The upcoming fall sports season is upon the Northern Region, and with it comes a slew of new faces.
Lake Braddock has a new volleyball coach; Stone Bridge is getting a first-ever golf coach; and the McLean and Marshall football teams have new leaders manning the sidelines.
No school, however, is undergoing more change than Herndon High School, which replaced its football, field hockey and golf head coaches this year. It’s a transformation that has risen from the departure of some longtime coaching fixtures at the school, and it might be coming at just the right time for an athletic program struggling to regain its footing in the aftermath of some losing seasons.
While first-time golf coach Mark Rueffert takes over a team that qualified for regionals this past year, incoming coaches Brian Day and Mary Miller have their work cut out for them.
Day inherits a football team that finished 2-8, and Miller assumes leadership of a field hockey squad that finished 7-10 last year.
Although they might try to forget about those numbers, players from both teams won’t soon lose sight of the impact left by their former coaches. Phyllis Pearce devoted 21 years to the school’s field hockey program, while Joe Sheaffer walked away after 40 years of playing and coaching football.
“It’s been very difficult to not only go through the interview process and scrutinize the candidates, but to put all the pieces together to make this thing happen,” said Jonathan Frohm, director of Student Activities. “When you have coaches that have been around for 20-plus years and you have to replace them, it’s eye-opening because you realize how much they did without your guidance.”
Focused on football
An assistant coach at Westfield from 2002-2010 and for Centreville last year, Day takes over a football team that has won just three games the past two seasons. Turning the program into an immediate contender in the unforgiving Concorde District isn’t realistic, but Day recognizes his team’s potential for rapid improvement. Running back Denzel Weaver leads a 25-man senior class that is hungry to end their high school careers on a high note.
Day graduated in 1993 from Fairfax High School, where his experience playing quarterback later translated to eight seasons of coaching quarterbacks at Westfield. The former gunslinger is working to establish a balanced offense at Herndon, one where a strong running game opens up the passing game.
However, Day’s first head coaching gig will require his devotion to both sides of the ball this time around. For him, that means a renewed focus on forming strong relationships with players at every position to create cohesion across the locker room.
“It’s about managing people; not only your coaching staff but your kids,” Day said. “How do you meld different personalities into a winning formula? We’re just trying to get kids to learn our philosophy and give them a belief set that they can fall back onto when things are getting tough.”
Back in the saddle
Eight years removed from her previous field hockey coaching job, Miller returns to coaching after taking time off to raise her three children. A former player at Falls Church, Miller coached junior varsity field hockey at McLean for nine seasons, in addition to serving as head coach of McLean’s girls varsity soccer team.
She takes over a youthful squad, as only seven of its 19 players are upperclassmen. The challenge will be to convince a team that has experienced losing seasons each of the past three years to believe it can win consistently.
“I’ll try to bring the kids along to play together,” Miller said. “Kids play in the travel leagues and a lot of times you’re playing with your same age and your same skill level. And in high school you get varying skill levels. You’ve got kids who are playing 24-7 field hockey, and you’ve got kids who play basketball and soccer and field hockey. So you’re trying to mesh all that together into a functioning unit to play and succeed.”
Going out for golf
Rueffert, a 1997 Herndon graduate, assumes leadership of a golf team that finished second in the district last year. An all-state baseball player during his days at Herndon, Rueffert became a four-year starting catcher for the University of Virginia’s baseball team before spending a year in the Detroit Tigers’ organization. He served as Herndon’s junior varsity baseball coach for 10 seasons.
An avid golfer and a former elementary school teacher, Rueffert hopes to use his teaching acumen and passion for golf to create enthusiasm for his team. He replaces John Benkovic, who coached the golf team the past four seasons.
The golf team finished with a 3-2 district record last year, and captured the George Pavlis Memorial Tournament title at Reston National Golf Course this past August. The team begin district competition Aug. 27 against Robinson.
The task at-hand
Although they will remain focused on their own tasks, Herndon coaches are determined to work together to put the athletic program’s culture back on the right track.
“We don’t want to just change the football culture; we want to have an impact on the other sports too and support the other teams,” Day said. “We have a lot of two-sport athletes that are football players, and that’s a good thing. We want to see kids have success in all areas of their life.”