Athletes at Marist College have all been playing their respective sports for the majority of their lives. As their four-year careers as students wind down, unfortunately, so do many of their playing careers.
A bittersweet moment in every athlete’s career, where they have a decision to make; hang up the cleats for good, or figure out a way to continue their passion for the game.
However, graduation in 2019 did not cause four of Marist athletics finest to hang up their cleats, or their spikes, or their caps. Instead, the sidelines were calling their names. They joined the coaching staff of the programs that they were captains or players on 365 days earlier.
Hailey Wagner, Isaiah Watson, Jocelyn Castro, and Deborah Boerke are all graduates from last spring and had the opportunity to sit down and discuss the decision to come back and coach.
Wagner was a stud for Marist women’s lacrosse. Breaking records not only in the Red Fox record books, but nationally as well. During her career at Marist, she was ranked second in NCAA history for draw controls with 573 and is tied for first at Marist for total games played with 71. It was a no-brainer for her to come back to the program she loved to play for and assist them on draw tactics and offensive sets.
“I’m so lucky to be back and around those people again for another year here,” she said, and she also noted that one of the biggest motivators for being here is “unfinished business.”
“I’m not someone who likes to leave loose ends undone,” she continued. “To be able to come back to my alma mater especially, where our team lost five straight years in the MAAC tournament, to be able to break the cycle, that’s something we’ve wanted for a long time.”
Breaking the cycle is for sure one of Marist lacrosse’s biggest goals. Their season is right around the corner, and Wagner is helping the program that pushed her to now push the next set of athletes on the field.
Isaiah Watson agreed. “I didn’t feel like I was done,” he expressed. “I have played football for 18 years and I didn’t go out on the game that gave me everything on the right terms.” Watson, who tore his ACL and his meniscus in the third game of his senior year, reflected on the injury as a “building block”, the first thing in his life that did not go the way it was expected, but helped him learn and grow. Now, Watson coaches the slot receivers, to return the favor for the sport that gave him everything. During his time at Marist, Watson led the team in special teams tackles with 12 in his sophomore season and caught 20 passes for 197 yards before his season-ending injury.
The biggest question in coming back to coach comes from coaching virtually the same teams that these athletes were once players on a meer year ago; teams that some of their best friends are on. Where does the line between professional and fun fall?
“Everyone is very respectful, and they understand that once we’re on the deck, it’s business,” Jocelyn Castro says. Castro, who only played one season of water polo in her final year of eligibility with the Red Foxes, helped to lead them to the MAAC championships and helped to preserve their ranking as a top 25 team last spring.
Deborah Boerke continued, saying that “it was definitely weird at first because you feel like there should be more of a boundary between you [and the team]. Thankfully it’s not that bad.” Boerke was a sprinter on the track team during her time as a student at Marist, where she holds the record for the 400 and 500m hurdles. “For the girls that came back from last year, that was an adjustment. Instead of working out alongside them, it’s more of leading them in the right direction, which can be awkward at times.”
Marist College is a small school with a large athletic culture. Not only are these four coaches the freshest alumni, but the coaching staff has valuable assets that graduated from the college as far back as the 1970s. They all are not assistants, either. Head baseball coach Chris Tracz once took the mound for the Red Foxes baseball team, and head women’s lacrosse coach Jessica Wilkinson scored goals, caused turnovers, and ran through ground balls when she played in 2008.
The biggest speculation as to why Marist has so many alums in the athletic department can be broken down into two things; their love for Marist College, and their love for the game.
Edited by Lily Caffrey-Levine & Will Bjarnar