a small blue ball off the wall. “Damn!” screams Seve Burgos as his first attempt rolls short off his palm.
In walks the Pride’s coach. “Guys, watch out!” Burgos calls. “It’s Slim Holder!” “I’m gonna kick your ass today, Seve!” Holder razzes as he joins the handball line. Everything happening in the room is in good fun. Then 4:30 arrives. “All right, let’s get after it.”
Kearney Gutierrez sits back and laces up his wrestling shoes as his teammates charge towards the purple-crimson padding.
First a jog. The Pride will throw a football around to keep it light-hearted for a little longer. Then comes push-ups. Then crouches. Then sprints.
It’s a Wednesday in mid-February. New England Regionals are on Saturday and Sunday. Holder doesn’t plan to keep his student athletes long. An hour at most. Practice today is for keeping them sharp while avoiding too much strain.
Sweat is already shining on Aarin Feliz’s face as the senior runs across the mat.
“A lot of people look down upon the sport because of what we have to do,” says Gutierrez. “But there’s a lot of good things that come out of (wrestling), a lot of lessons learned a lot of things people pick up.”
“The mental preparation … will prepare me for anything I go through in life,” he says. “Anything and everything as far as adversity and challenges. How do I get myself right if I’m having a tough day? Get over it. You need to focus on this now, you need to focus on the task at hand.”
Aarin Feliz found his passion for wrestling at a young age, and has worked tirelessly to improve his ability on the mat. As a senior for Pride wrestling, he finished the season with an 18-17 overall record. (Courtesy of Springfield College Athletics)
Holder calls out situations as the Pride execute their approaches – cautiously leading one another to the ground on the takedowns and holding their pins. “15 seconds, you’re down one!” shouts Holder. “1:30 left, 1:30 left!” “45! 45!” The scent of perspiration strengthens with each passing minute. After 50 minutes, the wrestlers’ sweatpants and long sleeve tees are soaked in sweat. But that isn’t the end of it. Bike reps are still left. When practice finally finishes, Holder gathers his team in front of a white board -- motivation scrawled all over it in Expo marker. He gives them a quote to remember for regionals. “There is only the fight, the foe, this man, and the next.” Gutierrez paces back and forth, taking the time to catch his breath before sitting and sliding towards the wall. “There’s no one else there on the mat with you,” Gutierrez says. “I think that’s the big thing.” *** While the wrestling team blares its rotation between classic rock and rap in the Doug Parker room, the loud ‘thuds’ of feet landing on mats come from further down the hall. The men’s and women’s gymnastics teams have their own hidden abode in Kresge Gymnasium. The corridor beyond Dana Gym, narrows into a nooklike area – where, much like the wrestlers, the feats of Springfield College’s greatest gymnasts hang on the wall. Directly outside of Kresge’s doors, sits a trainer’s table worked by athletic trainers. Almost like clockwork, Springfield’s gymnasts rotate in and out of the doors for treatment. One after the other. A gymnast might even visit the table more than once a practice. Sometimes they’ll have their ankles taped. Other times they’ll have any knots massaged out. Ice is supplied in a red water cooler. The goal is to always stay loose, to always stay healthy. A call comes from inside the gym.
In her final year as a member of the women’s gymnastics team, Jess Clemens was named an All-American for the 201819 season. (Courtesy of Springfield College Athletics)
“If you need to stretch anything out, stretch it out. If you need to roll anything out, roll it out.” For some Pride gymnasts, utilizing the table can be an adjustment. Because not everyone had one to turn to in high school. A sprained pinkie? No problem. A sore shoulder? Work through it. Keep going. Practices would be long: for four, five hours a day during the week. It depends on the size of the gymnastics program, but if it’s a smaller one, gymnasts might train completely alone. Jess Clemens has fond memories of competing in high school. Yet there would be points where the repetitiveness -- and rigorousness of the intense training, day after day -- would wear on her. “If I had to redo my year of high school or do one more year of gymnastics, I don’t know if I’d be able to do it. It takes such a toll on you,” Clemens said. “You’re practicing for four and a half hours 21
silent when you’re competing.” Next to high school gymnastics, the dynamics and norms of collegiate gymnastics can be completely different. Yet when it comes to individual competition, conditioning and self-care is a principle to succeeding. The perception of wrestling, especially when it comes to cutting weight, is often misconstrued. Some wrestlers call it a ‘marginalized sport.’ Slimming down to a specific weight class is commonly thought to be achieved by cruel tactics -- by means of extreme fasting, or the starving of oneself. It even takes some young wrestlers time to understand its nature. In high school, Gutierrez remembers his approach to making weight as being completely wrong. In ninth and 10th grade, meets would be scheduled for Friday or Saturday. Gutierrez ate whatever he chose between Monday and Wednesday. Then, he would ‘cut down a lot.’
Kearney Gutierrez finished his senior year on the wrestling team with a 20-14 record. (Courtesy of Springfield College Athletics)
a day, five and a half hours a day. You couldn’t pay me to go back to that.” To a certain extent, the intensity of the marathon practices in high school is what is needed to perfect a sport that demands perfection. It’s a mindset gymnasts grow up on through the sport. Because it’s just you and the mat. “You’re using [only] your body,” Clemens said. “It’s not like you’re throwing a ball or learning how to use a piece of equipment that’s doing the work for you. You have to do all the work yourself.” Working on their craft, in some cases virtually alone, can take a toll on gymnasts. Clemens enjoyed the increased voices of encouragement during both practice and competition. There simply weren’t many in the gym when competing in high school. “The team aspect of it is huge,” Clemens said. “It is such an individual sport, before you get to college. I never really had a team (before Springfield) – it was just me and one other girl. (In high school) no one’s there to cheer; it’s 22
“I remember not going to lunch (the rest of the week),” Gutierrez said. “Now I’m smarter about it. It comes (across) as a lot easier. You just adapt. At the beginning of the year, every year, it kind of sucks, making that first weight. But it’s a part of the sport. You just develop a mentality to perform at that weight.” The common misconception towards weight-cutting is the belief that wrestlers cannot eat or drink when attempting to hit the requirement for weight classes. The key lies more so in keeping an exceptional metabolism. “If you understand yourself and do it right, you can eat and drink,” Feliz said. “Workouts … don’t have to be the most intense things, but you have to find a way to keep your metabolism going.” Feliz eats four to five times a day, while drinking at least a half gallon of water. He approaches making weight with the goal of getting his heart rate up quickly, and keeping it up. An elevated heart rate equals more sweat, and more calories burned. “You can (eat),” Feliz said. “Most of the time we’re so stubborn … we’re set in the traditional ways of ‘you can’t eat, you can’t drink.’ Because that’s what everyone in the past did. There wasn’t enough data or research done on nutritional components of wrestling. Now that there is, there’s ways to get around to eating.
You can’t lose what you don’t have. You can’t use energy if you don’t have energy.” 5 a.m.
Feliz’s friend would be able to get him into his local LA Fitness if he got there before 6. As a high schooler, he’d wake up five times a week to go. Then, he would shower and go to school. It got easier once Feliz got his license. On top of driving him each morning, Feliz’s father, Miguel was sure to buy his son chicken to help give him protein. Miguel never cared what it was -- he just wanted Aarin to be a part of something. It turned out to be wrestling. Aarin started to wrestle in sixth grade. Before starting the sport, he was a self-described, ‘short and fat little kid’ who was tired of running around a soccer field. Yet during his first few years competing in middle school wrestling, he’d always look to run around a local apartment complex, just to get a sweat in to cut weight. It was a sport that motivated him. Outside of his family, Feliz calls wrestling the most impactful thing he’s participated in. Strength is part of the sport. Agility is another part of it. Speed, coordination, balance, flexibility. You have to have a combination of a little of everything. But that combination doesn’t guarantee success.
“The guys who do well … are the ones who are strongest with the six inches between their ears,” Feliz said. “They may not be the most skilled but … (if) something wrong happens, they get up, they keep moving.” Feliz remembers being a sophomore in high school, wrestling in districts at the end of the year with six screws and a plate in his ankle. He had fractured it playing football and was supposed to have been out for the season. In his first match since breaking his ankle, Feliz heard it from his coach first. “You have the No. 3 seed.” Up against one of the top talents in New Jersey, Feliz himself, was unseeded. He won the match. But wrestling is very up and down. Three years later, Feliz was wrestling as a freshman for Springfield, and entering his first tournament with this team at Ithaca College. Going into the weekend, Feliz thought he could win a couple. He went 0-for-2. “After that, I thought to myself, ‘I’m gonna quit,’” Feliz said. “‘That shouldn’t have happened, why did that happen?’ I was so upset with myself, and in that moment I was like, ‘You are not going to give up.’” 23
A few weeks later, after 200 pushups, 15 sprints, and 100 crunches a day, Feliz competed in the Doug Parker Invitational. He placed sixth.
have their fielders behind them to make a play on a batted ball. Basketball players can shake off a cold streak by clearing their minds on the bench.
But for athletes who compete solo, teammates can“You need to leave your ego at the door, because not pick up the slack for them. you’re going to get beat,” Feliz said. “You’re going to get taken down. How are you going to respond? If “This? This is all you,” Cronin said. “There’s no you get too high one who can run on your horse, for you, there’s no there is someone one who can give there who will be you that drive. You glad to remind have to have it.” you what it’s like to be back on Whether in Earth. review or conversation, it’s normal We’re very for narratives in fortunate that sports to gravitate we have guys in to the same spot of (Springfield’s program) who are very talented. So judgment. they’ll put you back on Earth. We all know what it’s like.” Analytics. Gymnastics is just as up and down. A gymnast can feel like they’re on a role, in a sport where it’s considered best to learn early, because of the unawareness of the difficulty and danger of certain routines. That doesn’t prevent the occasional freeze-ups. “You can come in one day and a skill that you’ve been doing for years – and something in your brain just forgets how to do it,” Clemens said. “People get mental blocks all the time … something you’ve done for years all of a sudden feels scary. You can think you’re in a really good spot … but it’s so up and down that you just never know.” *** As a cross country runner, Tyler Cronin’s season is year round. There is no offseason. He needs to run every day, including throughout the summer, to stay in shape for competition. It can take years for someone’s body to adjust to the demand of running long distance. Runners collapsing to the ground or needing to vomit after finishing their field is not unusual. “It’s definitely (a matter of) adapting to it,” Cronin said. “You have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. All the time. It’s hard for some people to imagine. It’s definitely an acquired feeling, an acquired taste.” When competing for a team individually, there’s a reality that is unavoidable. In baseball, pitchers 24
What does the competitor look like on paper? What are the numbers? Are they the fastest? Are they the strongest? Are they the more athletic? That all can go without mentioning a word about sports psychology. It can be a forgotten dimension of athletic competition. The endless self-talk. The need to convince oneself that they are better than their competitor. “You have to tell yourself that you’ve worked so hard for this and that you’ve done everything you can,” Cronin said. “Because when you get the thought that you’re not feeling good, the thought that your competitors are stronger than you, you will lose the race. It’s not easy.” If an athlete isn’t feeling good about their game, it’s easy for a healthy mentality to plummet. That’s where the team aspect comes through -- whether that’d be celebrating a successful routine, a pin, or a new personal best time. “That’s what you have teammates for,” Cronin said. “‘I believe in you.’ That’s huge.” *** There’s times when, following a meet, Clemens will open Twitter and find a little number circled in blue above her direct message envelope icon. And it will be a message of encouragement or congratulations, or both, from a gymnast on a team she had just competed against. “There’s so few of us that have gymnastics at our school, especially in DIII,” Clemens said. “There’s
such a DIII community (in) gymnastics. People will reach out to each other all the time and are just so friendly at meets ... We don’t have any rivals or anything. We all have friends on different teams.”
ually, Feliz has adopted a mindset that starts in practice, about the extra factors of mentality that must be brought to matches. To him, as an athlete, he needs to separate himself from his student life as soon as training starts.
There is a similar level of respect that can be found within the collegiate wrestling competition. According to Feliz, a wrestler has respect for anyone who steps onto the mat. Whether they are a starter, national champion, or someone who has yet to win a match in his career.
“No one cares what goes on out there,” Feliz said. “And people, they don’t care what goes on in here. And sometimes that’s the best part, you have two different worlds. This one is different. (As an athlete) you can be a different version of you.”
It doesn’t matter. “There’s a reason why we shake hands at the beginning and end of a match. It’s out of a sign of respect,” Feliz said. “No matter how the match goes, who wins, who loses by however much. It’s a sign of, ‘I understand what you went through. I can only imagine what you went through.’” On top of competing individ-
Unlocking that version of oneself comes down to one factor. In gymnastics. “It’s all mental,” Clemens said. In cross country. “It’s entirely mental,” Cronin said. In wrestling, and any individual sport -- where it’s just the athlete, the six inches between their ears, the fight, the foe, the competition, and the next.
“The ones who are strongest in their heads are the ones who can do the best out here,” Feliz said. The boombox in the corner of the Doug Parker Wrestling Room has been turned off. There’s no more Smino bumping, no more diving for a handball on the floor, where the sweat of an hour long battle has been washed away with cleaner within minutes. It’s empty and silent. The last practice before regionals is in the books. A shirtless Feliz walks across the maroon mat, alone. Less than 30 minutes ago, he and his teammates were drenched in sweat. But nothing will compare to the real competition. “That’s an easy one,” Feliz
Courtesy of Sam Leventhal
This story about solo competition was told with the help of Taylor Campagnone (left), Kearney Gutierrez (left-center), Jess Clemens (right-center), Aarin Feliz (right), and Tyler Cronin (not pictured).
To my t
Words of advice from so
I’m very grateful for everyone that has been a part of my time here on the team, and for those that came before and paved the way for this program. My biggest piece of advice for the younger gymnasts would be to take everything in, and enjoy it while it lasts. There’s going to be ups with your downs, take them both in. When you’re having a bad day, take it in and understand it’s going to make the good days better. You’re going to hear “it goes by quick” more times than you can count. It’s not until senior year, when you look back at everything you’ve done, everything you’ve accomplished, everything you haven’t, and at everyone that helped you get here that you realize, “they were right.” So take it all in, and give it all you have so that when you look back, you know you didn’t hold anything back, and there’s nothing more you could’ve done, you have no regrets, you have no what-ifs.
Joe Medina Men’s Gymnastics
Don’t take anything for granted and live in the moment. Time really does fly when you are part of the brotherhood. This team is your family. There’s nearly one hundred brothers everywhere you go. Through prosperity and achievement, be humble and cordial. Through adversity though, never feel alone, no matter how dark it may get. You are on campus with your family, the brotherhood, and they have your back no matter what. Be that guy who isn’t just remembered for what they did on the field through athletic ability, be that SC guy who represented the college through athletic, academic, and humanics excellence. Lastly remember why you came to Springfield College, and who is helping you do so. Whether it be family, guardians, or yourself; remember your why and your actions don’t just represent you, but they also represent who supports you. Let the brother reign men, LET’S GOOO. Nick Giorgio Football
some graduating seniors
I first would like to say thank you. To my teammates, my coaches, athletic trainers, and all members of our incredible athletic department staff. The past four years have been some of the most amazing times of my life. One thing that I recommend to younger players is to always fully embrace the moment because you’re never going to get to experience this again. So take full advantage of all the opportunities that you have in front of you. Thanks to my coaches for pushing me to my highest potential. Shout out to Posse for giving me some of the best memories I’ll ever have. For being ridiculously crazy, but also my biggest support. Much love to Posse. Being a part of this team has been such a blessing and I don’t think I could put it into words how much this experience has meant to me. Some final advice would be to know you are only as good as you want to be and nothing is ever set in stone, so work hard every day to unlock your full potential and embrace every opportunity that you come across.
Gracie Restituyo Women’s Basketball
All photos are courtesy of Sam Leventhal
Live in the moment. There are only a finite number of games in a career and each one goes by so fast. You don’t realize how special those moments out there on the field are until you have had some time to sit back and digest. Enjoy every moment on the pitch with your best friends, you will have a lifetime to look back on them. You may not like all the hard practices or workouts, but it all pays off when you get to experience that winning feeling in a close game or hopefully, a championship match. Also, embrace the struggle. Nothing that was worth doing was easy. The 6 a.m. lifts, 5-mile runs, and 3-hour practices in the August sun bring everyone together and make the goals and victories so much more fulfilling. I hope all of you enjoy your experience wearing “The Jersey” as much as I did and that future classes can be as much of a blessing to your lives as you all were to mine.
Brad Deckel Men’s Soccer
The Nuzzy Behin
Courtesy of Sonja Ashe
nd the Numbers “PLAY FOR THOSE WHO CAN’T” BY GABBY GUERARD THIS IS IT. Amanda “Nuzzy” Nusbaum takes one look around the locker room. She throws up her hand and gives a slight wave. “Everyone in! Let’s go! Everyone!” she calls. Everyone on the Springfield College field hockey team is ready.
get hyped up for the game, Nusbaum has a different approach. She grabs the hands of her teammates to her left and to her right, interlocking fingertips. Surprised, everyone else follows.
Ponytails braided: check.
Nusbaum leans in, eyes wide, eyebrows raised.
Cleats tied: check.
She doesn’t shout.
Nerves eating away at the players’ insides: check.
She isn’t dramatic.
The Pride gather together in a circle, like they do before every game. But instead of the team’s usual jumping and yelling to
That’s not the Nusbaum everyone knows. She is calm. She is passionate. She is focused.
When the Pride played Smith College earlier in the season, it wasn’t an ordinary game. It was supposed to be a win for Kristina Krull. “Smith took something from us,” she states. “They beat us 5-0. That number was supposed to mean something different. Let’s take it back from them!” “If we come out like we did against MIT, they will beat us. We need to score early and often. We need to play hard.” Each player knew what needed to happen. It was NEWMAC Tournament Semifinals. It was do or die.
Even in the final moments before Nusbaum took Stagg Field with the Pride for the last time, she focused on making sure her teammates were ready.
For Nusbaum, she was in the right hands. As a former collegiate field hockey player, and a physical education teacher who values fitness, nutrition, and wellness, Lang knew exactly how to push Nusbaum.
“Ask her where the team finished and what goals we accomplished, and she could tell you,” said Springfield College field hockey head coach Melissa Sharpe. “Ask her what she got for an individual award, and she’ll be like ‘I don’t know, I couldn’t tell you.’”
“She was an animal,” Nusbaum remembered thinking. “Her work ethic was unreal, so she just kind of taught me all that. Basically everything I know.” Lang taught her the only way she knew how.
She always put the team before her statistics, despite putting together a senior season for the books.
“Every single day, you knew you were going to run,” said Nusbaum. “And if I wasn’t in the front, she’d let me know, ‘Why aren’t you in the front?’ So then I’d get to the front, and then she’s like, ‘You’re not far enough in front!’ So then I’d have to go more.
Nusbaum broke three records -most assists in a single game (4), most assists in a single season (23), and most assists in a career (46). She was also named an NCAA statistical champion, leading the entire nation, including Divisions I, II, and III, with an assist per game average of 1.28. The nature of hockey has always come naturally to Nusbaum. Whether it was on the ice like Scotty, or on the field like Kristina. After such a season, it’s hard to believe that back in 2012, Nusbaum wasn’t even sure if she could continue playing the sport. *** Nusbaum first met Carissa Lang (now known as Carissa Karafa) at church. While she didn’t know it yet, in just a few years, Lang would prove to be much more than a field hockey coach to Nusbaum. 30
MORE THAN A COACH NUSBAUM (left) WITH CARISSA LANG (right) FOLLOWING A LACROSSE GAME. (Courtesy of Amanda Nusbaum)
“I could tell that as a 13-year-old kid, she was serious about what she wanted to do, and had an understanding that she was giving a first impression, and that she wanted to give a good one,” Lang recalled. Once she saw her on the field, Lang was even more impressed. “She worked harder than her body would let her sometimes,” Lang said. “She just wanted to be the best that she could be for herself, for her teammates, for me, and I could see that from the beginning.”
She saw people’s potential before they saw it in themselves, and then she would bring it out of them, and that made her the best coach I’ve ever had.” But it was all because Lang knew that Nusbaum could have a bright field hockey career ahead of her. Lang even told her as a freshman that she could play Division III right now if she wanted to. “Being from a small town, there hadn’t been a lot of people who had gone and played collegiate field hockey,” Nusbaum explained. “If she hadn’t been like, ‘You have the potential to play,’ I probably wouldn’t have considered it.” *** The following summer, everything got put on hold.
“For a while I wasn’t good. I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t sleeping, I just lost contact with everything,” Nusbaum recalled. “I wasn’t sure if I could play field hockey. It was one of those things that was just debilitating- mentally, physically, emotionally.” Nusbaum’s childhood best friend, Scotty Katonka, was a passenger in a car that was driving too fast with too many people. The vehicle crashed, and Katonka died on impact. “That threw me into this whole like, basically depression. I lost connection to everything,” said Nusbaum. Lang noticed right away. “I could see the struggle on her face,” explained Lang. “At that point, we were getting to know each other well, and I could tell that she needed some extra support … I just continued to check in regularly, like ‘How’s it going?’ and ‘It’s all right that you don’t feel okay today,’ and ‘Let’s push through.’” This was exactly what Nusbaum needed. “Coach Lang brought me back from that and was like, ‘It’s very devastating, but would he want you to be in this state?’” Nusbaum remembered. “She was like, ‘You’ve got to channel it. Channel this into something else.’ So, that’s when I just channeled it into getting fit, getting stronger again, and I channeled it all into field hockey.” It proved to be more than a sport. “I don’t want to say it saved my life, but kind of. Coach Lang definitely did, and my parents obviously have been huge sup-
BEST FRIENDS SCOTTY KATONKA (left) WITH NUSBAUM (right) AT AGE 4. (Courtesy of Amanda Nusbaum) porters,” said Nusbaum. “But it’s just like, you’ve got to work your ass off, because you never know. You just never know.” Since that moment, Nusbaum has stepped onto the field each and every day with one motivation: Play for people who can’t anymore. Nusbaum carried this passion to Alden Street years later, but it didn’t stop there. Before the end of her career with the Pride, its meaning would transform even further, because of the remarkable influence of Kristina Krull. *** Sharpe will never forget the day she met Krull.
After playing at UMass Lowell for two seasons and studying engineering, Krull transferred to Springfield to study exercise science. Sharpe recalled meeting with Krull, who said, “‘I could do this, but when my father passed away, I realized life was short and I need to live out my life and do what I really have a passion for, and it’s not engineering. This is a program that would fit.’” Sharpe was immediately impressed by her maturity, honesty, and “brilliant mind.” Krull completed the entire 31
exercise science program in two years, while playing both field hockey and lacrosse, completing an internship at Quinnipiac University, and managed to maintain the highest GPA of all the female student-athletes on campus as a senior. Her work ethic stood out just as much on Stagg Field, as it did in the classroom. “Her feet never stopped moving,” said Sharpe. “She was that kid, if you’re in a drill and you miss the ball, talk about accountability- I never had to say ‘Kristina, could you try that again?’ she would just go get it, put the ball down, and do it again.” Meanwhile, after years of developing a new and improved work ethic, Nusbaum was blown away by Krull. As a freshman, Nusbaum’s first impression of Krull was finding out that the senior had not only completed, but successfully passed, five rigorous fitness tests in addition to participating in two preseason sessions, all in one day. At the time, players typically completed these tests over the course of a few days, due to their exhaustive nature. “That’s unreal. I’ve never even heard of anyone [doing that], so that’s when I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this girl is a different breed,’” Nusbaum remembered. “When you talk about work ethic, people say I have a good work ethic, and I’m like, I don’t even scratch the surface when it comes to people like Kristina. I never heard her complain about anything ever, about doing a drill, 32
THE HARDEST WORKER KRISTINA KRULL BECAME A ROLE MODEL TO NUSBAUM ON DAY ONE. (Courtesy of Springfield College Athletics) about running, nothing. Ever.” *** It all changed. Again. “When Coach Sharpe called me over the summer, I can just remember not even registering [it],” Nusbaum said. After an invisible battle with mental health, Krull died by suicide on July 25, 2018, two years after graduating from Springfield College.
“Every other scenario that came into my mind made more sense than her taking her own life,” said Nusbaum. Again, she had to channel it, and the only way she knew how was through field hockey. “I mean, that’ll drive you, I can tell you that,” Nusbaum said. “The hardest working, most resilient person you’ve ever met just couldn’t do it anymore. Like, s---! How do you even make sense of that? You can’t.”
“You think you have motivation before, and then something devastating like that happens... you’ve got to work harder - for her, for what she represented, for everyone that was impacted.” - Nusbaum on Krull For Nusbaum, it means you’ve got to work harder. It means there are no excuses. People are fighting these battles you don’t even know about. There’s no room to complain about a fitness test. You’ve got an injury? That sucks. You’ve got to go into AT? That’s fine. Do what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to limp around the field? Do what you’ve got to do. Keep going. “You think you have motivation before, and then something devastating like that happens and it almost turns it on its head, because you’ve got to work harderfor her, for what she represented, for everyone that was impacted,” she said. In her final season for Springfield, Nusbaum was determined to work harder. She had one focus. Playing for those who can’t. She played for Krull. The hardest worker she had ever met. ***
Even Sharpe didn’t anticipate the degree to which the loss of Krull would impact Nusbaum’s play. Going into the season, Sharpe had told the assistants she wanted Nusbaum to be more offensive. However, Nusbaum hadn’t felt entirely effective in the upper center midfield position, so Sharpe moved her back to the right side. “I just wanted her to score,” said Sharpe. “In my mind, I’m thinking she should be higher to score, never realizing that [idea of] ‘well if I can’t score, I’m going to make sure that everybody else does.’” Nusbaum earned the same number of assists in a single season as she had in her first three seasons combined. At 23 assists, most would think she’s a center midfielder. That’s where there are the most options. But she wasn’t. She was on the side of the field. “To get that many from that position has to be unheard of,” Sharpe stated. “She just put
a whole new twist on what it means to be a midfielder.” Nusbaum couldn’t have done it alone. “I’ll bring the ball up, but people have to put it in, or else my assists mean nothing,” she explained. “Throughout my four years, I had to have people put it in the net, and I’ve had teammates that can do that, so I’ve been fortunate in that way.” For Sharpe, there was one key aspect of Nusbaum’s play that made her so effective. “She’s just so different. The intensity makes all the difference,” explained Sharpe. “She can dribble well, she can pass well, she can shoot, but then she does it with such intensity that it’s harder and it’s faster than her opponents.” Nusbaum gained a painful drive when she lost Katonka. And she’s been honing it for years. That’s the difference. That’s her edge. 33
*** It was this passion that helped fuel Nusbaum to break the first two records of the season. Originally, Nusbaum didn’t know if she would even play on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018 against Husson. Earlier in the week, her grandmother had died. After missing practice that Friday to attend the wake with her family, her dad told her to go be with her team on Saturday. Nusbaum was going to be on Stagg Field. This time, playing for her grandmother. “I knew where I wanted to be during that time, and field hockey gets me through things. It always has, and in a way, it always will,” said Nusbaum. “I didn’t even know I was anywhere near a record. I just didn’t want to miss a game.” After the 10-3 win, Sharpe called for someone to grab the game ball. Nusbaum knew she must have wanted to write something on it, but she didn’t know who it was for. She guessed junior Taylor Conley had broken a record. She was wrong. Nusbaum heard her own name
announced. “I think I just put my hands on my knees, because I was like, ‘I can’t even believe the timing of this,’” she said. “It was perfect. There’s no other way to describe it.” *** On Friday, Oct. 5, 2018, the team dedicated its game against Smith College to “No. 5” and played for Krull. While the seniors were the only players who had played with her, the entire team knew about her legacy and wanted to honor it. Between tears in the locker room before the game, to a moment of silence before the national anthem, emotions got the best of the players. The team was unable to defeat Smith, and lost 5-0.
is. It’s a mental disease and people don’t get that,” she said. *** But Nusbaum and the entire team had the opportunity to play Smith again. They could change their story against the Pioneers when it mattered most -- in the NEWMAC Tournament Semifinals, hosted on Stagg Field. After pulling everyone together in the locker room, the Pride stepped onto the field with an entirely different mindset. They were determined. They were prepared. They were ready. This was it. Yet, after two overtime periods, Smith scored and ended Springfield’s season.
“I’ve never felt more devastated than after that game,” said Nusbaum. “I can’t even imagine how the majority of our team felt, because a lot of people didn’t know her. So to come in, and play a game, and have that kind of emotion, it was a lot.”
Everyone was devastated, especially the senior class, yet their heads were held high. They never stopped working hard, just like Krull.
Despite not getting the win, the team did represent something much bigger than themselves: suicide awareness.
“You are selfless, competitive, and the hardest damn worker I know,” it read. “I always said Kristina was the ‘Hardest worker in the room’ but you now own that title.”
“It should never be the answer, but for some people, that’s what it
After the loss, Sharpe sent Nusbaum a text.
IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS STRUGGLING, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 Springfield College Counseling Center: (413) 748-3345 For more information, visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org
It was clear. “I’m like wow - that’s the first time I’ve ever had anybody that I would say, ‘Yup, that’s how hard Kristina worked.’ That was the best example, by watching Nuzzy play.” But, Nusbaum took it one step further. *** After being selected to represent Springfield College in the NFHCA Division III Senior Game, instead of wearing her No. 19 jersey, Nusbaum decided to wear No. 5 for Krull. “When she said that, I’m going ‘Oh my gosh,’” recalled Sharpe. “This is just perfectly culminating her whole career. Here she is, her chance to be recognized, the lone representative from our program, totally well deserved, and her first thought is to wear somebody else’s jersey.” Nusbaum wanted to carry the legacy of the hardest worker she knew. She wanted to play for someone who couldn’t.
Courtesy of Springfield College Athletics
That’s the real Nuzzy behind the numbers.
Where are Take a look at what COSJ alumni from the past 20 years have been up to since graduating from Springfield College:
Shawn McFarland Sports Reporter Hartford Courant
John Beattie Director of Digital Operations MassLive
Jessamyn McIntyre Executive Producer and Reporter 710 ESPN Seattle
Dave Seronick Content Associate for Outside the Lines and E:60 ESPN
H: Mike Strong, I: Cam Glover, J: Kristen Madeia A: Alex Denoyelle, B: Kendall Baldwin, C: Kaleigh Dale, D: Emmanuel Agyemang, E: Holly Rivers, F: Sierra Skaza, G: Rachel Ahlmeyer,
e they now? Chris Unger UFC
Josue Pavon Celtics Writer WEEI
Andrew Gutman Fitness Editor Muscle & Fitness
Anna Grearson Executive & Communications Coordinator, Assistant Corporate Secretary Union Mutual of VT Companites
Justin Felisko Senior Editor/Writer, PBR Insider for CBS Sports Professional Bull Riders (PBR)
Michael Cole Writer/Content Editor NESN.com
*All photos are courtesy of each alumnus shown
‘ALL I DO IS WIN’
Courtesy of Springfield College Athletics
hen the 2013-2014 Springfield College women’s volleyball team took the floor against Mt. Holyoke in a NEWMAC (New England Women and Men’s Athletic Conference) faceoff, the performance did not reflect that of a distinguished championship team. A lack of communication and execution for a solid game plan made the play resemble middle school volleyball, at best. It was the second season after Joel Dearing’s retirement from coaching women’s volleyball at Springfield College. He ended a 21-year career, tallying four NCAA appearances, two of which were in the Elite 8. Before joining the NEWMAC, the Pride clinched three Northeast-10 Championships with Dearing at the helm. All the while, mentoring countless graduate assistants, some of whom went on to find leadership positions in organizations across the country, and others went on to become head coaches. One in specific, who replaced Dearing in the end. Moira Long, 46, a Springfield College graduate of ‘97 M.S., had large shoes to fill, expectations to live up to and a mentor to make proud. And middle school volleyball in a NEWMAC face-off wasn’t making the cut. Although defeating the Lyons in straight sets and posting their 17th win of the season to mark a 17-2 record, it was not Springfield College volleyball standard. It was sloppy, selfish and far from honorable. Every time “THE jersey” is worn, it must be worn with respect and honor. Honoring all the hard work that was invested into a given program before. Respecting all those who wore it before. It must be worn with Pride. The Jersey, is a reference to the the uniform that all student-athletes at Springfield College have the privilege of wearing. A legacy to the best of Springfield College Athletics. And the women’s volleyball team in that
Courtesy of Springfield College Athletics
mid-October match against Mt. Holyoke was disrupting that legacy. In a post-game meeting, Long was irate. Every ounce of passion and frustration built into her small stealthy frame came bursting at the seams. A small, but noticeable, vein striped across the center of her forehead rose to the surface of Long’s skin. Her intensity was enough to make any grown man cry. As she continued to reprimand the team, several other veins in her neck began to scream against the surface of her olive complexion. Red in the face and shortness of breath -- Long’s frustration ran so deep, she could not let up. The remainder is a blur. A total blackout of anger. Anger so fierce it makes your mouth run dry, your arm hair stand on end and shivers run down your spine. A total eclipse of blood-cell bursting -heat of passion -- rage. Frustration in its purest form. And lingering even deeper than the frustration itself, a ticking time bomb. A bomb that at any given second could have exploded sending her to the table where her fate would have been left up to a God or the Gods of modern medicine.
*** This was Long’s only memory of a time that her brain aneurysm was provoked to rupture. “That’s the only moment I look back, and I think maybe that was a symptom of an aneurysm,” she said. *** Long sits crossed legged, right over left, at her desk. Plaques for MVP’s and leading NCAA hitting percentages, NCAA National Championship foldable chairs from various years and trophies, engulf every ounce of free space in the one windowed office of the Springfield College women’s volleyball coach. What remains free of remnants of volleyball are mostly taken up by coaching tactics books, pictures, a tissue box -- that is mostly used by the women’s volleyball players that pass through the office during the week -- and multiple copies of various psychology of sport books that serve double purpose for Long as head coach of the women’s volleyball team and as a professor.
Long hit the ground running when taking over Dearing’s position as head coach in the 2011-2012 season. Her first season, she lead the Pride to 21-straight victories, which set the tone for Long’s career at the helm. The same year, the Pride won a NEWMAC championship in Blake Arena, after a three-set sweep over Wheaton College, and added a regional title which set them on a trip to the Elite 8 in the NCAA championship tournament. After her coaching debut, Long was honored as NEWMAC Coach of the Year. “None of the honors that have come Coach Long’s way or the unprecedented success of the string of NCAA appearances surprised me at all,” Dearing said. “Coach Long was one of the best graduate assistant coaches I ever worked with.” He added that one of the perks of retiring after 30 years was not having to formulate a game plan to stop Long on the other side of the net. The overflow of trophies
found a home outside her office in the conference room where they sit on display on the windowsill for everyone to bear witness. Trophies from countless years of competing in the New England Challenge and hosting the Tom Hay Invitational, all lined up in chronological order. A tell-all plaque hangs above a whiteboard scribbled on with various line-ups, potential recruits, notes and reminders. It reads, “ALL I DO IS WIN.” It would be perceived as cocky if it wasn’t a default of Long’s coaching career and also the Springfield College women’s volleyball team. Making the pair a match made in heaven. Over the last eight seasons with Springfield, Long has dabbled with a fair share of rearranging. Between prioritizing plaques, trophies and family pictures on bookshelves and testing various combinations of different arrangements on her desk -- the hardware proved to be a perk of the job title. The latest addition to her
office wasn’t a plaque or trophy -- it wasn’t even a family picture -- it was a three-cushion, maroon couch. The three foldable metal chairs from the NCAA National Championship that once stood in its place are neatly folded up against the wall across from the comfy addition. The couch wasn’t for a glorified social hour -- it wasn’t even for the numerous weekday visitors -- it was moved in strictly with the intention of Long laying down and taking breaks in between pre-season double sessions. She didn’t want to nap -and she’s certainly not lazy -- she just needed to close her eyes. When the 2018-19 season got underway in the middle of August, Long was only five weeks removed from brain surgery and still grappling with symptoms of a grade-3 concussion: the most intense concussion one can deal with before it’s labeled, “brain damage.” “Think of the worst concussion you can have,” Long explained.
“It’s triple that.”
*** Forty-two staples, 12 screws and four plates. A half-headed crown of shaved hair from the top of her head to the back of her right ear, three inches wide. And, a softball sized portion of hair in the back of her head, fighting against time to grow back after the last failed procedure to fix the brain aneurysm that has anchored itself in her Carotid artery. Long’s only concern was not to hear the words “It didn’t work.” Again. Long feared many things as the date for her craniotomy
Long’s hairline post open-craniotomy.
dawned. She feared waking up with a major deficit such as not being able to see, not being able to hear, not being able to move. She feared not being able to do her job. Above all, she feared not waking up at all. Such scenarios like the aneurysm rupturing when the surgeon goes to “clip” it -- and Long having a stroke on the operation table -- made that fear very realistic. Even more so, considering that she had a procedure in May that failed to fix the aneurysm. In early May, as finals wrapped up for the 2017-2018 academic year, Long was scheduled for her first procedure, endovascular repair. During this procedure, a small incision is made in the groin and a catheter is inserted into an artery and maneuvered up into the brain to the site of the aneurysm. Contrast material is injected and once the aneurysm is detected, thin metal coils are injected at the site. This procedure is commonly known as “coiling.” However, after four hours under anesthesia (almost three hours longer than expected) Long woke up to doctors saying,
Courtesy of Moira Long
“It didn’t work.” She laughs at the memory because admittedly, she didn’t know that was possible. She says that she laughs because she survived. Brain aneurysms (or aneurysms in general) form at weak areas of the blood vessel wall. Blood pools in these weak areas and form balloon like pockets that can be provoked to rupture causing bleeding into the brain and stroke due to lack of blood flow. Brain aneurysms are rare, roughly 200,000 are reported in the United States per year (Mayo Clinic). They can linger undetected for months, even years, threatening the lives of those they inhabit on a 24/7 clock. When Long’s week-long, Mexico cruise docked last January, she began to notice how the feeling of being on sturdy land never quite returned. She joked about the experience with her husband Joe Long, a development officer at Springfield College, and two kids Jacob and Olivia Long, as they were walking through the airport to return to their home in Wilbraham. “I got to the airport and 41
back downstairs -- you would have thought I ran 12 miles,” Long said. In addition to baseline healthcare like bathing, she was unable to walk up stairs without assistance, go to the bathroom without assistance. She was unable to lift anything heavier than a glass to her lips and a utensil to her mouth. Her days were defined by only one daily staple -- making a cup of English Breakfast tea with cream and sugar, for a sweeter taste. This went on for five weeks. It was a much slower process than Long wanted. Days on end spent laying on the couch, unable to watch TV or take in bright lights and loud noises. Days spent in a series of sleep cycles. Days spent only making English Breakfast tea with cream and sugar. And silence. Days on end grew into days closer to the start of the 2018-2019 season. “I’ve never been so afraid in my life,” Long said in anticipation for the season. “I was just
afraid I couldn’t do my job.” Facing the test of time, Long was on the losing side. For once. Long was the head coach at Plymouth State University for 13 years before eventually taking over at the helm for the Pride. She often references how happy her and her family were in New Hampshire living in a rural town named Campton. “We were set,” Long admits. But, it was no secret that there was one thing that would make Long pack up her bags and leave -- the job that sparked her career -- the head coaching position at Springfield College. Long had a brief stint at Springfield in 1996-97, where she earned her Masters degree in sports management while serving as a graduate assistant for the women’s volleyball team under Dearing. In her two years at Springfield College, she made back to back appearances in the NCAA tournament. Before leaving to take a full-time coaching job at Dickinson College -- coach-
Courtesy of Moira Long
I was like, ‘is anyone else moving? Like, nobody’s moving right now? Because I’m moving,’” Long laughed. Long ignored the “spinning” for about another week until she was in her office with a colleague and she interrupted them in the middle of casual conversation and asked them to stop talking because she couldn’t see. A total blackout. Long was admitted on Monday, July 9, at 5:30 a.m., to Mass General in Boston. The open craniotomy went as smooth as open brain surgery can go. The hardest part for Long -- besides the concussion-like symptoms that lingered for weeks after -- was the preparation for the angiogram that took place two-anda-half days after the fact. An angiogram is a minimally invasive test that uses an x-ray and iodine-containing contrast that produces x-ray photographs of the blood vessels in the brain. Leading up to the test (which was given to make sure that the operation was a success), Long was unable to drink or eat anything for two days. She noted that after the surgery all she wanted was to drink something but she couldn’t until after the angiogram. The combination of concussion-like symptoms, thirst and minor-starvation was an eye-opening experience towards what the recovery process was going to be like. When Long was cleared from the hospital, five days later, she had extreme trouble focusing for long periods of time and periods of long cognitive inattention. She soon learned that minimal sensory interpretation was a full day’s effort. “To get up to go to the shower, to get into the shower, to take your shower, to get out of the shower and get dressed and walk
From left, Olivia Long, Jacob Long, Moira Long, Joe Long
ing both softball and volleyball -Long sat in at interim head coach in the spring of ‘97 at Springfield. Prior to Springfield, Long earned her undergraduate degree at Marist College in political science while being a four year participant on the varsity volleyball team. After her graduation in ‘94, she moved down to Washington D.C. and lived in a communal apartment building. In her time in the nation’s capital -- which wound up being a total of six weeks -- she embarked on multiple job opportunities in a rapidly evolving political scene. Eventually securing an interview in the field, Long credits the woman conducting the interview for sparking her coaching career. “I went to an interview and [she] was like, ‘Clearly politics is not your passion, what’s your passion? What do you love?’”, Long said. She naturally replied to the question, sports -specifically volleyball -- and the woman looked at Long and said, “Go do that.” From there, Long went to the library and began looking up institutions where she would be able to earn a degree in Coaching, Physical Education or Sports Management and Recreation. That is when Springfield College first came on her radar. It was everything but a well mapped out journey, however, Long ended up right where she needed to be. And it was all slipping through her fingers. *** As July, wrapped up and the calendar page turned, Friday, Aug. 17th, was marked. Text messages of, “Are you ready for the season?” and “Are you excited?” began to pour into Long’s phone. She always replied with “yes,” however, Long
Plymouth State University 2006 varsity women’s volleyball team. Far left, Moira Long. Courtesy of Plymouth State Athletics
questioned if she would really be ready. With a .686 career winning percentage, it would have been an early retirement to a very successful, yet short, career. However, it wasn’t the right time. Long wrestled with the thought of no one physically taking her job from her, and it was just herself standing in her own way. “It had everything to do with [coaching] was my pure joy, no one can take that away from me,” she said, even herself. It was easier to think negatively in the five weeks leading up to season. Her progression through her healing was much slower than she wanted to admit to herself, let alone anyone else. She was barely able to muster up an appetite, or enough energy to shower. She was still using assistance in walking up the stairs. She wasn’t ready. In her doubt, Long dedicated her thoughts to adopting a new philosophy of positive affirmative statements, such as, “It will get better.” “That was my mantra,” she said.
In her absence from computer screens, recruiting emails, television, radio -- practically the outside world -- she began scribing these lists of “It wills,” and “I wills” inside a small notebook. A series of I will be better tomorrow and I will be able to see -- and all things related to Long willing herself through the journey -- were scribbled on page after page. The thought of being in Blake Arena, her favorite place in the world, and coaching, the thing that sets her soul on fire, is what pushed Long through. “It was this burning desire that I had to be there. It’s my passion, it’s my love,” she said. “It’s where I need to be.” In her doubt, in her fear, Long was enlightened by the job she was already so grateful to have; she was uplifted by the Springfield community that has become her second home; she found strength in herself that she never thought she had. It was a game of mind over matter. Physically she was not there. She was barely able to get up and walk to the kitchen the 43
days prior to the first day of the season, however, mentally she gained wisdom beyond her years. She gained a brand new perspective. “My biggest thing leading up to preseason was, I will be okay. I will be ready,” she said. And she was. *** On occasion, when volleyballs are lifted into the air higher than usual, into the rafters the hard woods of Blake Arena, the ball will return to the court with falling confetti. One single strand of confetti will float its way down slowly, taking its time, twirling in a variety of directions. It reflects a distant memory of the championships that were won on the hardwoods of Blake Arena, the championships that have been lost at the sight of the first game of volleyball ever played. And recent echoes of the 2013 season where the NEWMAC Championship was won at home under Long’s guidance. But more importantly, it’s a reminder of all the practices that have gone into each season. The practices on Sunday nights, Monday mornings at 5 a.m., the workouts and lifts that go hand in hand. Imbedded into the hardwood is a silhouette of Long hovering along each sideline. Her coaching style resembled that of, “I’ll show you.” She was all talk, all bite. Her teammates from her college days at Marist say she was the worst to play with – but also the absolute best. She would get in your face. She would demand the absolute best out of you every time you step on the court. And she would make you the player you always dreamed of becoming. That is also how she coaches. She coaches in a manner 44
Long’s brain X-ray post surgery.
Courtesy of Moira Long
of volleyball being a microcosm of life. Meaning, the lessons she teaches on the volleyball court will transcend deep into the fabrics of one’s personal life. She values open communication and community service, and she builds strong women in her program at a critical time. Above all, Long preaches about the art of giving, not taking. The art of giving is not always physical. Giving could be embodied into the giving of consistent effort and energy, the giving of one’s attention or service. It could be a pat on the back, a high five. It’s the giving of leadership, kindness and compassion that Long coaches and leads by example. That is, until she was sidelined, quite literally, by brain surgery. Almost all of the preseason leading up to the 2018-2019 season, she spent in a rolling office chair. Rolling back and forth between the three courts that stretch across Blake Arena for practice, critiquing, coaching, complimenting. All the while, paying mind to keeping a safe distance from the courts. One stray ball that was sent flying, finding Long’s head, could have sent her right back to the operation table. Long said that sitting so far away from the court, in a chair especially, was a 180-degree change from the coaching style she previously had. It was an adjustment
and gave her a new perspective of the game, and coaching. Had Long written down, “I hope I’m ready,” the season would have panned out much differently. If Long had written down, “I hope I’m ready,” she would not have led the Pride back to the NCAA Championship tournament after missing it the year prior, ending a seven-year streak. The Pride ended the 2018-2019 season 24-8, falling to Wesleyan in the second round of the NCAA tournament, reinstating their national footprint. A successful season at all levels. If Long had written down, “I hope I’m ready,” she would not have reached a pinnacle moment of her career reaching 500 wins. If Long had written down, “I hope I’m ready,” she would have not gained all the new perspectives that this year brought her, figuratively and literally. If Long had written down, “I hope I’m ready,” she would not have been ready when her mother passed away in the first days of October and still showed up to coach every day; to be a friend every day; to be a mother every day. And to still give every day. Losing a parent alone is enough to sideline a coach, or a player, for a season. However, pair the grief of a loss within the same three-month span of open brain surgery, it’s safe to conclude that Long embodied that of all she teaches. She gave the 2018-2019 season her all and more, going above and beyond. A season without a championship would have once left Long hungry. But, when factoring in all the elements, Long is satisfied with the outcome. She was satisfied with the Springfield College standard volleyball. She withstood the test of time, and the year is proof of that.
Offensive Athletes of the Year
Men’s Most Valuable Athlete
Nick Giorgio Most Improved Athletes of the Year
Comeback Athlete of the Year
Coach of the Year
For the first time ever, the Pride Sports Journa magazine. After a year’s worth of coverage, we means to wear THE jersey.
Defensive Athletes of the Year
Teammates of the Year
Johjan Mussa Robles
Women’s Most Valuable Athlete
Rookies of the Year
‘Next Man Up’ Award
‘Next Woman Up’ Award
nal staff has added awards to our annual we feel these athletes have exemplified what it
IF YOU BUI He’s always been told his time will come. Now, Brian Johnson could be Springfield’s first MLB draft pick in 25 years.
Courtesy of Sam Leventhal
ILD IT By Jack Margaros
Warm-Ups start nearly an
Hour And A Half before first pitch. “It’s something I’ve rarely seen,” teammate Brandon Drabinski says. It was a late-March morning. The Springfield College baseball team started to funnel into Archie Allen Field in preparation for a twin bill against MIT. Brian Johnson starts rolling his muscles, 15 minutes with a foam roller and five with a lacrosse ball. Next comes mobility exercises and dynamic stretches. Then he moves to his arms. Resistance bands, wrist weights, a shoulder tube and plyo ball drills. Now it’s time to throw. Tosses start as small as a couple paces and build up to as long as 300 feet followed by some pitches from the mound. Shortly before the national anthem, Johnson emerges from the Pride’s dugout. He trots slowly to the mound, staring down at his faded and lacerated New Balance cleats. There is a space reserved for him in the cluster of Noah Bleakley, Ryan Smith and Nick Fazio near the mound. Johnson takes his place and
puts his glove at his feet. Fans in attendance longed for this game – 150 of them packed in the bleachers with anticipation to watch Springfield’s ace. It is Johnson’s first start of 2019 at Archie Allen and one removed from throwing a no-hitter at Emerson six days prior. Among the spectators is a short, stocky man dressed in a fleece jacket and tattered Memphis Redbirds cap. He sits in a lawn chair to the right of a wooden table occupied by Springfield players keeping stats. A radar gun stands alone to his left. Johnson toes the rubber and begins methodically attacking MIT’s lineup. The scout closely observes and crafts analysis on the young leftie. “Nothing really phases him,” Drabinski said. “He has that quiet and competitive cockiness where it’s like, ‘I’m not going to let it be known, but I’m confident in my abilities.’” Johnson has become accustomed to these kinds of outings. Scouts from six MLB teams flocked to his start against Rutgers-Camden in Florida on March 17, when he pitched six innings of two-run ball. He met with a representative from the Blue Jays in Las Vegas at the 2019 Winter Meetings.
For Johnson, there is a very important day in May approaching rapidly – his college graduation. But there may be an even larger occasion in June. The MLB Draft. A dozen teams have shown interest in Brian Johnson. He might be on the cusp of becoming the first player to be drafted from Springfield College in 25 years. *** Every young ballplayer envisions themselves in a big-league uniform. It’s a dream that curates in the minds of many on every Little League Opening Day. Yet it can die just as fast as it was created. Most ballplayers rarely get the opportunity to play past high school. The odds are even slimmer going from college to pro. In the 2018 MLB Draft, 2.2 percent of draft picks were NCAA participants. Eleven of the 1,214 picks were from Division-III schools. There were a dozen selected in 2017 and 20 in 2016.
Johnson aspires to join that group in 2019. Springfield is not a school known for pumping out draft prospects. Just 24 players have been drafted in the program’s 112 seasons of existence, with 13 of them appearing in the majors. Most compete for the Pride under the impression that it’s their last time playing competitive baseball. “I pretty much came here for education,” Johnson said. “That was the plan at first. Obviously in high school, I didn’t think I was going to get drafted.”
four years later. He was appointed Chuck Roys’ successor to take over as the head baseball coach, and has held the title ever since. Over ten years passed before Simeone received an email from one of his former players. Robinson recommended his former coach take a look at Johnson, who was best friends with Robinson’s nephew, and set to graduate from Nathan HaleRay High School (Moodus, Conn.) soon.
team in most pitching and offensive categories, despite not leading them past the first round in two state tournament appearances. Still, Johnson had come a long way since his freshman season, where he appeared in only a couple varsity games. “When Brian came to us as a freshman, he was probably one of the smallest guys that we had,” Rich Gable, Johnson’s high school coach said. “Certainly, the thing that was great about Brian and why he progressed and grew, is that he’s got such great poise and demeanor. He’s
Draft day has not been a day of celebration on Alden Street for over two decades. In 1994, a pair of teammates were selected. Hassan Robinson was taken in the 12th round by the Houston Astros. John Raifstanger followed in the 33rd round with a selection from the Boston Red Sox. Springfield head baseball coach Mark Simeone coached them both as a graduate assistant in the early ‘90s, back when Springfield was a Div. II institution. Simeone worked with the outfielders, which garnered a close relationship with Robinson – the new freshman left fielder in 1991. Though, the relationship was short lived, as Simeone left for his first head coaching gig at American International College in 1993. “He’s a player’s coach,” Robinson said. “He can connect with you and have those types of conversations where you can relate to him. I think that’s what a lot of players appreciate, and I know that’s what I appreciated when I first started at Springfield.” Simeone returned to his alma mater
Courtesy of Jack Margaros
“Has is a good baseball man and I know Has wouldn’t just say this guy’s a player if he didn’t do some research,” Simeone said. “He’s the first person who introduced me to who Brian Johnson was.” Johnson was his school’s best player on both sides of the ball. He led the
confident, he takes things in stride, and he always continues to improve. I saw that at a lower level at high school.” Johnson did not attend major showcases in high school. His father, Bob Johnson, saw no incentive. “If you’re a good player, they’re going to find
. you and if you’re good enough, then you’re going to get your shot,” Bob used to tell Brian. “I always told him go to college for your degree.”
to end that summer. At that point, Johnson came to the realization that he had the potential to be something special, and the maroon and white might not be the grave of his baseball career.
Johnson initiated the search for an acclaimed sport management program and narrowed his list to Springfield College and UMass-Amherst. He met with Simeone to talk about the baseball program while visiting campus and was sold.
“At that level I’m like ‘okay I can stack up to these guys,’” Johnson said. “That was a big leap for me. I didn’t do that great in it, but I learned so much in those three to four weeks and how I could easily stack up to these guys,” Johnson said.
The fall of 2015 came, and Johnson became a member of the Springfield College baseball team. He immediately started assuming a large workload as a freshman, but experienced a learning curve. In 25 innings, he sported a less than impressive 6.84 ERA.
He continued to develop and enjoyed a career season in 2018. He struck out 53 batters in 53.2 innings, while pitching to a 2.18 ERA – all career-bests. Along with teammates Chad Shade and Shawn Babineau – who are also garnering interest from MLB scouts as juniors – Johnson made it to the Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL) that summer, pitching for the Pittsfield Suns.
In 2017, his sophomore season showed major improvements, as Johnson decreased his ERA by over four runs (2.43) and threw Springfield’s first no-hitter in 16 years. Aside from a perfect game, it’s the best possible performance a pitcher can have -- holding the opponent to zero hits -- and Johnson accomplished it in his second season at the college level. A leadership role started to develop. Johnson earned a great deal of respect for how well he’d adjusted, and it didn’t happen by accident. “Brian’s not an outward, vocal guy. He leads by example,” Simeone said. “Anybody who watches him work and sees the time he puts in to preparing his body to pitch, what he does off the field to get ready to go would be the way that Brian Johnson leads.” Johnson’s performance allowed him admission to the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL)
*** The Futures League hosts a scout day at the end of its annual All-Star game to showcase its top pitching and offensive talents in front of major league evaluators. Upon approval from the commissioner, Johnson was selected to be one of about a dozen pitchers to appear at the event. The pitchers are asked to throw just one bullpen of about 10-15 pitches, working in their whole repertoire. It is a presentation that lasts about five minutes but can determine an entire career. “It’s the first time I threw in front of scouts,” said Johnson, who quickly noticed he was the only lefty in attendance. He went through his bullpen and
came out satisfied. Johnson topped out at 87 mph and believes he was the second hardest thrower that day. “I had nothing to lose,” Johnson said. “It was probably my best bullpen I threw in a while. Every pitch was working, and they seemed pretty impressed.” Johnson walked off the mound more motivated than ever. He knew there was one more aspect to unlock, to transform himself into a legitimate draft prospect. Senior season was on the horizon, and he was determined to not make it his last. He picked up his phone. *** Dr. Josh Heenan is the founder and president of Advanced Therapy Performance (ATP), a rehab and training facility in Stamford, Conn. He is a former strength coach at Sacred Heart University on track to get a Doctor of Integrated and Nat-
balances. I thought it was going to be good for the community to share that.” Johnson had been following Heenan’s work through social media for quite some time, before he decided to shoot him a message. “He had been adamant that our services were going to be one of
Driveline Baseball is at the forefront of baseball research and analytics. Several pros travel to Seattle to dress themselves in spandex geared with sensors that allow Driveline to trace their pitching motions and build analysis from a strictly scientific standpoint. There have been countless success
“ He’s the definition of a gym rat. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve played with. It’s just noNstop. That’s the type of kid he is.” Courtesy of Sam Leventhal
Natural Medicine. He has helped the Sacred Heart baseball program reach new heights and developed multiple MLB draft picks. Throwing 90 mph is a basic requirement for any pitcher to start gaining serious interest from MLB scouts. Through a decade’s worth of research and development, Heenan has created a system that consistently allows pitchers to reach that threshold. It’s called the “90 mph Formula” and features a group of measurable data points – like momentum potential, force production, stable power position, force transfer and arm power – one must reach to throw that speed in a healthy way. The proposed metrics correlate with a reduction in ulnar collateral ligament injuries. It protects the most important part of a pitcher. “You start to see trends in the gym,” Heenan said. “It works as a very unique way to have checks and
- Brandon Drabinski the final things to help him unlock the last bit of power so he could try and make a career out of baseball,” Heenan said. Johnson signed up as a remote programming client. After some initial tests to evaluate his strength, size and mobility movement, ATP devised a workout program. “Brian knew exactly what he wanted to get out of it, came to us with his goal, and we built a program around those goals and catered that to him,” Heenan said. “It is really geared towards athletes that want to take their performance to the next level and know they are already putting in the hard work they need to reach those goals.” Once Johnson built up the strength needed to reach the desired metrics, he started to focus on improving mechanics.
stories to come out of this warehouse out West, and Johnson wanted to be a part of that family. Although he did not fly out to the training facility, he was able to accomplish a lot remotely. Johnson purchased several training aides including plyo balls, weighted baseballs, a recovery trampoline and wrist weights to start a program designed to clean up his arm path and increase the engagement of his whole body on the mound. “In terms of the summer, trying to help out myself without coach being there, it’s much tougher,” Johnson said. “Training remotely allowed me to fix my mechanics. It’s so in depth and in detail.” He was set -- a duffle bag of about 30 pounds he lugged around -- and ready to begin his most productive offseason.
Courtesy of Jack Margaros
*** Fall season for Springfield College was rapidly approaching in September. Johnson kept grinding, throwing for an hour, before lifting for an hour and a half, four to five days a week. About a week before he reported, he made a trip to the Field House with teammates Jordan Elkary and Alex Denoyelle. With Denoyelle set up behind the plate and Elkary manning the radar gun, Johnson tested himself for the first time since his last outing with the Suns. He reared back and fired with intent and maximum force -- something he’d learned was vital through working with Heenan and Driveline. After the second pitch, the radar gun showed 90 mph. “I was pumped up,” Johnson said. He kept going. Kept developing and tirelessly working to increase his velocity for a couple more months. By the end of October, at Springfield’s fall scrimmage against Elms, scouts were in attendance. Johnson was just hoping he could replicate the same velocity he showed in that early September bullpen.
Similar to his scout day in August, he felt good. Although this time, three months later, the velocity was seven mph higher. Johnson topped out at 94 mph against Elms. “I’m like ‘No way. Check the gun. It’s got to be broken,’” Johnson said. “Getting from 87 to 90, then getting from 90 to 94 is like the craziest little things. It’s nuts. That’s baseball. That’s pitching.” Johnson put himself on the map. It didn’t surprise Heenan. “The results aren’t uncommon. Brian just happens to be extremely dedicated, so I think his results are going to be more dramatic,” he said. Drabinski added, “He’s the definition of a gym rat. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve played with. It’s just nonstop. That’s the type of kid he is.” The interest from scouts skyrocketed. Johnson started becoming familiar with a lot of the New England area evaluators. At the Winter Meetings, where major league and minor league representatives gather in a different
location every December to discuss offseason league business, he networked. More of them started showing up to his starts. The sport he decided to focus on after middle school was looking like it could become a career. “He continues to blossom every year,” Bob Johnson, a UCONN baseball standout and former MLB draft pick, said. “He plays because he just loves the game. If you don’t love the game, you’re just not going to make it.” The same scouts, along with trainers, family, and former coaches flooded Brian’s inbox with congratulatory notes when he no-hit Emerson this season on March 24. It marked his second career no-hitter (his first of nine innings), making Johnson the first pitcher in D-III program history to throw multiple no-hitters at Springfield. “I went and sent a blast text message to all of my players and all of my family to let them know,” Gable said after he found out. “We’re certainly pulling for him around here.” Johnson’s accumulation of two near perfect performances almost never
times that game.
accomplished that feat.
In the seventh inning, Ryan McCahan grounded a ball to the right of Noah Bleakley at first base. Johnson blanked and forgot to cover the bag.
“I was going to be mad if this kid got a hit off me,” Johnson said. “I was hoping they wouldn’t bunt.”
“I think it would be great how the story happened and how everything came together, because that’s what Springfield is all about,” Robinson said. “It was a perfect connection with everything. It connected all the dots.”
“I would have been pissed off at myself,” he said. Bleakley had enough time to gather the grounder and step on first base for the second out of the inning, and the no-hit bid continued. “That would have been a horrific way to lose a no-hitter,” Simeone said. As the ninth inning approached, the pressure of this feat had been building in Johnson’s head for three innings. “The ninth inning you’re just counting down,” Johnson said. “I was just trying to do a deep breath after every pitch. Not get ahead of myself.” He punched out CJ Rogers, then induced a groundout for the first two outs. Joe Paladino stepped up as the Lions’ final hope. He was the “short guy” who already struck out three
Courtesy of Jack Margaros & Sam Leventhal
He popped his first fastball for a strike, followed by three balls. Johnson worked a full count with another fastball in the strike zone. “I knew I could do it,” he said. His last pitch, a curveball, dropped in for strike three. A phenomenon that occured in the MLB just seven times in the past three seasons, Johnson just completed twice himself in the same time frame. “It was a sense of relief,” he said. “That’s just a reward for all the work in the offseason.” *** The odds are stacked against Johnson as a Division-III pitcher coming from a school that has not produced a draft pick in 25 years. Although, it helps that he has ties to the last player who
It’s easy to call it quits after this spring. The overwhelming majority of players to come through Springfield have. But Johnson is too close to forfeit this opportunity. “My biggest fear is living with regret and quitting baseball too early, so I just want to see where my body takes me,” he said. “It’s a better story coming from a small school. I love it.” His father’s proclamation back in high school continues to seize his thoughts.
If you’re a good player, they’re going to find you And they have.