Culture Shock

SUNY New Paltz athletes had a good chance of seeing a new face in the offices lining the Athletic and Wellness Center halls when they reported for duty this year.

The SUNY New Paltz Athletic  Program has added six new faces to its coaching staff for the 2011-12, and is still on the hunt for more.

So far, the program has welcomed two new head coaches, Men’s Soccer replaced former Head Coach Eric Watson with New Paltz alumnus Gene Ventriglia, while Men’s Basketball filled the vacant spot left by Dagan Nelson with Mike Rejniak, who most recently was an assistant coach at UMass Amherst. In addition, the school has hired four new assistant coaches to several teams.

Director of Athletics, Stuart Robinson, hired Ventriglia last November, while Rejniak was hired two weeks before the fall
semester started.

“Anytime we hire a coach it’s always, regardless of whether it’s a head coach or an assistant coach, thought goes into  what are the needs of our teams are and the state of our program,  what type of person will bring knowledge, enthusiasm and a vision for the program going forward,” said Robinson.

While Robinson is solely in charge of hiring head coaches for the program, head coaches have a substantial say in what assistant coaches are hired for their teams. Field hockey Head Coach Shanna Vitale had coached both of her hires, Abby Cerrone and Megan Spittal, while they were players at the University of Lock Haven. Ryan Woerner, the new assistant coach for the  Men’s Basketball team, had worked with Rejniak at a Columbia basketball camp.

“He [Woerner] was just an unbelievable worker there and that’s what started mine and Ryan’s relationship. He was the first person I called,” said Rejniak. “Typically through our coaching travels you meet people who kind of fit with you and get your ideas and understand how you coach.”

Robinson said that when looking for coaches, he is not only looking for someone who can coach, but someone who can truly influence a college athlete.

“I tend to look for people who are going to be good teachers,” said Robinson. “I look for coaches who are knowledgeable about the sport and can teach the sport and communicate their knowledge of the sport to their players.”

With six of 27 coaches being recent hires-and a search for a 28th beginning soon, according to Robinson-approximately 20 percent of the staff members are new to the program.

Ventriglia, who attended New Paltz in the 1960s, said while recent hires need to embrace a new a program, their team will adapt to their methods as well.

“I always believed that the team really is a reflection of the coach’s personality,” said Ventriglia. “If a coach is very aggressive than they’re very aggressive and if a coach is laid-back, then the team is very laid back.”

Ventriglia, Robinson and Rejniak all expressed that with the current New Paltz Athletic Program, they are not only there to coach a team; They also need to be mentors and make sure that the coaches are a team themselves.

“I think what’s great about this department is that yes, we all have our teams, which we’re changing with new coaches, new life, new blood, new goals and we all do that within our teams,” said Rejniak. “With that, we have such a great camraderie. As a coaching staff w all want each other to do well and we all push each other to do well which is fantastic.”

The new coaches have already impressed their athletes and, according to Men’s Basketball Captain Harris Wichard, have made them eager to start a new season.

“I think with me being a senior, just to hear a different voice and where Coach Rejniak comes from it definitely changes the culture a little bit,” said Wichard. “Guys come in eager and ready to change the culture of losing seasons here.”

Robinson said he believes the new coaches will change the culture, but they will also respect the house that has previously been built.

“I think that successful coaches in any kind of transition are those coaches who come in with an understanding and an appreciation for what existed, but also a desire to want to take the program further or improve the program,” said Robinson. “It doesn’t mean necessarily that they’re coming in and saying that they have to be a certain way or it has to be one way to do it. It’s just more  that they come in with some ideas but also have that appreciation for what was there.”