Brokaw Adjusts to New Role as Coach of the Lady Rams
Jessica Brokaw has gone from student to teacher in a flash. The former most valuable player for the Bluefield College Lady Rams is now directing the team from the sidelines as the interim head coach.
February 2, 2011
By Tom Bone
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. — Jessica Brokaw has gone from student to teacher in a flash. The former most valuable player for the Bluefield College Lady Rams is now directing the team from the sidelines as the interim head coach.
Jessica Brokaw took over the reigns of the Lady Rams when Coach Steve Hardin left earlier in the season.
The former four-year starter took the coaching position after coach Steve Hardin left in late November for another college coaching job. She had been Hardin's assistant coach for two years.
She said prior to Tuesday's practice with the Lady Rams, "I thought my biggest change would have been from playing (to) crossing over and becoming an assistant. It's definitely been more of a challenge for me to (go) from assistant to a head coach."
"It's different being the one making all the plays, making all the calls. Everything is on your shoulders; all the stress is on your shoulders."
Stress has been a common denominator this season for the Bluefield women, who go into today's 5:30 home game against Milligan College with a 7-15 record, having lost five of their last six games.
She said when Hardin's departure was announced to the team, "I would say a lot of them took it real hard. It was a rough few days of practice right after that, but all I told them was, 'As long as you play hard, that's all I can ask of you right now.'
"It was a real emotional week. They were on, like, a roller-coaster ride."
The team went 0-2 in December — and was blown out in two other games that only counted as "exhibition" contests, at High Point University and Wofford College.
Brokaw said, "We were excited to go home for Christmas, to get that break, and to come back refreshed and ready to go. And I think we did. We came back, right after Christmas break, and went 3-0 (at home)."
She said they faced "some higher-level teams" in December, "so it was good to get home for Christmas and for everyone to get time with their family, after all that happening."
January started with home wins against Bluefield State College and conference foe Reinhardt, followed by a loss at Milligan and a victory under the Dome against Pikeville.
"We all had higher expectations than what we've (done) in this season," she said. "The roller coaster really hasn't stopped, with three of the girls getting in an auto accident one morning.
"And then a week-and-a-half ago, a player had a seizure at the end of a game right on the sideline. And then two nights later, another player got in an auto accident.
"Through all the adversity, I think this team has grown," she said. "I think every time adversity hits, they get a little closer, as a family, and you start to see them being there for each other a little more and more, each time."
The team "didn't have a very good showing" in the 75-55 loss at Milligan, she confirmed. "I think we were a little high after going 3-0, and that kind of brought us back down to reality."
It could be different this evening. "We had a good practice (Monday) night. We're hoping to sneak one up on Milligan if possible," she said.
"This team is very athletic. It's one of the best teams that I've been a part of since being at Bluefield College, just all-around, in every position.
"It all comes from heart, and from wanting to out-play the team you're competing against. This team, I believe, could play with a lot of teams in the nation. It's just, are they up for it?"
"And the Dome Gymnasium, it's such a different atmosphere than some of the other (conference) courts. A lot of people always say, coming in here, we already have an advantage by playing in here."
Asked about fan support, she said, "I think, over the last few years, we've gotten more support on the women's program.
"But, to be honest, once that tipoff starts, I really don't notice who's in the stands (or) how many people are there. I just focus in on the five I have on the court and what my next play is."
Regarding the Lady Rams' on-court alignments, she said, "I've made a few changes, not many. I thought, the team has gone through so many changes so far this year, more changes on the basketball court, I think, would just overwhelm them even more.
"Before, Coach Hardin ran more of a matchup zone, and we've kind of played more strictly 'man,' running a little bit of the zone. (I have) put a couple of plays in, but for the most part, the biggest change has been going from the zone defense to the 'man.' "
With no assistant coaches other than assistant coach Katana Mullen, Brokaw is handling all the strategy, plus recruiting, plus the administrative details of running a college program.
And then some.
"I'm the head tennis coach, I'm teaching a class, I tutor students in math," she said. "Not only do I do that, I'm in three master's classes myself."
She got an extension to complete three classes offered through the United States Sports Academy that she began last fall, and hopes to finish those "this week," she said. Her goal is graduating with a dual master's degree in sports coaching and sports management.
That could happen late this summer.
Meanwhile, she is sorting things out. She said, "When I took over the job, it was a little difficult trying to catch up on things and just get everything organized. We went from three coaches down to one.
"I'm not on the road as much as possible since I'm the only coach. I do have a student assistant, but she's a student first, so I don't want to pressure her too much."
"So I'm not on the road as much as I would like to be, but I have definitely been sending out tons of e-mails, and trying to do some text messages here and there — and a lot of phone calls as well."
She said that when she was offered the interim job, she wanted to talk to Hardin before making the decision. "I went right over to the Hardins' residence and had about an hour's conversation with him," she said.
She talked about the team's three seniors. Post player Katrina Morris and Kiara Honore, a native of Alaska, have been at BC for two years. Kiara Williams is in her fourth season.
Brokaw said about Williams, "I played with her my senior year. 'Kiki' is her nickname. I got to see her grow throughout her four years of college, which has been really neat. So it'll be emotional Senior Night with her ... ."
Brokaw said, "I came in as a point guard, played off-and-on at point guard all four years. I played a little post my senior year, after my knee injury, but I was most comfortable at the point guard position."
She was asked about junior point guard Kia Gilliard, who leads the team in scoring at 9.16 points per game, assists (2.26 per game) and steals (38).
"I would say Kia Gilliard is our heart. When she goes, we go," Brokaw said. "She takes a lot of pressure (off) the team. ... She is one of our captains, along with Katrina and Kiki."
She explained that her players can be extra "eyes" and coaching assistants on the floor.
"Obviously, as a player, you see a lot more, and know more of what's going on than an 'outsider.' I let my players, if they feel like they need to call a timeout or run a play, I let them. They are my coaches on the court.
"I even ask them in timeouts, 'What do you see that I don't see?' And sometimes they'll say something and sometimes they don't."
She said, "They've been through the coaching change. I know how hard it is to lose a coach.
Coach Hardin actually stepped in my senior year. I remember all he asked for when he took over was, 'Play hard, and go in and do the best you can, every night.' "
She said, "I never thought that I'd get to play, become a coach, and then be head coach all at the same institution. It's a neat experience, that the school would give me this opportunity."