Roundtable: Who has been Penn's best coach of 2015?
As Penn Athletics begins to wind down its spring season, several teams — including the baseball, softball and lacrosse squads — remain in contention for Ivy titles and postseason play. Others have played their final contests of the campaign or can see the end of their seasons on the horizon. With a few marquee events still to come, there will be plenty to discuss over the next several days. But as summer approaches, our sports editors debate: Who has had the best coaching performance so far this calendar year?
Senior Sports Editor Riley Steele: Because this discussion includes the entirety of 2015, I am tempted to refer back to the impressive job Penn women’s basketball coach Mike McLaughlin did with his squad this season (even if he hasn’t managed to get on the squash court recently). However, it’s another Mike patrolling the sidelines for the Red and Blue that is most deserving of the Coach of the Year award, at least right now.
After the men’s lacrosse team won the program’s first Ivy title in 2014, coach Mike Murphy was tasked with finding a competent goalkeeper to replace the departed Brian Feeney, as well as retooling the squad’s defense. There certainly have been hiccups this year, especially considering that the Quakers have given up double digit goals in nine of their 12 games and dropped four crucial games in a row mid-season. But three consecutive wins have Penn in position to potentially make the Ivy League Tournament once again, a feat that seemed unimaginable less than a month ago.
Sports Editor Colin Henderson: Well, Riley, while I certainly respect what Murphy has done from the sideline, I think you should have stuck with your first intuition.
This year, McLaughlin had to overcome some lofty obstacles, having lost possibly the program’s most important player of the past decade — Alyssa Baron — and another key defensive stalwart — Meghan McCullough — to graduation. As a result, his young squad saw some struggles early in the season.
However, McLaughlin kept his cool and trusted the process, continuing to trust in up-and-comers like Michelle Nwokedi and Anna Ross. The end result was not a repeat Ivy championship, but it was still impressive: a second place Ancient Eight finish behind only Princeton, which spent most of the season undefeated. While several Penn coaches have enjoyed winning seasons this year, there are very few that can be said to have done a better job of creating a winning culture.
Associate Sports Editor Tom Nowlan: Baseball’s John Yurkow. Last year, Yurkow’s first season as Quaker head coach ended in crushing fashion, as the Quakers dropped a one-game playoff to Columbia to decide the Lou Gehrig division. Yurkow admitted before the season that the loss had bugged him all offseason, and he has motivated his squad to come back much stronger this year.
The Quakers have rolled to a 14-2 Ivy record so far this season — once again, tied with the Lions — and have dominated in all facets of the game, from the pitching of Connor Cuff to the offensive dominance of Austin Bossart and Mitch Montaldo. Yurkow has been unafraid to reward his team’s hot hands — preseason afterthought Connor Betbeze has moved into and excelled in the leadoff spot — while still sticking with veterans who have gone through rough stretches, such as senior infielder Jeff McGarry.
As the Quakers head into this weekend’s winner-take-all four-game set with Columbia, Penn fans can’t help but feel confident with Yurkow’s steady presence at the helm of the team.