The Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association is proud to announce its 2017-18 participants for the Female Apprentice Coach Program from the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC):
Apprentice: Nicole Brockman
Mentor: Greg Ryan
Last December, in the midst of her third season at the University of Alberta – Augustana, Nicole Brockman suffered a career ending back injury.
She will return to the Vikings this fall, not as a player as previously hoped, but as an apprentice under interim head coach Greg Ryan.
“This has been a devastating injury for me to face but it has taught me a great deal about myself,” said Brockman, who throughout her career has used injury recovery time as an opportunity to be involved in practices and games in different ways. “I am very grateful to say that it has also opened up potential new experiences, such as the opportunity to be a female apprentice coach.”
At Augustana, Brockman already has a reputation as a hard-working, dedicated student-athlete who maximized her intellect to develop into a leader, according to Ryan.
“She has demonstrated commitment to excellence in volleyball and academics in her time here, making her an excellent role model for our young volleyball team,” he said.
As a setter, Brockman was always intrigued with the mental and strategic elements of the game and she looks forward to using her experience to help other student-athletes develop those components of the game. She’ll be able to run targeted practice drills and take in-game stats for the setters to help improve their game.
Brockman will also look to develop better communication and problem-solving skills within the context of a team setting. And she’s excited to be the lone female representative on the coaching staff at Augustana.
“There can often be a disconnect between female players and male coaches and I will therefore be the bridge between players and coaches to ensure that there is good communication,” said Brockman.
She’ll work closely with Ryan, who is also the Director of Athletics and Campus Recreation at the University. He will serve as the Women’s Volleyball program’s interim head coach this season.
Ryan, who was inducted into the Alberta Volleyball Hall of Fame in 2014, coached the Men’s Volleyball team at the University of Calgary from 1986-2006 before serving as the Women’s Volleyball head coach at Montana State University Northern from 2006-08.
He has also served as the bench boss for the National Men’s B Team.
“I was fortunate to have terrific mentorship through the Canadian Men’s National Volleyball team, and consider it an honour to help in the manner I found most beneficial as a developing coach,” said Ryan.
Apprentice: Rachael Smillie
Mentor: Kevin MacAlpine
Former CCAA All-Canadian Rachel Smillie’s playing days may be behind her, but the former Thunder badminton player will continue to contribute at Concordia University of Edmonton as an apprentice.
The three-time CCAA medalist will be mentored by her former coach Kevin MacAlpine.
“It has been my experience that a coach can make or break your experience in sports and learning from a coach as excellent as Kevin will only set me on the right route,” said Smillie, who first met MacAlpine at the Alberta Winter Games when she was 13.
“He demonstrates to me the importance of dedication and commitment and giving back to the sport that has given me so much,” she said.
Smillie attended CCAA Nationals in all four of her seasons with the Thunder. She earned a silver medal in Women’s Singles (2015) and bronze medals in Women’s Doubles (2016, 2017) at CCAA Badminton National Championships. Smillie will once again attend Nationals next spring – Concordia will host the 2018 CCAA Badminton National Championships.
In addition to being a cornerstone of the Concordia badminton program, Smillie was also a member of the Thunder cross-country running and indoor track teams. She embodies what it means to be a true team player, according to Joel Mrak, Athletics Director at Concordia.
“While badminton was her passion, she was able to utilize her athleticism to make meaningful contributions to our other teams here,” he said. “Rachael has an infectious zest for life and was a very special athlete in our program.”
Smillie has already experienced working alongside MacAlpine, who she assisted at the 2014 Alberta Winter Games.
“Her experiences at Concordia have encouraged her to use her expertise to help future members of the team and to coach at the collegiate level,” said MacAlpine. “Rachael will be a great addition to our coaching staff and a great ambassador of this program.”
MacAlpine, the current ACAC Badminton Convenor, has been the head coach of the Thunder since 2009. The 2016 CCAA Badminton Coach of the Year is also a Concordia alumnus (Class of 2005).
He continually looks out for the best in each of his players as people and as student-athletes, according to Mrak.
“Kevin has been an exceptional leader in our program, and serves as an inspiration to our department, other coaches and the entire campus.”
Medicine Hat Rattlers
Apprentice: Kaity Letwiniuk
Mentor: Jim Loughlin
Throughout her standout five-year playing career with the Rattlers, Kaity Letwiniuk actively pursued the opportunity to lay the foundation for her future coaching aspirations.
Her coaching career will take a huge step forward this season as Letwiniuk will be mentored by her former head coach Jim Loughlin.
“Kaity’s desire is to become a full-time soccer coach in the future,” said Terry Ballard, Manager of Sport & Wellness at Medicine Hat College. “Her participation in the CCAA Female Apprentice Coach Program will assist her in achieving her goal.”
With the Rattlers, Letwiniuk was a two-time CCAA Academic All-Canadian and four-time ACAC All-Conference player. Last year, in her final season with the team, the three-time Rattlers Athletics female athlete of the year was named a CCAA All-Canadian.
Her first taste of coaching came as an assistant with a U14 girls team in Swift Current, SK, before she took on a head coaching position for a U14 team at the Saskatchewan Summer Games in 2012. After coaching girls teams for three years, Letwiniuk went out of her comfort zone and coached a U10 boys club.
Since 2015, Letwiniuk has worked with a U12 girls team in Medicine Hat and she is also a head coach of week-long summer kids’ soccer camps at Medicine Hat College.
This mentorship fit is ideal for Letwiniuk, who like Loughlin, would like to one day teach and coach.
“I am grateful to have Jim as my mentor coach since he is not only an exceptional coach, but a teacher as well,” said Letwiniuk, who has watched Loughlin in action both on and off the field and sees how the two domains often intertwine.
“Learning how to be a better coach within this program will help me excel in my future endeavors and help me grow as a woman,” she said.
For Loughlin, stepping in as Letwiniuk’s mentor is personal; he’s known her since she was 18 and the veteran served as his captain the last two seasons with the Rattlers.
“It’s been exciting to see Kaity mature as an individual and to see how a supportive environment prompted her to take on various types of leadership roles,” he said.
Loughlin was named the CCAA Women’s Soccer Coach of the Year in 2014 and last season, he received the ACAC Coaching Excellence award across all sports. He is a volunteer board member with the Medicine Hat Soccer Association as well as a coach of multiple soccer teams, indoor and outdoor.
Medicine Hat College has granted him a leave of absence for 2017-18, as he works toward his PhD.
The opportunity to help mentor a female coach that could eventually take the lead in Medicine Hat’s women’s soccer and futsal programs in the future aligns with Loughlin’s personal beliefs.
“Ideally, female athletes, coached by healthy and competent female role models will come to believe that they can take on future leadership roles,” said Loughlin. “The FACP is a perfect vehicle to help them see the potential for their future.”
Apprentice: Cassidy Taal
Mentor: Todd Warnick
Ooks head coach Todd Warnick has had tremendous success with the Female Apprentice Coach Program in the past and this season he will mentor his third apprentice, former player Cassidy Taal.
“Cassidy’s basketball IQ and her passion for the sport are unequaled,” said Warnick. “Her desire to lead and help others will undoubtedly serve her well in her pursuit of coaching.”
Three seasons ago, Warnick mentored Kirsten Molesky, who went on to work with the Ooks for two more years as an assistant coach.
“Kirsten’s progression from apprentice to second assistant to lead assistant in that time speaks to the value of the program and her contributions were invaluable in that time,” said Warnick.
Molesky played a significant role in the success and development of the team, including culminating in making critical in-game adjustments that helped the Ooks secure a bronze medal at the 2016 CCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship in Windsor, ON. Warnick also mentored Ashley Nealon at Concordia during the 2007-08 season.
For obvious reasons, he is eager to once again step into the mentor role.
“Todd is one of the ACAC’s most respected coaches,” said former NAIT Athletics Manager Gregg Meropoulis. “He has taken his women’s program to be among the best in Canada.”
Warnick has 15 years of experience at the collegiate level and has worked extensively with Basketball Alberta in their youth development programs both as a coach and a mentor.
Taal is already building her coaching resumé, having worked as an assistant and a head coach with young athletes (ages 6-17) at numerous basketball camps and club teams.
“I have been taught from a very young age to share my passion for basketball and to give back to the community and the institutions that I have played for,” said Taal. “This apprenticeship program is an opportunity for me to be able to continue to do that.”
In recent seasons, Taal was forced to deal with numerous injuries but this gave her the opportunity to observe from the sidelines.
“I feel that this time on the bench has given me a different perspective than most players,” she said.
Last season, in her fifth and final year of eligibility, Taal was often a “coach on the floor”, according to Warnick, mentoring other younger players in competition while providing a calming influence in the frenetic energy of the game.
“I am excited and energized by the potential of this young woman as a coach and this opportunity will only further her development and growth in such positive ways,” said Warnick.
The King’s Eagles
Apprentice: Keri Alcorn
Mentor: Grace Scott
Having previously worked with three CCAA apprentices, Eagles Women’s Volleyball head coach Grace Scott is a veteran of the Female Apprentice Coach Program.
This season, Scott will mentor Keri Alcorn, who has already benefited from the program herself in a roundabout way.
“Being a CCAA women’s apprentice coach sparked my interest when one of my assistant coaches Alyssa Downing was part of this program during my 4th year at King’s,” said Alcorn. “I admired and looked up to her and appreciated her role on our team.”
That season, The King’s would go on to earn a silver medal at provincials and appear at the 2016 CCAA Women’s Volleyball National Championship in Charlottetown, PE.
Alcorn was an ACAC North Division All-Conference player in her last two seasons and led the division in kills per set. Last year, Alcorn captained the Eagles in her fifth and final year of eligibility.
“Without a doubt, Keri is one of the most talented, all-round players I have ever coached,” said Scott. “She worked just as hard on defense as she did offence and most importantly, she was able to balance ‘competitive fire’ with having fun.”
Alcorn developed her skills under the guidance of her junior high, high school and club coach – her father. And, it was in her last year of high school that she was given the opportunity to take on an assistant coaching role for a junior high team. She jumped at the chance.
“This kick started a desire within me as to the type of coach and player I wanted to be down the road in terms of commitment, leadership and style,” she said.
Alcorn would later coach U16 and U17 club teams during her second and third year of University.
Now, she’ll acquire plenty of knowledge from Scott, an NCCP Facilitator in the Competition Stream, who as part of the FACP has also mentored Oriana Pysyk (2011-12) and Mandy Foster (2006-07).
Scott is entering her tenth year at The King’s and is also the Athletic Director at the institution. Thus, she spends significant time with other head coaches at The King’s in an advisory and mentorship capacity.
“To be a strong leader, I believe it’s important to first learn how to be a good follower and lead by serving others,” said Scott. “A leader needs to have a good understanding of who she is, what her values and philosophy are and to begin to establish life goals.”
As a student-athlete, Alcorn had the unique gift of being able to push her teammates to perform their best, while at the same time assuring them that they were loved even if they made a mistake.
“It is this ability to remain focused on a goal while building into the lives of others that gives me confidence that Keri will be a great teacher and coach,” said Scott.