The new year is upon us -- in college athletics terms that is. The first competitions of 2014-15 open this week for the CSUB Roadrunners and it's time to get back to business.
While the summers are spent gearing up for the next year, the first few months of the season can set the tone for the entire department. This season the tone-setting falls on three new coaches of our team sports, three individuals that have taken over programs here at CSUB in hopes of taking us to the next level.
Women's soccer and new head coach Gary Curneen will do the honors and open the home season this Friday as his 'Runners host Gonzaga at the Main Soccer Field at 7 p.m.
I've spent a lot of time around Coach Curneen and his program over the last few weeks while filming television segments and previewing the season for our various multimedia outlets. I can strongly say this -- this team has changed mentally. While the talent will take some time to catch up to the coaching that is being thrown their way, Coach Curneen and staff are taking many of the right steps in changing a culture of a women's soccer program that has never had a winning season at the Division I level.
They're being challenged like never before, they're being asked to not only do something a certain way, but to understand why they are doing it for the sake of playing better soccer. It's a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a very smart soccer coach as he tries to pass on his knowledge to his student-athletes.
On the men's side, new head coach Richie Grant takes his squad north for an exhibition against Stanford this week before opening up their regular season in a week's time at San Diego State. Coach Grant has a challenging schedule in place for his team prior to opening Western Athletic Conference play in October. That being said, he knows the talent is here to win the WAC Championship; the majority of this team was here last season when they surprisingly took second place in the conference.
With a few key additions, some new vigor and the first head coaching change in 26 years in the program, Coach Grant may have a nice recipe for a run in the WAC. He's bringing plenty of experience as a head coach at the University of Memphis which included Conference USA championships, Coach of the Year honors and NCAA Tournament berths.
The third new head coach this fall is Giovana Melo. She takes over a volleyball program that also finished in second place last season in the WAC. While she lost a lot of offensive production due to graduation, she brings back a small-but-talented squad that could again be in the mix. She also gets the extra added pressure of making sure he team qualifies for the WAC Tournament, considering its being hosted in Bakersfield.
Change is good, change is refreshing and that's the vibe I'm getting from all these new head coaches, their assistants and the student-athletes they are coaching. There's a renewed passion as well for each of these sports. Both Coach Grant and Coach Curneen are Irish; meaning they take passion and soccer (or football as they call it) to levels we Americans can't understand. Their excitement is contagious, their work-ethic encouraging and the results hopefully will come as a result of that.
Coach Melo, meanwhile, is not short on passion for volleyball, either. A native of Brazil, she recently told me she "even hates to lose at something as simple as rock-paper-scissors."
"Maybe it's a Brazilian-thing," she joked.
But all jokes aside, I can see her passion as well. I can see her attitude and her desires starting to rub off on her players, the majority inherited from the previous coaching staff.
There are definitely things we need more of here at CSUB. We're not on the same levels as many NCAA Division I programs yet. But the things we do have -- like passion, work ethic and determination -- are not in short supply.
Here's to another season. Hope you'll join in on the fun.
COREY COSTELLOE, a Tehachapi High graduate, is Assistant Athletics Director for Communications for California State University, Bakersfield.