Division III Week: Coach Perspective

In celebration of the NCAA’s inaugural Division III Week, we’re looking at the Division III experience from several different perspectives.

Yesterday, mathematics/computer science professor Michael Huber gave a faculty perspective.

Today’s guest writer is Marisa DeStasio, head coach of the Muhlenberg softball team. DeStasio is in her second season with the Mules; in her first, she coached the team to the Centennial Conference championship. Like Dr. Huber, who taught at Army before coming to Muhlenberg, DeStasio has a Division I background.

It is August and finally sunny in the southern tier of New York. Although it is a warm day, the sweat dripping down my forehead is not because of the sun. I am standing on the starting line of the track with my teammates, most of whom I barely know yet. “Go!” screamed my new coach, so I ran and I ran and I ran. I ran for an entire mile! Yes, all 5,280 feet!

I was freshman at Binghamton University and a new member of the softball team. It was the point in my life when my biggest stressor was running the timed mile. I can still feel the nervousness flowing through my body on that day. In hindsight, I realize running a mile is not a big deal and really not all that challenging, but give me a break… I was a naïve freshman.  The month and a half of our fall season had just begun and so had a new school year.

During the fall, we had practice every day with tournaments on the weekends until the end of October. Three times a week we were also required to lift with our strength coach. However, the end of the fall marked the beginning of our offseason training regimen. Monday through Friday we had either 7 a.m. conditioning or lifting sessions and then individual skill workouts with our coaches in the afternoon. We had a countdown in the locker room of when our next dreaded conditioning day was, so we could mentally prepare ourselves for sprint torture.

Over winter break we were given a lifting and conditioning workout packet. Upon our return, we would “max out” with the strength coach and once again run the dreaded mile with the goal of beating our previous time from the fall. (Thankfully, I always did.) It was comforting when spring practice finally started because all our hard work would pay off soon.

In Division I, you get the chance to travel all over the country, albeit mostly on a smelly, bumpy charter bus. Sometimes you drive sixteen hours in one weekend and live in a hotel room just to get beat up on by nationally ranked teams. Our goal every year was the same, make the America East Conference Tournament. We may have come up shy, but it did not make my experience at Binghamton any less rewarding. It was certainly not glamorous and you often ask yourself why you do it. The answer is always the same, because you love to play the sport.

After working with student-athletes at Muhlenberg for the last three years, I realize some of the similarities and differences between divisions have nothing to do with skill. This campus has shown me the true meaning of “student-athlete.”

Being a Division I athlete is like having a job, with little time for anything else other than classes and your sport. At the time, I was not interested in expanding my horizons beyond softball and certainly could not fathom life after Binghamton. I should have been more focused on my future.

This cannot be said for the student-athletes at Muhlenberg. Everyone here is committed to success both in academics and athletics. And from what I can tell, it comes from pure self-motivation. They work extremely hard in the classroom and then on the field, while also striving to make a difference in the community. They wake up early for practice, they sprint just as hard, they are just as competitive, and they hate running the mile just as much as I did. The bottom line is they want to win.

In the end, it does not matter what division you play because the ultimate goal is an education. A mile is still 5,280 feet, and we all play for love of the sport.