First-year coaches were unable to see how their rookie seasons would turn out as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the shutdown of spring sports
When expectations are high, being a first-year head coach can be intimidating. Not only do they not want to mess up the current trajectory of the team, they have to find a way to implement their own system and get athletes to trust and respect them.
For Park City’s Lucy Mower, Brett Mustoe and Michael Persky, this is the situation they all found themselves in heading into the now-canceled Utah high school spring athletic season.
“I told the kids that in the fall, one of the main things I’m trying to do is build a complete program here. … From the bottom to the top, everything is about trying to make this program better as a whole,” Persky, Park City’s boys lacrosse coach, said. “At first, the varsity guys didn’t understand that, and why they were practicing against the JV guys. But now they not only get it, they’ve embraced it and it was helping us out a lot.”
Unfortunately, none of those coaches were able to see how their rookie seasons would turn out.
“I think the short time we were together, we bonded really well and came together. … But since we only played one game it’s hard to tell performance-wise where we would’ve been in the end,” Mower, Park City girls lacrosse coach, said. “No doubt about it though, we would’ve been a top contender in the state. All the hard work we put in before the season, particularly in fitness and conditioning, makes me believe that we would’ve been where we wanted to be at the end of the season.”
For Mower and Persky, the shutdown of their respective seasons meant the shutdown of their pursuit of state championships.
But despite having played one game each, the spring wasn’t a total loss for the teams — the boys took down Timpanogos 22-2 on March 9 while the girls knocked off Corner Canyon 13-6 a day later. Both coaches feel confident that they were able to assert their style of coaching and their expectations of the programs so that when next year’s season begins, they won’t necessarily feel like a first-time head coach.
One thing Mower understood right away upon meeting her girls was that they had a strong lacrosse IQ. She knew that her girls understood a lot of the intricacies of the game so she focused on their conditioning and raising their expectations of winning a state title — while also embracing the hard work and the grind that it would take to get there.
“I don’t think we can look at what we had in our shortened season as unproductive considering we were working to our goals. … And now that they’re known and what’s expected, the girls can continue working for that,” Mower said. “Without a whole season this year, it’s going to be a little more difficult to achieve those goals. … But the girls are very clear about what our expectations are and they understand why we have those expectations moving forward.”
Persky was lucky enough to have been hired early on in the fall, giving him an extra six months prior to the start of the season, so he was able to make it clear what his expectations are and how they extend beyond winning games on the field.
“I helped develop this model while in Connecticut, but I really want to build a program that starts from the youth level that goes all the way through high school,” Persky said. “I’ve already been in contact with the Park City youth program to start this process. … And we’ve already done a coaches clinic where we shared with them our curriculum and expectations. I want to continue the success of the program but one that serves the community in a great way.”
After going through fall and spring practice with the boys, Persky believes that his teams are well aware of what of what he expects from them once they show up for fall practice next season.
But that’s not necessarily the case for Park City softball coach Brett Mustoe, whose team started the season 2-1 before it was canceled.
Hired on right before the beginning of the season, Mustoe was forced to play catch-up more than anything, but the shutdown of the season, although disappointing, has allowed him to head into next year more prepared.
“Most of what we were doing was feeling out what works best for the team, figuring out what works for the facilities we have and adapting to that the best we could,” Mustoe said. “Successful high school programs have a strong foundation of accelerated and competition travel players. I think we had a total of 3 of them in our program, so getting that experience this summer, if it allows, would be important for us.”
He wants to turn Park City softball into a preferred program rather than one that’s more of an after thought, and part of that is drumming up interest and taking advantage of it. The extra time will also allow him to get a fully-booked schedule with all the non-region games the Miners could want, something that was difficult this year.
Although all three coaches have different experiences in the first portions of their rookie seasons at the high school, they are linked by that what could’ve been and now, what will be when they finally get their chances on the field.
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