Photo Gallery | MCLA basketball teams get seasons underway
NORTH ADAMS — The first day of basketball practice at MCLA brought a satchel full of the unknown to the Amsler Campus Center gymnasium Monday. That will happen with two first-year head coaches.
Derek Shell and Loren Stock ran their men's and women's teams through a series of drills as they prepare their teams to begin play in a month. Both are in their first years on the job — a definite rarity in NCAA basketball and it might even be a first.
Coaches get nervous, but after seven years as the head coach at MASCAC rival Fitchburg State, Shell was able to get a good amount of rest before the season started. It helped that he was hired in late June and had all summer to prepare.
"I think when I was younger, it was less sleep. I slept OK last night," said Shell before his team's first practice. "I'm feeling pretty good."
Stock, whose hiring was just announced on Sept. 28, has been in the middle of a whirlwind since arriving on campus.
"Honestly, it's hit the ground running and never stop type of feeling," said Stock. "I'm still doing a bunch of things, getting acclimated and meeting people. Right now, it's getting set for practice.
"It's Day One today, so I'm very interested in making sure we start with our fundamentals, get down to business and build for our season."
Stock comes to MCLA from Mount Holyoke College, where she was an assistant. Prior to Mount Holyoke, the Western New England graduate served as an assistant at Westfield State and at her alma mater. Stock replaced Holly McGovern, who resigned in the fall after 11 seasons at the helm. McGovern moved with her family to Maryland.
"The first day of practice is exciting every year, regardless of who's the coach," said MCLA forward Kayla Hotaling. "It definitely adds an excitement factor, because it's new."
It's also new for the men, who are on their third coach in as many seasons. Tony Skiffington was the interim coach last year, and the Trailblazers went 8-18 and 5-7 in MASCAC. The Trailblazers made the postseason tournament, but lost to regular-season co-champion Salem State in the first round.
Shell had much to do since July. He got to know his players, hired a staff and prepared for practice. Two of Shell's new assistants are former MCLA players. Kris McLaughlin, who played at Pittsfield and former Wahconah athlete James Rivers are assistants, as is O'Norris Burgess, who comes to MCLA from Hartwick.
"Coach Shell is a great coach. I like his intensity coming in," said Joe Wiggins, a former St. Joseph player. "It's a good fit for us, and I think he's going to lead us on a good path for the next two years, while I'm here ... and continuing on."
Shell said that while he was around for the summer, he described recruiting as a "challenge," and was unable to bring any on board .
Shell said that with player defections and graduations, the Trailblazers come into the season a little thin and a little bit smaller than the first-year coach would like.
"Obviously, we'd like to have a little more height, we'd like to have a little more depth, we'd like to have a little more experience," he said, "but that's probably every coach in America."
Stock's situation is a little bit different. While Shell has the head coaching experience, she has the roster experience. The Trailblazers, who were 14-13 and 4-8 in NESCAC last year, lost to eventual tourney champion Westfield in the semifinals. The Trailblazers bring back all but Emily Castle, who graduated, and return all of their top scorers. That includes Hotaling, who averaged 11.9 points and 12.9 rebounds per game.
"I have a guard-dominant roster, so kind of going with motion. I've had plenty of offenses that I've run personally when I was a player or working with the coaches that I've worked with in the past," Stock said. "I've watched a lot of film the first week that I was hired, just kind of getting a feel for the players and what would work best for our team."
Stock has June Blake returning as an assistant, and said she plans to have one more assistant on staff to handle a lot of recruiting chores.
MCLA athletic director Laura Mooney said at the time Shell was hired, she was very happy to bring him on board. After a quick search, the new athletic director said she was equally happy with the hire of Stock.
"She just has a lot of really good Western Mass. connections. Recruiting is going to be a huge part of this job. She's worked at Westfield, at WNE, and Mount Holyoke, all schools located this way. She has a lot of experience working with coaches with good reputations," said the athletic director. "She's worked extensively with a scholar-athlete program [at Springfield College], preparing them for what it takes to be in college.
"She's eager, she's hungry, she's passionate and she wants to get the job done."
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.