Allie Nicosia talks with scrunners about college coaching during a pandemic and about her journey to a college coach and the sport in general. Nicosia is a coach at the Milwaukee School of Engineering.
When and how did you get involved with college coaching?
I got involved in college coaching back in 2015. I had coached track and field at the middle and high school levels while I was getting my Masters in Sport Psychology & Motor Behavior. While studying, I also became very interested in distance running and triathlons, as my collegiate vaulting career was disrupted with a foot surgery that took the duration of my senior year to recover from. That coupled with going to Tennessee for my Master's (because USC didn't have my program), I was not granted eligibility due to an SEC-SEC transfer rule.
Long story short, while I was in an internship the summer after I graduated, I missed the hiring phase for Sport Psychology for the Army (CSF2), so I began looking at the NCAA job market to see what all I could apply to. I stumbled across the University of West Alabama who was looking for an assistant for track, triathlon and cross country coach. I thought it was odd, but it definitely drew my interest. I contacted the Head Coach, Ray Stanfield, and found out that triathlon was an NCAA emerging sport for women and it was the opportunity to combine two of my passions together, so I took the leap of faith when offered the position.
How do you look back at your high school and college career?
My high school career was honestly my highlight reel. I "lucked into" the sport after not making the soccer team at my high school my 8th-grade year, because my mom's boss was the track coach and he said I should just come out for a practice. I humored her, because I did not want to be stuck at home in the spring, being that it was my first year without gymnastics, and no sport would have been impossible. I spent my 8th-grade year as a sprinter, then was told I should give pole vaulting a shot because of my background in gymnastics, along with being a decent sprinter. I went to a pole vault camp/started clinics over that summer with Rusty Shealy, then ended up breaking my school record by a foot and getting third in the state my freshman year of high school.
I liked being really good at something again. From there, I broke 12 feet as a sophomore, which qualified me for Nike Outdoor/Indoor Nationals (now New Balance) and my love grew for the sport every day. I wish things had lined up and I had more state titles/achieved my goal of getting the official state record, but being etched into my high school's history as the first individual state champion, having won USATF Junior Olympic Nationals and being among the top in the nation and was pretty exciting.
Honestly, in college, I never measured up to what I wanted. I had the opportunity to learn from two different coaching styles (Lawrence Johnson 'LoJo" and Kevin Brown-both 18'+ vaulters); however, I also had an issue with running through and finding which coach would force me to get out of my own head (hence my fascination with becoming a Sports Psychologist). I learned a lot during my time at University of South Carolina, but I also realized that I needed someone to push me to get out of my own head. I am still in the top 10 in program history at USC, but between illness and injury, I never achieved my goal of qualifying past the regional meet (always had an off day there) to make it to NCAA's and getting over 14 feet.
How did being a student-athlete help you today?
Being a student-athlete at USC gave me so many opportunities. To be honest, I started off as pre-med biology but realized I hated biology. After taking some classes with our (former) Sport Psychologist, Dr. Cusaac, I knew that my passions had just combined. It helped me have an instant group of friends in college, I learned a lot through various "dress for success" and networking events provided to athletes. It helped me with time management skills and keeping on track in the classroom with any tutors or anything I needed in order to be successful. Mostly, as my career morphed into being a college coach, it helped me to be able to relate to my athletes. I have been in their shoes and I know what it takes in order to be successful. I also know what it means to have serious injuries that have derailed your athletic career and have buy-in when talking to injured student-athletes.
What's your biggest challenge as a college coach?
My biggest challenge as a college coach is probably recruiting for a school like the Milwaukee School of Engineering. We attract extremely talented individuals, but being a STEM school, a lot of people won't look past the name to realize we also have nationally ranked degrees in Nursing, Business and other fields of study. I want to have a big roster, but it seems slow coming, for the time being.
Before I became a Division III coach, I honestly didn't know too much about it. A lot of girls I talk to will hold out hope that they will get a scholarship or walk-on spot at a big D1 school, but often, they never see travel/playing time. The most frustrating thing to me is that we offer an excellent education and the opportunity to compete on just as big of a stage in the nation.. look at Wadeline Jonathas, she came from Division III and made a MASSIVE impact on USA Track & Field. Division III is highly competitive and offers great opportunities to compete right way; I challenge any young athlete to look at what it actually takes to not only compete at the top of Division III but to also have success.
Tell us about standard recruiting, what's it like and what do you look for?
My recruiting is a lot of tracking girls down either through coaches or social media. I also attend as many meets or events as I can; although right now that is obviously out of the question due to a national emergency. The number one thing I look for when recruiting is attitude. Top marks will only get you so far, but if you have a great attitude and work ethic, you will find a way to get where you need to be.
It's not ideal, but I keep in contact with my team through individual messages and group me. They still get their weekly workouts and fill me in when they are able, but it is such a weird time right now, so I'm just trying to go with the flow and take advantage of the time I have for now to get any edge on recruitment I can.
What coaching goals do you have now and in the future?
I am extremely competitive, so obviously I would love to not only coach individual champions on the national stage, but to have a team championship one day. I am a goal-chaser because that is what has always driven me, so I hope to continue to have my athletes re-write the record boards and books at MSOE and anywhere this can take me. Along with that, grades are very important to me, so I also want my team to have one of the highest average GPAs as well. My goal is always to build the total athlete... not just win.
I also hope to continue to grow triathlon at the NCAA level, as I am going on my third year at MSOE as the head coach, 2020 will be my sixth season as a coach and I have been an active and founding member of the College Triathlon Coaches Association.
What's a normal day like for you now and previously?
For now, I wake up and go through emails/recruitment sites and see what updates there might be. I am also checking in with athletes that I am working on getting commitments from for next year, then I mostly look around on social media to see what I can do to make my programs stand out and/or see if I can find more recruits. Then I'll either go for a bike ride or run, make a few phone calls and play with my dogs/watch tv for the rest of the evening.
Previously, I would have coached a swim workout, went into the office to do similar amounts of recruiting or other paperwork until about 3:30 then prepped for the afternoon track practice, gone for a run and then gone to sleep after some phone calls, dinner and a dog walk.
(My dogs are very happy right now)
What are you doing without a season?
The biggest thing right now is recruiting. When things mostly die down from the 2020 recruiting class and it's solely focused on 2021s, I will also take more time to start prepping season plans and finding new ways to stay creative and up to date on the latest training topics/fads. Between now and August, I will be finalizing our 2020-2021 season schedules, planning trips, workouts, gear needed and anything else I can do to hope that this will all be done by the time school returns.